Thursday, January 14, 2010

time to re-assess this whole "Team of the Decade" thing, like it or not

The 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide accomplished more than any other Alabama team in history — 14 wins, an SEC championship, a victory over the No. 2 team in the nation, a Heisman trophy and six All-Americans.
Moreover, they made a last-minute grab at the title of "Best SEC Team This Decade."

"But wait," you're saying. "You've said repeatedly that 2004 Auburn was the Best Team of This Decade. You were adamant about it. So now you're changing your mind?"

Well, here's the thing: a decade is 10 years. An entire decade. And since another SEC team pulled off the feat that no other SEC team could since Tennessee in 1998 — isn't it kind of cool that both SEC teams to go undefeated this decade both came from Alabama? — I'm forced to re-evaluate that assertion. So, with apologies to Bill Simmons and Dr. Jack Ramsay, here's a breakdown: 2004 Auburn vs. 2009 Alabama.

14-0 for 'Bama; 13-0 for Auburn. SEC champs, both times.
The Alabama resume, however, crushes Auburn's in this department: 'Bama played a much tougher schedule — 10 of that vanquished 14 played in the postseason, and two of them — Florida and Texas — didn't lose to anyone else on their schedule besides Alabama. (To be completely fair to Auburn, they didn't get the chance to play the best team in the country in 2004. Which, in retrospect, kind of sucks.)
Reviewing their schedules a little more closely, '09 Alabama's best wins of the season — over Florida and Texas, both on neutral fields — are better than '04 Auburn's — over Georgia (10-2 in '04) at home and Virginia Tech (10-3) in the Sugar Bowl — and their best non-conference win in the regular season (vs. 10-3 Va. Tech on a neutral field) is better than Auburn's (over ... I dunno ... Louisiana Tech? ... at home).
(Spooky fact when reviewing the stats of the two teams: their average margins of victory are almost exactly the same, roughly, 32-11. Weird.)

Without thinking about this much, I was ready to hand this category to Auburn without any questions. That '04 Tiger team had a whopping four first-round NFL draftees in April of 2005 — Jason Campbell, Carnell, Ronnie Brown and Carlos Rogers — plus another who eventually became a first-rounder (Ben Grubbs in 2007). And that doesn't count all the guys who have become quality NFL role players: Marcus McNeill, Anthony Mix, Devin Aromashadou, Ben Obomanu, Stanley McClover and a few others I'm sure I forgot. This seems like a slam dunk.
But there's a mitigating factors here, however: most of Alabama's best players are underclassmen and won't even be eligible to be drafted for a few years. Best guess, here's how I see it shaking out ...
• Rolando McClain is a sure-fire first-round guy, unless something insane happens.
• Dont'a Hightower (didn't play much this year because of his knee and maybe doesn't even belong in this discussion) could be a solid pro one day.
• Someone will draft Terrence Cody. Will he be an effective pro? I have no idea. But someone will take that risk.
• Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson can play professionally.
• Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson look like eventual first-rounders.
• Julio Jones, Marquis Maze and Colin Peek likely have professional futures.

I'm sure I'm leaving somebody out here — wait, I didn't mention Courtney Upshaw or Marcel Dareus? — but you get the idea. It's fair to say this is a push.

2004 Auburn wins this one easily. Maybe this 2009 Alabama team means a lot to me personally and to Alabama fans all over for redeeming what's been, on the whole, a decade of misery. But it doesn't compare to that Auburn team that rebounded from the disappointment of 2003, rode a wave of good feelings (stemming from the AU brass' reprehensible attempt to oust their head coach) and carved out a nice as the most likable team in America that season. They orchestrated that goofy pregame ritual where they walked out with their arms linked, prayed together after touchdowns, even adopted a gospel song as their signature.

And yeah, maybe I have a soft spot for that group because its leader was my buddy T.J. Jackson, an Opelika guy. But it's rare a team connects with its fan base the way that 2004 Auburn squad did.

Gotta give the edge to '09 'Bama here. Maybe Tommy Tuberville is the more likable of the two bosses — though by the way, no one was complaining about Tubs' "lack of class" when he was waving 5 fingers around like a moron in Tuscaloosa four years ago — but Nick Saban now has three SEC championships, four SEC West championships and two national championships to his name. Tubervile has ... well, 2004, and that's really all.
For the staffs of the two teams, both have an offensive coordinator who came from the West Coast and immediately started winning (combined record of Al Borges/Jim McElwain in their first two seasons in the state of Alabama: 50-4). On the defensive side of things, Gene Chizik became a head coach eventually (with mixed results so far) and Kirby Smart is widely considered a head-coach-in-waiting. So they're pretty much even.

Maybe there isn't one. Auburn in 2004 was one of my favorite stories of the decade, and I couldn't believe any team this decade would approach that rarified air, particularly with the increased competition in the conference. But this year's version of Alabama did it, and did it under the highest of expectations from the time camp opened.
So which one is better? I have no idea. I suppose it's like the bit about reaching the mountaintop: you can't really climb higher than the top of the mountain, but you can at least reach the top, and hang out with everybody else who's there. Maybe we can agree on that, at least.

Roll Tide.

1 comment:

Peggy Rossmanith said...

Great assessment. I'm with you. I can't really pick a better one of the two. I know which one I WANT it to be, but this year's Alabama team was so strong. Maybe there will be another dilemma like this one in this decade.