Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday morning links: back in the saddle

Don't call it a comeback.

Actually, don't call it anything: I've been backlogged at work and owe you a healthy dose of links for Monday, before vacation calls me away for a week starting this weekend. So ... yeah. Enjoy it for now.
Important note: today's links will focus (almost) solely on Alabama and Alabama-related things. We're ignoring the World Cup, the endless tennis match, conference realignment and so forth. You'll just have to bear with me.

On with the show, then.
— My favorite recent story was this revealing interview with Nick Saban, in which he says he's "mellowed a lot" (really?) and that he regrets much of what happened in the days before he left Miami.
SN: Being branded a liar after you left the Dolphins in 2007 - such a harsh word, but it was used widely - how did that affect you? And does it continue to in any way?
SABAN: ... I had a responsibility and an obligation to the players on that team, the coaches on the staff, and I didn't want that to be the focus of attention. So would I manage it differently? Absolutely. I would still have the same integrity for our team, but I just would not answer any questions relative to Alabama.

This, of course, went into the predictable cycle of sports analysis, with speculation about Saban laying the foundation to return to the NFL and the guys at RBR telling Miami people to shove it. Your typical offseason fare, really.
— Speaking of Saban and RBR, OTS also had a fantastic post about his coaching tree, which is beginning to spread out in college football. Not sure if Jimbo Fisher counts on that list, since Fisher was already an established assistant before he joined Saban at LSU, but it's still a pretty good list. Of course, because coaching is kind of an incestuous fraternity anyway, it's worth noting that a) the Saban tree sprouted from the Belichick tree and b) the Belichick tree sprouted from Bill Parcells. Beyond that, I don't know.
— Rounding out our list of "really good RBR posts we couldn't let slide," here's one about what to expect in our September visit to Arkansas.
That team will be thinking, "Beat Alabama... win the SEC West, then what? BCS game? SEC Championship? National championship contention?" Bank on it. Perhaps that is all wishful thinking on their part, and perhaps Arkansas is not ready for the limelight. Admittedly that may be the case, but nevertheless that will be the mindset that the Hogs will have on that day, and you can bet the proverbial farm that they will play with the appropriate level of energy and intensity given that mindset. We'll have to match that accordingly if we want to survive in the Ozarks. Be prepared for a slobberknocker.

— Preseason expectations: Football Outsiders has us ranked No. 1 in the preseason; we received three different ESPY nominations; and multiple players are already on preseason watch lists.
— If you're curious about the status of Bryant-Denny Stadium, you can click here. As an aside, apparently our season ticket connection came through after all, so ... ya know ...
— Was the 2009 Sugar Bowl (that pasting we took on New Year's from Utah that nearly caused me to get divorced) a defining moment in college football? Tommy Deas thinks so, and here's why.
— Assorted stuff: basketball picked up a commitment from a 7-1 dude from Sweden — let's hope he can walk and chew gum simultaneously — and the 2011 recruiting class is already looking tough.

— Finally, our lone non-Alabama topic for the day: Brian Cook had a great post about Gus Malzahn's offense at Auburn, complete with this outstanding video (warning: not for people who don't like football mechanics):

Brian adds the point after the post about Auburn's offense — and really, the spread offense in general — representing the modern incarnation of the old single wing, shown here.

My knowledge of football being medium at best, I've always seen the spread option as an updated single wing, particularly since Dennis Franchione ran a version of it with Tyler Watts during his two seasons in Tuscaloosa. Of course, the people at Smart Football have disputed this notion, making for an interesting debate.
Modern fans, including Brian, have understandably mapped their understanding of the offenses they see on a weekly basis onto the past and see a direct correlation, but it’s not quite that straightforward. Certainly, the coaches who developed today’s modern offenses, like Rodriguez and Malzahn, did not spend their time meticulously studying the single-wing tapes of yesteryear. Instead, if there are similarities it’s because those coaches stumbled onto the same ideas through trial and error.

One of the interesting things — to me, at least — about the evolution of college football over the last few years has been the way offense and defense have adjusted to counter one another. Just a few things I can name off the top of my head:
In the mid-1990s, Bill Oliver popularized the "press man" style of defense, which emphasized stacking the line of scrimmage and daring quarterbacks to beat them deep (watch a tape of Alabama from 1996 and you'll see what I mean). Offenses countered by spreading the field more, with more short passing and the "West Coast offense." Defenses eventually adjusted to that with the "zone blitz," which involved a variety of fake blitzes and linemen dropping into coverage. In part, that inspired the advent of the "spread option," which forced defenses to be more honest with their assignments. And defenses — Saban, specifically — have responded by playing more odd-man fronts, more defensive backs and more shifting at the line of scrimmage, to obfuscate where the strength of the defense actually is (since the spread places so much emphasis on the quarterback checking at the line).
The point, of course, is that college football is mostly a cyclical business. So it's not a huge stretch to say the spread offense is inspired by the single wing. Pretty much everything is, anyway.
UPDATE: Meant to have this up earlier: Jerry at warblogeagle has an impassioned argument for why the SEC should play a ninth game every year. And I gotta say, I'm down.

See you tomorrow. Roll Tide.

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