Monday, November 29, 2010

gameday texts, Turkey-Day sequence

This week's edition of "Gameday Texts" is a collection beginning late Thursday and extending into today. As always, the names and time stamps of each message are as they appear in my phone. Also as always, feel free to add your own funny texts, either in the comments, or by finding me on Twitter.
Rob (8:17 p.m.)
: How many beers are required before noon tomorrow?
Jamie (10:35 p.m.): I'll go ahead and speak for the fans of the losing team tomorrow and say the winning team is full of classless thugs.

Zach (9:06 a.m.)
: Enough with you downplaying, but I hope you're right. Roll Tide.
Chad C (9:15 a.m.): Crack don't kill, crack make money.
Rob (9:36 a.m.): So did they play All I Do is Win Sometimes last year?
Rob (9:38 a.m.): No lightning yet.
Maguire (10:04 a.m.): Don't be a pessimist.
Maguire (10:04 a.m.): Pump that sunshine!
Pedro (10:25 a.m.): My take — 70-plus total points. Julio 250-plus receiving, Cam 250 rushing, Fairley ejected for throwing punch, Chizik sticks with sweater-vest, Saban has 5 on-air f-bombs.
Dad (10:48 a.m.): Y'all please be nice.

Jamie (10:53 a.m.): Get ramp lady on a mic so I can hear it from here.
Jamie (1:02 p.m.): Gene was zipped at 80 degrees and sunny so I would imagine.
Whit (1:37 p.m.): Verne just said McElroy was having his picture taken with Lou Saban ...
Whit (1:56 p.m.): Trying to use Cam as a decoy, methinks.

Pedro (2:02 p.m.): "I don't even have an explanation for this," quoth Gary on the AU defense on Julio's TD. "The explanation is poor defense," quoth my father-in-law.
Maguire (2:11 p.m.): Keep pounding away.

Eric St. Clair (2:17 p.m.): Hey Fairley, karma's a bitch.
Maguire (2:17 p.m.): Made that [expletive] pay.
Whit (2:18 p.m.): Probably a weak call and a warning to everyone. Not much to it really.
Jamie (2:19 p.m.): Bull shit but it doesn't matter.
Pedro (2:22 p.m.): He was stomping & high-stepping, starting right near McElroy's head and going toward his teammates. Kinda weak call, honestly.

Maguire (2:38 p.m.): Dammit!
Pedro (2:38 p.m.): "That punt barely made a first down."
Pedro (2:44 p.m.): E-3 on that 2nd down pass play.

Jamie (2:47 p.m.): On to Atl. You have the best coach in the country. Congrats on the W.
Whit (2:58 p.m.): We'll get a TD before half. No worries.
Jamie (3:14 p.m.): Darvin caught the tipped ball. We don't challenge. Fml.

Whit (3:15 p.m.): Whew ... Usually three empty possessions in the red zone don't find 'Bama in this position.
Pedro (3:15 p.m.): Not good enough.
Dad (3:16 p.m.): Should be 35 to nil.
Pedro (3:17 p.m.): Or 2 more.

Maguire (3:42 p.m.): Newton might be the dumbest [expletive] I have ever seen. We need to light his ass up for that.
Whit (3:50 p.m.): All right negative nancy. Lotta football left to be played.
Maguire (4:00 p.m.): I'm afraid you're right. Got to take the momentum back.

Maguire (4:10 p.m.): Did our D think the game was only 30 minutes long? Did they think they could just coast in the 2nd half?
Whit (4:20 p.m.): Keep that to yourself! I'm trying to be positive!
Pedro (4:21 p.m.): Not gonna cut it.

Whit (4:30 p.m.): Tell the jumbotron it's not the boss of you.

Maguire (4:44 p.m.): Have we picked up the RB out of the backfield at all today?
Maguire (4:47 p.m.): Our feet are full of bullet holes.

Pedro (4:52 p.m.): McElroy's unconscious.
Whit (4:55 p.m.): Right shoulder injury. Maybe concussion.
Jamie (4:56 p.m.): Damn.

Maguire (4:56 p.m.): Goddammit. I can punt more consistently than that.

Pedro (5:10 p.m.): Hanks is hurt. Julio is too, but he gutted it out.

Whit (5:12 p.m.): Chizik when asked about the game and team — "God is good."
Jamie (5:27 p.m.): Never been so out of it, to be in it. This one will be remembered for the ages.

Maguire (5:56 p.m.): We knew we needed to finish drives. What's most disappointing were the stupid mistakes and penalties where we hurt ourselves. I'd rather they just whipped us all day long than us have the upper hand and let it slip away like that. Dammit!

Pedro (6:56 p.m.): My mother-in-law is vetoing the "Julia as Pippi Julio" outfit.

Whit (12:36 a.m.): Nevada!

Halcombe (11:01 a.m.)
: On a different note, my youngest has taken on a fear that a fish has gotten into his pants ... true story.

Dad (11:14 a.m.): Who is that playing Michigan?
Dad (11:15 a.m.): Maybe Ohio U.

Halcombe (3:43 p.m.): Bought, and am now wearing, Wrangler jeans and have yet to have the urge to send work acquaintances pix of my junk.

Maguire (6:02 p.m.): Did you swallow some grass? I was thinking a blocked kick and return as well.
Maguire (6:05 p.m.): Great clock management by Miles here.
Maguire (6:18 p.m.): Petrino and Mallett are both whiny little bitches.
Maguire (6:20 p.m.): You can take Petersen out of the ghetto, but ...

Chad C (6:21 p.m.): This has Les Miles written all over it.
Chad C (6:21 p.m.): Never mind.

Pedro (6:47 p.m.): Live from the cesspool of the South ...
Dad (6:47 p.m.): Beat Dothan.

Whit (6:47 p.m.): To hell with Georgia!
Pedro (6:47 p.m.): To Hell with Georgia.
Dad (6:53 p.m.): Glory glory.

Pedro (6:56 p.m.): Probably not a good idea to watch this game with Julia. She's now a risk to yell "thug" at other children in playschool. We should stop before this goes further.

Jamie (7:04 p.m.): Amazing how #8 seems to get the same amount of attention as all other UGA receivers.

Jamie (7:51 p.m.): I was telling someone earlier today, between Oregon, AU, TCU, Wisconsin and Stanford, ratings will be the dump no matter what.

Jamie (8:49 p.m.): God I love watching Tech.

Pedro (9:06 p.m.): Per the Tusc News coverage of the Leeds-Gordo game, "Mother Nature did the Gordo High School football team no favors when she douched the field with rain."
Dad (9:15 p.m.): How bout dem Dogs.

Pedro (9:20 p.m.): This play is Richt's job.
Maguire (9:21 p.m.): That's 2nd-half 'Bama in the red zone.
Maguire (9:22 p.m.): Damn you. I was choosing to remember differently.

Jamie (9:29 p.m.): Dan Mullen is wearing gloves. Is it that cold in Oxford or is he just a [expletive]?

Jamie (9:52 p.m.): Tech scores to cut it to 7, stops UGA on 3 plays and got the ball back and Bob Davie says, "I think Ga. Tech may have gotten some momentum." Really?
Zach (10:00 p.m.): I should have listened to you re: GA.
Maguire (10:01 p.m.): Sucks to be Blair.

Maguire (10:03 p.m.): Is there something in the water in Georgia that causes you to fumble the ball?
Jamie (10:14 p.m.): As soon as Georgia fans see "Birmingham Bowl" next to their name the jubilation will mellow somewhat.
Maguire (10:17 p.m.): Was Tech expecting the knee? Or is Bob Davie right? (Perish the thought.)

Halcombe (3:31 p.m.)
: My 2-year-old's OBVIOUS quote of the day: Santa is a good man.
Halcombe (3:35 p.m.): That was followed by: Daddy, are you a good man? Thanks son.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

week 13 thoughts: cold and empty

In May, the boys from Every Day Should be Saturday — Florida fans operating arguably the best college football blog on the planet — penned a warning to 'Bama fans about the rigors of rooting for a team one season after a championship. It was pure gold at the time and went largely ignored by just about everybody. One of the best points of advice: Alabama would suffer a "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" game.
You might win it, true: but it will be there, a game where half the team refuses to show up and the other team plays like their balls are on fire and you're holding fire extinguishers. For Florida last year, this was Arkansas, a game we won but became the blueprint on how to play us for the rest of the teams we faced in 2009. On at least one weekend (probably during an early kickoff) you're going to get your ass kicked unexpectedly, and even if you win you'll be more stunned than relieved for a week or so.

I found myself thinking about that Friday night, after a 28-27 loss to Auburn in a choke job/comeback that would've been incredibly unpredictable if I hadn't been silently fearing it from the moment Mark Ingram's fumble rolled through the North end zone in the second quarter. No one asked better questions than RBR and Jess Nicholas.
And why did we never find an identity? Why did the offensive line become so damn Shula-esque after September? Why did the defensive line play poorly all season despite boatloads of raw talent? Why did the linebacker corps look so bad with so many heavily recruited players? Why couldn't we get a stop on third and a mile? Why couldn't we run the football with two tailbacks who'll make tens of millions on Sunday? Why did we basically have one receiver on Saturdays when we had about ten guys rated as four-star prospects on National Signing Day? Why did the playcalling get so predictable at times? Why were we so soundly beaten in the second half of football games? Why could we not even get lined up correctly, on offense or defense? None of these are easy questions, but in the aftermath of the disappointment they must be asked and they must ultimately be answered correctly moving forward if we are to improve and to get back to where we want to be.

Important questions, all. But the truth is, the margin of error in this game is so thin, it was somewhat ridiculous to expect what happened last year to happen again.
Consider that, in 2009, to achieve a 14-0 season, we had to come from behind in Week 1 to beat Va. Tech, had to survive putrid offensive performances vs. South Carolina and Tennessee, and needed fourth-quarter rallies to defeat LSU and Auburn. That was before we even got to the season-defining wins over Florida and Texas. We forced turnovers at opportune times, avoided key injuries, caught every important pass and converted every important down. We were good, but we were also insanely fortunate.
(Auburn fans: This may sound familiar.)
And so 2010 — and particularly Friday at Bryant-Denny — can be chalked up, largely, as a regression to the mean. This team finishes the regular season 9-3, with road losses to the SEC East champions and a 10-2 LSU team, to go along with a one-point loss to the current number-one team in the country. Only in defense of a championship could such a mark be thought of as a failure.

Looking forward, the truth is that the next six months are likely to define this program for the next two season. Remember that Florida, after winning the championship in 2006, lost four games in 2007 even with a record-setting offense. The program followed that up with 26 wins in the next two seasons. Alabama will almost certainly continue to recruit at a high level, will continue to function at a high level — don't forget, we won 9 games this season and didn't put together a complete effort one time — and will continue to have chances to win championships.
The difference between being "very good" and "great" will be in where we go from here. Which means it's time to get started with this bowl game.

As for Auburn, Ric Flair famously said that to BE the man, you've got to BEAT the man. Auburn came into the defending champ's house, absorbed some massive body blows, got knocked a time or two ... and then came all the way back. That's what a champion does. Kudos to them.

Some other thoughts ...
— In reality, Friday's game was lost (for the most part) by a poor offensive effort in the second half. When my wife asked me to compare this game to last year's SEC Championship Game, I told her that it was never really accurate to say our defense shut down Florida — a more accurate description is, our defense made Florida work for everything, and the offense dominated time of possession and kept Tim Tebow & Co. off the field.
This time? Well, Alabama's defense didn't limit Auburn's big plays — the Tigers had touchdowns of 36 and 70 yards — and the offense couldn't keep the Tigers off the field in the second half, repeatedly wheezing out. And when Auburn gave up a golden opportunity to re-assert control — the fumbled punt at the 27 — Alabama wasted it and settled for a field goal. That gets you beat.
— I'm still waiting to see how our offensive coaches intend to use Ingram & Richardson in tandem. Guess I'll have to play that out on a video game.
(Note: Thinking about 2011, I'm guessing there won't be any question as the offense's identity. With a new quarterback and new faces at receiver, the offense will belong to Trent Richardson as long as he is healthy. That's really the whole story.)
— On two very large plays — Fairley's forced fumble late in the second half and T'Sharvan Bell's vicious sack of McElroy that put the QB out in the fourth quarter — it appeared Auburn had figured out our snap count. This is significant because it seemed LSU was reading something similar. I often wonder if I'm the only one who notices this stuff.
(By the way, Anthony Steen was largely responsible for the Fairley sack, then compounded his mistake by not playing until the whistle and allowing Auburn to jump on the loose ball. Not acceptable.)
— Was it me, or did Demarcus Milliner get picked on a lot Friday? This wouldn't be a total shock since teams have been picking on him all year, but ... I mean, sheesh.
— Underrated play that helped cost us a chance to win: Cody Mandel's 13-yard punt following Bell's sack of McElroy, which gave Auburn the ball at the 27-yard line, instead of backed up against its own goal line. Again, the sort of thing that gets you beat.
— Scarbinsky was nice enough to pen a column detailing Nick Saban's spotty record in close games. Thanks, buddy.
— The trending concern, of course, is that in two of the three losses for this season — LSU and Auburn — Alabama was soundly outplayed in the second half. Considering this team built its reputation in 2009 as a fourth-quarter football team, to be so badly thrashed — physically and mentally — in the second half is something that needs to be addressed.
— I'm not going to make any jokes about Auburn possibly having to vacate this win two years from now. So just move on.
— The game itself, of course, is long going to be remembered as the greatest choke/comeback in the history of the series, right up there with the famous "Punt 'Bama Punt" game in 1972.
If you want a silver lining, here's the best one I can come up with: You know what was the most significant thing about "Punt 'Bama Punt?" It was the only Auburn victory over 'Bama for 11 years.
(I'm grasping at straws, I know.)

In any case, Roll Tide. See you tomorrow.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

at a loss

Not going to re-hash yesterday's incredible choke jobcomeback in Tuscaloosa, because I'm frankly not in the mood. Instead, here's a video montage of Nicolas Cage going insane.
(Two disclaimers on the video: First, I didn't come up with the title of it, so I apologize. Also, some of the language is ... um, strong. Can't help that. If you can get past those two things, you might have a little fun.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

of the Tide, the Tigers, offensive football & great TV

I was discussing the Alabama & Auburn offenses in 2010 with a friend of mine the other day, when a thought occurred to me. The basic premise of the discussion with my friend, an Auburn fan, was his inclination to take offense at the notion that Auburn is "a one-man offensive show," that Cameron Newton isn't doing it all by himself.
OK, I thought. The argument has merit. And it's not as though Auburn is without weapons beyond its quarterback: currently freshman Michael Dyer has over 800 yards rushing this year, while Onterrio McCalebb has over 600 (plus 9 touchdowns).
On the other hand, here are Newton's numbers in 2010: 206 carries, an average of more than 6 yards per rush, 17 TDs, plus 135-198 passing, 2,038 yards and 21 TDs, plus one receiving touchdown vs. Ole Miss. That's 405 plays, and doesn't even remotely count the plays in which he's handed off to someone on a read-option.
(Note: Gus Malzahn, I think, hasn't received nearly enough credit for essentially throwing out his entire playbook from 2009, to better suit No. 2. I know it sounds weird, but it can be really hard for an offensive coordinator with Malzahn's reputation to essentially forego his ego the way he has.)
So if Auburn isn't a one-man offensive show, it certainly relies heavily on the talents of one guy.

To what then shall we compare it? What about this one: Auburn's offense is like "24."

Just hear me out. My two favorite television shows of the past few years have been "Lost" and "24," two great shows that work for different reasons.
"Lost," for example, worked because of an eclectic cast that featured (at least) six different regular characters: Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Locke, Hurley, Jin & Sun, Ben Linus, Boone & Shannon, Sayid, Charlie, Claire ... and so forth. The show was unique because it found a way to blend all those characters into one over-arching story, one of the only times a cast that large has actually worked.
(Note: I'm still not ready to discuss the final season of "Lost," one of the many factors that caused me to actually stop blogging entirely for several months in the spring. We're going to pretend it didn't go down that way for purposes of this entry.)
In a sense, what made "Lost" work is similar to what makes Alabama's offense work: multiple characters (McElroy, Julio, Maze, Ingram, Richardson), all strong in their own ways, all important to the plot in some way — and no, I don't have time to sit here and decide which Alabama offensive skill player is which character (though I'm fairly certain Nick Saban is either Jacob or The Man in Black).

Which brings us to "24," a show that primarily centered around the life story of one extraordinary guy: Jack Bauer.

As with Auburn's offense, "24" did have other characters: Tony Almeida, George Mason, Chloe O'Brian (I'm making the Chloe face as I'm writing this) and some others. But the fact of the matter is, without Jack, terrorists would've infiltrated the country about 19 different times and plunged Los Angeles into mass chaos.
The same is true for Auburn: while Dyer, Adams and McCalebb have come up large for the Tigers at various times, nothing they do would be possible without the force of nature that is No. 2. Everything ultimately centers around him. It works even better when you consider all the various times Jack was captured, beaten up and tortured, including the time in Season 2 when he actually died, was revived by paddles and started killing people within 10 minutes of regaining consciousness. Cam Newton could probably pull that off, right?

The truth is, as a fan of great TV, I loved both of these shows, much how I like both of these offenses as a football fan. But Jack Bauer never took on the ensemble cast of "Lost" in any kind of contest to see who could be involved in the more ridiculous plot, or anything.
These two offense get to match scores this Friday. And it should be fun.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tuesday 'tube: drive to glory

You haven't imagined things: an entire week went by with no blogs. That means I've missed an entire week of discussing the return of Bill Curry to Tuscaloosa, or said word one about the post-Thanksgiving apocalypse that will be the Auburn Game (or discussed the rather obvious irony between those two, since Curry never could beat Auburn). My apologies.
To make up for it, here's some Tuesday 'tube, with a theme: great drives made by 'Bama to beat Auburn.
First up, Mike Shula takes the Tide on an improbable march in 1985.

(One of my favorite dumb bits of trivia about The Kick, and only because I've watched it roughly 205,746 times in my life: AU cornerback Kevin Porter, who actually enjoyed a very long NFL career, was offsides on the play; had Van Tiffin missed it, he'd have had another shot from 47.)

Second, one of the forgotten favorites: the 1996 version with Freddie Kitchens — you read that correctly — going 80 to win at Legion Field. This is a special one for me, my first trip to Legion Field.

The last one is obvious.

More planned for later in the week. Roll Tide Roll.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tuesday tube: an old familiar face

On Thursday, Alabama will play what amounts to a glorified scrimmage against Georgia State, a game absolutely no one would care about, except for the involvement of former Alabama head coach Bill Curry, who compiled a 26-10 record over three seasons in Tuscaloosa.

Storylines you'll undoubtedly hear about: Curry's ability as a recruiter — he was largely responsible for the 1992 national championship team — and his acrimonious three-year tenure, epitomized by some drunk idiot allegedly tossing a brick through his window after a Homecoming loss to Ole Miss in 1988.
Rollbamaroll posted an outstanding assessment of the Curry era in two pieces. The money line:
The biggest problem with Curry was just one of institutional fit. I’ll be frank… for the life of me I’ll never understand why he took the Alabama job. He was a Georgia Tech alum, and he always viewed the Alabama fan base and the university itself with a very open aura of disrespect. The view on his end was always crystal clear: the University of Alabama, its administration, and its fans were fundamentally inferior to Curry and his Georgia Tech background. To that end, Curry treated UA in the same manner than a probation officer would treat one of his juvenile delinquents, and the clashes were inevitable. Again, why did he ever take the job in the first place? As dumb of a decision as it may have been for the UA administration to extend an offer to him, it was an even dumber decision on his end to accept it.

Just keep that in mind when you hear the next story about Curry and the shabby treatment he received from 'Bama fans: he had a losing record in 7 seasons at Georgia Tech, and an equally losing record in 7 subsequent seasons at Kentucky (where he stubbornly stuck with Billy Jack Haskins even though he had Tim Couch on his bench).

Even so, that doesn't mean he didn't give us some memorable moments during the 3 years he worked in T-Town.

gameday texts: State edition

Here is this week's edition of "Gameday Texts," wherein we post funny, poignant and memorable things people text me. As always, the time stamps and names are as they appear in my phone. Also as always, feel free to leave your own memorable texts here in the comments section, or by finding me on Twitter. Special thanks to my friend Daniel for compiling some texts he received from me, then emailing them to me. Not sure if that will make this week better or worse.
Maguire (9:03 a.m.): Crap ... apparently they're coming to our cit-ay again.
Whit (9:03 a.m.): I want a pretzel too!

Jamie (9:50 a.m.): Beat State's ass.
Dad (9:51 a.m.): Guess AU will be for 'Bama today, huh?
Halcombe (10:16 a.m.): Think today Miss ST will wish they had just paid Newton the cash.
Rob (1:02 p.m.): We lose tonight I am becoming a basketball fan.

Dad (1:14 p.m.): Yes he is playing.
Halcombe (1:17 p.m.): Which makes you happier as a 'Bama fan: Beatin Carolina in the SEC title game w/no shot at a nat'l title OR watching Auburn have to forfeit an undefeated season?
Halcombe (1:18 p.m.): That txt was sent to you from outside the dressing room of a women's designer clothing store.
Zach (1:20 p.m.): He's dressed.

Maguire (2:08 p.m.): How long did you last on the Auburn Network broadcast? I couldn't stomach Chizik's BS about "family" any more. What are they, some sort of crime syndicate?
me (2:18 p.m.): Yes. The Auburn Mafia. Jimmy Rane = Clemenza.

Moody (2:10 p.m.): Breaking news: Cam newton urinated somewhere in Montgomery this morning as he stayed with his teammates at the team hotel. No word yet on whether the Newtons or Auburn University have been offered compensation.

me (2:44 p.m.): CamNewtonCamNetwon CamNewtonCamNetwon CamNewtonCamNetwon CamNewtonCamNetwon.
Halcombe (2:50 p.m.): Is that the Tigers' first 6 or 7 plays?

Whit (3;04 p.m.): A.J. Green is going to have to have a record day for UGA to win.

Halcombe (3:05 p.m.): Which has more value right now: an Old Navy Bears NFL screen tee or the opinion of Rece Davis on the set of Gameday?

Maguire (3:32 p.m.): I think Cam's got his mind on his money and his money on his mind today.

Maguire (4:08 p.m.): Fairley's got to be juicing. He acts like Lattimer in "The Program."
(Note: for more on this, click here.)

me (4:26 p.m.): “Coach, can you explain this ridiculous shirt you wear every week?”

Halcombe (4:41 p.m.): We don't need no stinking badgers.

Rob (5:36 p.m.): Galletes!

Dad (5:52 p.m.): AU announcers are painful to listen to.
Pedro (6:01 p.m.): Also, booing an injured player who might be faking is "sophisticated," per Gary.

Whit (6:44 p.m.): 'Bama getting dominated at NG right now.

Whit (6:49 p.m.): I didn't get a harumph outta that guy!

Maguire (6:51 p.m.): That's great! We needed 9 yards and threw for 11 instead of 7.

Whit (6:53 p.m.): Miss State band in upper deck across from will's seats.

Dad (6:54 p.m.): How can the O-line be that bad?
Whit (7:01 p.m.): Cuz they suck?

Dad (7:12 p.m.): Eli is awful too.
Whit (7:13 p.m.): Who the eff is OL #61? Gettin beat like he stole somethin!!

me (7:39 p.m.): That was game over.
Whit (7:29 p.m.): Back judget just threw flag 40 yards.

Maguire (7:41 p.m.): Hope you're right. State's not built to come from behind.
me (7:48 p.m.): Don’t think they’ve scored 20 vs. much of anybody all year.
Whit (7:41 p.m.): Great block by gulio hones.

Maguire (7:51 p.m.): Aquarius!
me (7:52 p.m.): That song sucks.
Maguire (7:56 p.m.): Yeah, but now I always think about the rendition at the end of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."

me (8:08 p.m.): First drive is key…
Whit (8:09 p.m.): No! I will not get out of my seat. You're not the boss of me, jumbotron!

me (8:15 p.m.): 8!
Maguire (8:15 p.m.): I'm gonna miss that kid, and not just for plays like that.
Whit (8:16 p.m.): He's here?
Maguire (8:17 p.m.): Maybe more for things like that block on Mark's long run in the 2nd quarter.

me (8:22 p.m.): The shrieking State fan next to me is drowning his sorrows in soggy nachos.

Dad (8:32 p.m.): O-line could not block a Girl Scout troop.

Maguire (8:33 p.m.): And McCarron's popularity grows ...
me (8:36 p.m.): Yeah. Screw #12. What’s he ever done here anyway?

Dad (8:42 p.m.): AU will beat us by 21.
Jamie (8:42 p.m.): Rod says over the stadium speaker, "Sources say AU wins the West."
(Note: I embedded the video here, and only because I'm impressed at the AU folks for having this thing ready to play immediately after the game.)

Whit (8:45 p.m.): Eddie Lacy! (as Rick James saying Charlie Murphy)
Dad (8:47 p.m.): Scoring more points will help you win.

Jamie (8:50 p.m.): Can I take Bama +21 along with your mortgage?
Dad (8:50 p.m.): A 23-pound honey ham.

Whit (8:51 p.m.): McCarron looks confident.
Maguire (8:52 p.m.): That was dumb.
me (8:58 p.m.): That, by the way, is an early preview of the A.J. McCarron era. That guy’s triple-covered? Why not?
Pedro (8:59 p.m.): McCarron got a spanking from Saban on national TV for that drive.
Maguire (9:02 p.m.): It may well be the Phillip Sims era.
Whit (9:02 p.m.): God, I hope not.

Whit (9:04 p.m.): Would anyone like to play Stratego? ... I have Stratego.

Maguire (9:04 p.m.): I sure hope this secondary gets a lot better next year.
me (9:05 p.m.): Is State’s kicker named Rico Suave?

Whit (9:14 p.m.): D-line is still getting worked in the middle.

me (9:22 p.m.): 1 random dude in our section ringing a cowbell. Looks like he’s collecting for the Salvation Army.
Dad (9:23 p.m.): Santa?
Maguire (9:23 p.m.): Maybe he is. Never too early to start, I guess.

me (9:29 p.m.): No “Rammer Jammer” tonight…
Maguire (9:31 p.m.): Wondered what was up with that.

me (11:55 p.m.): So all you Republi-kins that helped me win, I’d sincerely like to thank ya ...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

week 11 thoughts: what it is

In the wake of last Saturday's debacle at LSU, I received (and sent) the usual slew of angry text messages from my friends and family members, regarding the poor quality of the offensive line, defense and game plan. My dad sent the most poignant one, late that night:
"So do we get better or just shut down?"

It was a fair question. Considering this team began the season defending a national championship, looked unbeatable at one point to some people (most of whom weren't actually watching them) and, as of 8 days ago, were basically out of the race to even win the division (now crystallized, obviously), it was worth wondering whether our boys would bother to show up for the rest of the schedule.
It was even more harrowing when quarterback Greg McElroy opened the week by saying, "It feels like the end of the world around here." It was even worse later in the week when coach Saban called the week of practice "a very tough preparation for our football team."
Equally as troubling is recent history under coach Saban, as Cecil Hurt pointed out earlier this week on the radio: in 2007 and 2008, once the championship goals were off the table, the team shut down (first in a nightmarish November 2007, then in the Sugar Bowl in 2008).
So, yeah, there were plenty of warning signs going into Saturday night in Tuscaloosa. Moreover, I'm not sure there's any "getting better" at this stage in the football season. Teams pretty much are what they are at this point in the season.

Saturday night this team showed what it is vs. Mississippi State: a team with multiple playmakers on offense, a defense that has to scratch and claw to stay alive ... and seems to keep doing just enough to win. This isn't a championship caliber team — maybe it never really was, given the statistical metrics that were already a problem before the 2 losses that have grabbed all the headlines — but it is still a very good football team, one that is capable of winning every game remaining on its schedule (even if the coming storm that is SEC West champ Auburn looks terribly uninviting at the moment). That's not exactly a national championship identity, but it's still a position 85 percent of the college football fan bases in America would happily accept.
That includes Mississippi State. Sure, the Bulldogs are a much improved football team over the team that last ventured to Tuscaloosa, and they're almost certain to finish the season in a pretty good bowl game — that game vs. Arkansas looks pretty good at the moment — but watching them is reminiscent of watching Georgia Tech, or one of the military-style option teams. Put simply, creative though their running attack might be, that's the whole offense. State can't throw, doesn't have any real explosive football players and absolutely CANNOT come from behind on their own. Which means that, just like the Sylvester Croom days, they can only win a certain way: score early, force a turnover or two and hold on for dear life as the other team grows increasingly frustrated. Once Mark Ingram turned Greg McElroy's bubble screen into a 78-yard touchdown in the second quarter, Saturday night's game was effectively over. And everybody in the building knew it.
That's Alabama football in the year after: Doing Just Enough to Win. We'll see how long it hangs around.

Some other thoughts ...
— It was impossible to watch Saturday night's game and not think of Nick Bell, the late Mississippi State student-athlete who died only 5 weeks after discovering he had cancer. It's a damn shame we spent the last two weeks talking about the cloud around Cameron Freaking Newton and Auburn fans' "standing by" him, while barely anyone talked about Bell and his State teammates who are coping with an actual tragedy. I can't imagine what it's like to be them.
Anyway, 'Bama officials handled that delicate situation about as well as they could, pausing for a moment of silence before the game and asking the band not to play "Rammer Jammer" afterwards out of respect (the band obliged, but some students took up the cheer anyway).
— The thing that's been the most frustrating this year? Missed tackles. Alabama's defensive hallmark since Nick Saban showed up has been its fundamentals on defense: they're rarely out of position, don't miss tackles, and as a result, don't surrender very many big plays. It's one thing for young players to make incorrect reads in a complicated defense; missing tackles is unacceptable, particularly in the spread era (when one missed tackle often means a 5-yard gain becomes 30). Alabama fans should expect better.
— The second most frustrating (but sort of predictable) thing: Alabama's defensive line play has been sub-standard at every turn. Last night the Tide's collection of nose tackles was worked at every turn; Nick Gentry played the best of anybody, and he wasn't exactly blowing things up in there ('Bama did record 5 sacks, which is mildly encouraging).
— The next person who suggests A.J. McCarron should be the starting quarterback over Greg McElroy — yes, the same McElroy who's lost a grand total of TWO games as a starter in two seasons, the MVP of the SEC Championship Game and the quarterback of the reigning national champions — should punch himself (or herself) in the face. Do it again for good measure.
— Do you ever wonder if Alabama's offense has too many playmakers for its own good? Coach Saban very often talks about the concept of identity in football, and Alabama's offensive identity in 2008-2009 was a brutish physical team that crammed the ball down everybody's throat and threw it occasionally, just to keep everybody honest. This offense doesn't seem to have that identity — sometimes we're a spread team, sometimes a pro set, sometimes we run the ball to the 4, then throw it 3 times and kick a field goal. And there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to it; it's like McElwain is a bored kid playing a Madden dynasty.
— I'm convinced Mark Jones and Bob Davie, as an announcing team, are part of an elaborate prank by ESPN. That's the only explanation for their continued employment, right?
— I don't want to jinx it, but Mark Ingram appeared to be settling into a rhythm down the stretch Saturday; it looked like his vision returned, and he was making decisive cuts and finishing his runs with power. That's good news for us.
— The fact that we failed to score twice inside the 5 in the fourth quarter is disconcerting, although not as disconcerting as coach Saban essentially spanking A.J. McCarron on live television.

— The thing I'll miss the most when Julio Jones is gone — and there's no way he comes back for 2011 — is his willingness to do the little things most wideouts of his caliber simply don't do. He's the best run-blocking receiver I've ever seen, he never complains about touches and he always rises to the occasion. It's tempting to call his career here disappointing, if only because he came in with so much hype and has never really become the talk of college football. Such a characterization would be wrong, though; without Quintorris Jones playing wideout the last three years, this team wouldn't be what it is.

And what that is, for better or worse, is a very good football team. We'll see how we remember them once they're finished.

See you next week. Roll Tide.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday Andy: Incarceration

For this week's "Andy Griffith Show" moment, deputy sheriff Barney Fife lectures the boys in town about crime, and its result.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

shameless promotion (2.0), part xv

Editor's Note: In the ongoing effort of this blog to promote its primary author's failingcareer as a writer, we present to this week's edition of the column that ran in the St. Clair Times, which now has its own Facebook and Twitter pages. As always, you may leave comments here, or visit me on Twitter personally. Thanks in advance for your feigning of interest.
Elite neighbor keeps coming up in talks of moving on

It is inevitable, of course, that any kind of change within a community will be met with resistance, even when that “change” is something as simple as “making people cut their grass” or “arresting people for dealing drugs in front of the school.”

Here’s what’s weird: with every attempt at community change in St. Clair County, one name seems to be continually invoked for reasons that don’t entirely make sense. The name? Mountain Brook.

Yes, Mountain Brook — the over-the-mountain suburb with a statewide reputation as something of an elite country club, that Mountain Brook, has become the go-to buzzword for anyone decrying anything in these parts.

On a number of occasions at council meetings, commission meetings, zoning board meetings, you’ll hear it. “We don’t need (whatever it is we’re discussing) — we’re not like Mountain Brook.”

Even while discussing improvements made to a local fire department recently, one county fire chief said, “Maybe you can’t have curb-and-gutter like Mountain Brook, but you can still have the best fire protection we have available.”

Mountain Brook’s take: “Wait, how’d we get dragged into this again?”

In a way, the references to Mountain Brook are indicative of a simmering tension, not just here but in a number of areas surrounding major cities. Essentially, the old guard — the people who are native to the area, who helped build the area, who “like it the way it is” — resent the influx of “foreigners” moving there from such faraway lands as Birmingham, running for offices and suggesting things like leash laws and bike lanes.

“Y’all are just trying to make us like Mountain Brook,” will come the inevitable reply.

It’s not Mountain Brook that’s the problem; it’s change. Not many people like it, particularly when it comes to the place they call home.

Not that I’m any better: every time I visit my alma mater, I’m always confronted by the inescapable conclusion that the place is cleaner, prettier and safer than it ever was when I was there. Of course, I liked it the way it was; the new look frosts me at every turn.

“What’d they change it for?” I groused to a friend of mine. “It’s like they made it into Mountain Brook or something.”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thursday lines: completely Newton free

This week's edition of "Thursday lines" promises to have no mention whatsoever of a certain student-athlete who plays a certain position for a certain university who may or may not have received certain additional benefits. As has been our most recent norm, lines are courtesy of, and as always, you're free to comment on the lines either in the comments section, or by visiting us on Twitter.
Pittsburgh (-6.5) at Connecticut
East Carolina (+2.5) at UAB

Ball St. (+3) at Buffalo
Boise St. (-34) at Idaho
(Note: Have you taken time to observe how much these two schools hate one another? It's genuinely amazing.)

Miami (-3) at Ga. Tech
Iowa (-12) at Northwestern
South Florida (+1.5) at Louisville
Boston College (-3) at Duke
Indiana (+21.5) at Wisconsin
Cincinnati (+6.5) at West Virginia
Minnesota (+20.5) at Illinois
Michigan (-13) at Purdue
Mississippi (+1) at Tennessee
Vanderbilt (+15) at Kentucky
Kansas St (+13) at Missouri
Iowa St. (-1.5) at Colorado
Wake Forest (+19.5) at North Carolina St.
BYU (-5.5) at Colorado St.
Utah (-5.5) at Notre Dame
Georgia (+8.5) at Auburn
(Note: I have no idea what to make of this, but the line did come down at one point today. For now, it's between 7 & 8.5.)
Va. Tech (-5.5) at North Carolina
Syracuse (-3) at Rutgers
Penn St. (+17.5) at Ohio St.
Texas Tech (+16) at Oklahoma
Maryland (-1) at Virginia
Fla. International (+8.5) at Troy
Washington St. (+22.5) at Oregon St.
San Diego St. (+27) at TCU
UTEP (+30) at Arkansas
Kansas (+34.5) at Nebraska
Texas A&M (+3) at Baylor
South Carolina (+6.5) at Florida
Mississippi St. (+14) at Alabama
Stanford (-6.5) at Arizona St.
Oregon (-20) at California
Clemson (+7.5) at Florida St.
Oklahoma St. (-6.5) at Texas
USC (+5.5) at Arizona
Nevada (-9.5) at Fresno St

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

of Newton, conspiracy theories and "family"

I promised myself I wouldn't write any more about Cam Newton, except to discuss his performance on the field. I'm about to break that promise. I apologize in advance. I can't allow the biggest story in the state of Alabama to be ignored here.

Things I should make clear at the outset, just so my biases are all on the table: I'm an Alabama guy, graduated from there, tailgate there 8 times per year, spend most of the time on this blog talking about things going on there (one of the many reasons I attempted to stay out of this); I'm a former sportswriter and current newspaper editor, so my natural inclinations are to defend sportswriters and "the media" from the masses who tend to demonize both those professions because ... well, that's just part of our culture.
Having made those biases clear, allow me to add one more: I'm a football fan. As such, I can say with certainty that I have loved watching Cam Newton play football in 2010; he's been the most dominating player in the country, and he's done it all with a childlike enthusiasm that's struck me as 100 percent genuine. It's been enjoyable enough that I haven't even bothered to think about what the guy's probably going to do to Alabama at the end of this month (and considering our defense just made Jordan Jefferson look like an all-star, it's probably going to get ugly early).

This, of course, is what has made the past 5 days so disheartening: instead of merely appreciating the spectacle of watching the guy play football, we've instead endured the following cycle: a series of scandalous stories about Newton and what his entourage may or may not have done, followed by angry responses from local columnists and bloggers, followed by conspiracy theories tossed out left and right against Urban Meyer (note: he's denying these vehemently) and Dan Mullen (not really doing much denying or discussing of anything) and (of course) Alabama (because no good Auburn conspiracy DOESN'T include Alabama).

It is a part of the culture of being a fan that we naturally defend our own. Which is why, at first, I found the outcry from many within the Auburn base somewhat curious. Cam Newton doesn't belong to Auburn the way Bo or Cadillac did; he showed up on campus an hour ago, almost like a free agent right fielder brought in to shore up the clean-up spot.
Think for a moment what the world would look like had he chosen, say, to stay at Florida, or to enroll at Mississippi State. He'd probably be enjoying a career season for the Gators or Bulldogs; heck, he might even have them in the same spot he has Auburn right now (undefeated, planning for a BCS party in January).
And what would we (Auburn fans and 'Bama fans) say about him? Most likely we'd all think of him as a thug with a sordid past; we'd bring up the laptop thing ad nauseam; we'd poke fun at his needling parents relentlessly; and we would definitely wonder whether he was on the take from those dirty programs that wanted him around in the first place. In short, we'd treat him the way we treat an enemy.
So where's all the righteous anger coming from?

The answer: it's complicated. First, the obvious: Cam Newton is an outstanding football player, the best in the country and inarguably the reason Auburn is currently 10-0 and No. 2 in the BCS. Yes, I know Auburn has other players who have played well this fall — Onterrio McCalebb, Michael Dyer, et al — but No. 2 is the man who makes it all go. Without him, that offense changes fundamentally. Them is the facts.
Moreover, and we discussed this before, quarterback is a different position than any other in sports. We call our quarterbacks by their first names, fret about their mental states, that kind of thing. And when they succeed? We respond like proud parents. I'm not kidding: when Greg McElroy held up the MVP Trophy after last year's SEC Championship Game — a game in which he soundly outplayed the Great Tim Tebow — he looked like a little kid who had just brought home a report card full of smiley faces. Do you see? Do you see what I've brought you? Do you love me now? Do you?
Newton has done everything on the field for Auburn this fall: he's run for over 1,100 yards, averaging a ridiculous 6.5 yards per carry; he's thrown for over 1,800 yards, with completion percentage over 68 percent, a yards-per-pass average over 10 and a quarterback rating of 182.77.
But it's more than that. Partially because he's so grateful to be back on the big stage, and partially because Auburn fans tend to relish the program's image as a "family" unit, Newton's become an adopted son over the course of 10 weeks. There was a great moment at the end of the win over LSU, when Newton turned and ran to the nearest set of bleachers and just stood there, soaking in the cheers. He didn't even seem like he was showboating — just a kid who was in junior college last year, savoring the moment. 85,000 people are cheering right now ... for me. This is awesome.

So it's been a dream season, a perfect marriage between a fan base and a student-athlete. Now this string of stories has threatened to tarnish that dream, to essentially take away an incredible season and the adopted son who's made it possible.
And so they've lashed out. Vehemently. My personal favorite: someone I went to high school accused the reporters responsible for these stories of "slander" and suggested that no one believed Newton is "innocent until proven guilty." It's not that I don't understand. I think we all do.

As for the stories themselves: in the study of human communication, we discuss at length the Aristotelian concept of ethos. Essentially, in persuasion each arguer must establish his own credibility, in order to gain the trust of his audience. In essence, this is the biggest problem with the Newton thing: there appears to be a distinct lack of ethos. At every turn, every source is either anonymous, or, in the case of John Bond, telling a reporter what he says someone else told him (and by the way, that guy says he never told anybody anything of the kind). In every case, we're basically supposed to take the word of the reporter that the sources are trustworthy. It's a mess at every turn.
Even so, as someone who sort of casually studies the media, the pace of the thing has been breathtaking. In the span of less than 48 hours, we had a story, analysis of that story, then other stories in response to the first story, then analysis of those counter stories, columns, blogs, message board chatter ... and eventually, another round of stories. Rinse, lather, repeat. Before Auburn ever even took the field Saturday, most of us (OK, me) were already tired of it, only we couldn't turn away from it.

And I still am. To paraphrase Bill Simmons, I just want to watch football. Really, that's all I want to do. I just want to watch football and enjoy it, without having to worry about agents, payouts, criminal records or anything else.

I never thought I'd miss reading about the injustices of the BCS.

Tuesday tube: more cowbell

Quick fact you'll probably hear repeated periodically this week: the two SEC opponents that are closest to one another, in terms of distance are, in fact, Alabama and Mississippi State (less than 90 miles from Tuscaloosa to Starkville).
Of course, the distance between the two campuses is about the only thing that makes the two programs similar: Alabama owns one of the most prized traditions in college football; State hung a banner for winning the SEC West in 1998.
Even so, 'Bama had the hardest time with the Bullies recently; in fact, in 2008 we needed a sterling effort from Javier Arenas to solidify the win that broke a two-game losing streak to State that bridged the gap between Mike Shula and Nick Saban.
Anyway, today's videos come from the last two wins over State, and only because, to me, these typify the "EFFYOU" intensity that carried us to 26 wins in 28 tries, the same intensity that's been missing in 2010.

Not sure whether that kind of effort is lurking in this 22 somewhere. We'll see.

More coming later today. Roll Tide.

Monday, November 8, 2010

gameday texts: sequ ... aw, hell, you get it

Here's this week's edition of "Gameday Texts," which is exactly what it sounds like. As always, these are real texts from real people. To share your own funny thoughts from gameday, comment here or visit me on Twitter.
Jamie (11:06 a.m.): Schlabach just did a live interview in Auburn. Let's just say he looked "uncomfortable."
(Note: This is what that interview looked like.)

Jamie (11:23 a.m.): I have said since Thursday night. Unless you have more to give me than what's out there, this is NOT a story.

Jamie (11:25 a.m.): Former UF player Brad Culpepper spoke to the team and told them to learn how to take success one step at a time. Um ... don't you need to have success to learn how to deal with it?
Whit (12:11 p.m.): The "Auburn family" thing is getting a little out of hand. LIke they needed another reason to look down their nose at everyone else.

Jamie (12:36 p.m.): Defenses have shown up in Ann Arbor.
Pedro (12:46 p.m.): Deep thoughts, Rece? At least better than Dr. Lou ...

Pedro (2:38 p.m.): Can we just get some honesty and hear, "the weakness of the LSU team is that their coach sucks."

Maguire (2:51 p.m.): They need to stop showing stats like that one about Greg's 120+ pass streak without an INT. Dammit.
Maguire (2:58 p.m.): Verne doesn't know what "impetus" means.

Eric St. Clair (3:01 p.m.): Zatarins.

Maguire (3:06 p.m.): Guess it's OK to horse-collar on a screen.

Jamie (3:08 p.m.): Whoever had the over/under of LSU injuries at 11 is in good shape.
Maguire (3:09 p.m.): What's the over/under on the number of injury timeouts for LSU today?
Eric St. Clair (3:09 p.m.): Are they really getting hurt?
Eric St. Clair (3:15 p.m.): More injury timeouts this game than number of times I was told "Tiger Bait."

Maguire (3:16 p.m.): Take that, 7.

Maguire (3:29 p.m.): Never thought I'd miss Leigh Tiffin.

Eric St. Clair (3:46 p.m.): They're showing LSU highlights on the jumbotron. None from this year.

Maguire (4:31 p.m.): I was just saying we ought to go Punt Safe every time.

Halcombe (4:58 p.m.): My son just won a District title in soccer, so two hours ago I officially became one of "Those" parents.
Halcombe (5:01 p.m.): To better explain my status, let me add that I am currently wearing a screen print shirt that has every player's name on the back ...
Halcombe (5:04 p.m.): But ... And I feel this a moderate one at best, I have no intention of commenting on the events of today on ANY social networking site.
Halcombe (5:05 p.m.): That, however, is because I plan to push my child's exploits on 10,372 disinterested readers and two unsuspecting sportswriters.

Halcombe (5:11 p.m.): Quick trivia: Blow your mind by watching Monsters vs. Aliens and have the realization that the cockroach mad scientist is, in fact, House.

Halcombe (5:18 p.m.): My wife's job has me currently beside Buckeye Park, home of the Redneck Games. So I'm listening to the boys' DVD player. Best faux superhero name ever: Gynormica.
Halcombe (5:19 p.m.): It took my wife several weeks before she pieced together why I laughed every time that name came up in conversation.

Maguire (5:18 p.m.): Think Utah was a poser?

Dad (5:19 p.m.): D was way better last year.

Maguire (5:22 p.m.): Did the give up by running on 3rd and 19?!!!!

Maguire (5:28 p.m.): I'm so sick of this poor tackling.

Maguire (5:29 p.m.): I wanna throw up now.

Maguire (5:38 p.m.): Did Miles just pick up a piece of grass and eat it?
Pedro (5:40 p.m.): Weekly DVR alert — Les Miles bent down, grabbed some turf and ate it before that conversation.

Maguire (5:43 p.m.): [Expletive]
Whit (5:44 p.m.): [Expletive]

Dad (5:49 p.m.): Melt down.

Maguire (5:49 p.m.): Matriculate? Seriously? What language are they speaking?
Dad (5:50 p.m.): 08 offense was better than this.

Maguire (5:52 p.m.): Time for a little magic, 1998 style.

Maguire (5:56 p.m.): Is Crowton stupid enough to throw it?

Maguire (5:59 p.m.): Damn. Just damn.

Maguire (6:03 p.m.): How come he can do well time management against us?

Maguire (6:07 p.m.): Guess I will be making money off my BCS tickets.

Maguire (6:09 p.m.): Well, I guess we'll be on our own meltdown thread this week.

Dad (7:53 p.m.): So do we get better or shut down?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

week 10 thoughts: end of the ride

"... And so I’m picking Alabama. Unless something stupid happens."

Perspective is a funny thing. This time three years ago, the program I've followed religiously since the third grade (or thereabouts) was mired in the midst of the worst decade in its history, had just lost to LSU for the fifth straight season, and was about to embark on a month that could only be called "Rock Bottom" (Mississippi St., La-Monroe, Auburn ... all losses). What's worse: we were all so innured to the losing — after all, we were on our fifth coach and had seen a decade of mediocrity or worse at pretty much every turn — that nobody really raised much of a fuss. That November wasn't fun, but then not much had been since around 1999, anyway.

Here's why I'm bringing this up now: yesterday's loss made me angry. I stomped around the house, cursing everyone I could think of. I thought I'd destroyed my cell phone. I didn't drink enough, so the anger didn't dull. I just couldn't believe a team with a chance to win a championship wasted it with such a lousy performance on national TV. Again.
This morning, sitting in church — a must for everyone who takes football way too seriously (like me) — I realized that what I said during the bye week continues to be true: the fact that Alabama football matters this much, not just to me but everybody in the nation, is indicative of how far this program has come in such a short time. During the aforementioned November, if you'd told me how things would play out over the next 36 months, I'd have called myself a buffoon for being so angry about a second loss, about continuing to be ranked in the top 15, and about the crime of not winning the West or the SEC after two years of BCS-caliber football.

The thing that hurts about Saturday, of course, is the knowledge that I was completely wrong. For 14 solid days I thought about how Alabama matched up with LSU, ultimately coming to the conclusion that LSU couldn't beat Alabama without "something stupid" happening, like a myriad of terrible turnovers or Les Miles doing something crazy that somehow worked (like what's happened about 15 times during his 5-year career at Red Stick).
Instead, LSU beat Alabama straight-up. A number of headlines have focused on LSU's successful trick plays — the fake punt, the fourth-down reverse — but those were just part of it. As Dr. Saturday points out:
Here, LSU met the odds-on favorite to return to the BCS title game, outgained them by more than 100 yards and turned in four straight scoring drives in the third and fourth quarters for a late, two-score lead. The Tiger defense held a versatile, star-studded offense a full 120 yards and two touchdowns below its season averages. Maligned quarterback Jordan Jefferson, overseer of the SEC's least productive passing attack, hit 10 of 13 with zero turnovers against the league's No. 1 passing defense, including his first touchdown pass in two months, a 75-yarder to Reuben Randle. The final score couldn't be attributed to trickery (a successful fake punt in the third quarter didn't lead to any points), luck, Alabama gaffes or any other brand of Milesian voodoo. It was just one enormously talented outfit making the plays to beat another.

Perspective or no, that's disheartening. And an ominous note for the month to come, particularly the final week.

Some other thoughts:
• Look, I know it's probably not cool to rip college kids, particularly babies like DeMarcus Milliner (who, yes, inexplicably squatted on a short route on the game's decisive play instead of covering the deep ball). Having said that, Alabama's defense is full of big-name players that have proven to be, for lack of a better term, frauds. Frankly, I'm tired of bashing the secondary when the front-7 — particularly alleged All-Americans like Marcell Dareus, Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower — can't control the line of scrimmage against anybody or make a sure tackle. Wanna know how many sacks we registered Saturday? One. And it was by Josh Chapman, the nose guard who's in the game to control the line of scrimmage, not rush the passer. That's beyond ridiculous.
• While OTS was underrating the impact Glenn Dorsey had in 2007 in his gameday post — we averaged less than 1 yard per carry in that game, remember — he's quite correct in his assessment of Drake Nevis' absolute destruction of William Vlachos. Not only did Nevis disrupt Alabama's run game all day long — helped in large part by Trent Richardson's injury — but he completely annihilated Vlachos on the game's decisive play: the sack that led to the fumble that led to the field goal (which turned out to be the deciding points). Vlachos should be properly ashamed.
• In the Birmingham News' Sports section, periodically, they run some of the highlights from the chatter off, one of the dumbest running features, and only because it glorifies anonymous flamers who have no sense of football or anything else. But I did peruse the comments today, and one of them was spot-on about the coaching in Saturday's game. What, exactly, did Alabama do with its bye week? Because it certainly looked ill-prepared on every level Saturday: LSU was (at least) a step ahead in every facet of the game, and Alabama had no new wrinkles or anything that might be considered "creative" on any level.
How, for example, did we get fooled on the fake punt that led to LSU's first touchdown? Really? No one considered they might fake a punt near midfield, with only 1 yard to gain?
I recall before the season, for example, saying I was looking forward to seeing how the coaching staff would use Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson together. I'm still waiting. Since he threw a TD pass vs. Florida, I think we've snapped it to Marquis Maze twice. And all of the complex blitzes we used last year to affect the quarterback when we couldn't do it with our front in 2009 have apparently been shelved, to our detriment.
For two years, this staff pressed all the right buttons at all the right times. For much of this season they haven't appeared to press any buttons; they've just brought the same tired game plan to battle on both sides of the ball, then flailed helplessly when it didn't work.
• When we talked about luck in preseason, here's what we meant: in the fourth, leading 14-13 and having to punt it back to LSU, there was a moment where the Tigers nearly gave it up after Cody Mandel — who's also been a disappointment this season — bounced a punt off a return man's leg. We had three guys near the football. They had one (incidentally, the same guy whose leg the punt bounced off). But their guy got the ball back. And they scored a few plays later.
• This, by the way, is the official end of the ride for this particular group of Alabama stars. Next year we'll be contenders again, but with a totally different feel. McElroy will definitely be gone; Ingram and Jones will be, as well. There exists the distinct possibility someone else will call plays — Jim McElwain's name has surfaced already as a candidate in Colorado — and the defense will likely have a different look, as well.
So, some perspective: since Aug. 30, 2008, this team has played 37 games, and has won 33 of them. In that time they gave us a Heisman Trophy, two appearances in the SEC Championship Game and a BCS national championship, all the while restoring the pride in the jersey that was missing for much of the decade that preceded it.
And yes, 3 games still remain on the schedule, plus a consolation prize in some nearby locale like Dallas, Orlando or (possibly) Atlanta. But let's appreciate this run, and these players, while we still can.
Perspective, after all, can change pretty quickly.

Roll Tide.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

shameless promotion (2.01): week 10

Note: Here is the picks column I write weekly for The Daily Home.
Playoff Time in the SEC

November means lots of things: turkey, for one thing. And Veterans Day, of course, and my mom’s birthday, and our one of our co-workers’ annually scheduled orthopedic surgery, which is always a festive occasion.

For college football fans, November means it’s time to start griping incessantly about the inequities of the Bowl Championship Series, and wonder if chaos will indeed reign in January. The cycle generally works like this, in any given season: first we worry that there are too many unbeatens, then complain that the unbeatens from lesser conferences are being overlooked, and eventually just grouse that the whole system belongs in a garbage can. Sometimes members of Congress say something, and we complain that Congress should have “better things to do” than dabble in college football playoffs (we don’t, but shouldn’t they?).

The good news for fans of playoffs: for the next month, a de facto “playoff” will take place in the Southeastern Conference. Alabama, for example, can still achieve all the goals set out before the season — division champs, SEC champs, national champs — but it’s in tournament posture now: survive and advance, or be eliminated.

Auburn is in much the same position, though the Tigers are in more of a double-elimination mode: they could survive a loss in November and (conceivably) still reach a lofty postseason height.

Other conferences face a similar situation: Oklahoma and Nebraska must survive to advance, while teams like Boise, TCU and Utah can’t afford the slightest slip-up.
Maybe we have a playoff, after all.

This column, incidentally, is rounding into postseason posture itself, after a 5-0 week that even featured a cover by Tennessee (yes, riding the Vols and their ridiculous point spreads finally worked). That brings us to within a game of breaking even, at 25-26-1. If this were a blackjack table, now would be the time to start doubling down.

(Home teams in caps.)

AUBURN (-39.5) over Tennessee-Chattanooga: The only thing that’s been fun about this week’s Cam Newton sideshow: the level of righteous indignation that inevitably came from the Plains. Seriously, Auburn fans reacted like a junior-high parent who’s just been informed their son’s being suspended from school.

My son’s a good boy! All these other kids are the bad kids! You just don’t like him, that’s what’s really going on! You’re out to get him!

The good news for Auburn: even in its sleep, it’s capable of posting 40 points against the Mocs, even if they lay off the gas early to save everybody’s legs for “Amen Corner.”

Florida (-14) over VANDERBILT: Since Georgia isn’t on the board this week, now may be the right time to ask exactly what UGA did in the 1980s, to deserve such cruel treatment from the football gods when it comes to Florida.

Seriously, that game Saturday was downright painful: the Bulldogs outgained Florida, overcame a two-touchdown deficit in the second half, got another Herculean performance from A.J. Green … then lost anyway in the cruelest way possible. To add insult to the whole thing, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is now taking heat for giving the “choke” sign to Florida’s kicker. Good grief.

Arkansas (+4) over SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks’ entire season rests on next week’s game in Gainesville, regardless of the outcome of this game. And unfortunately, their uninspired performance vs. Tennessee — seriously, Tyler Bray nearly won that game for the Vols — doesn’t bode well for a matchup vs. Ryan Mallett.

Alabama (-6) over LSU: Look, I’ve tried 10 different ways to write this pick up. But it comes down to this: in every conceivable facet of the game — defense, offense, special teams — Alabama is as good or better than LSU, and the coaching difference is overwhelmingly in favor of Alabama.
Only one thing gives me pause, as it should you: the Les Miles factor. Every analysis of this game should end with the phrase, “unless something stupid happens, and something stupid happens from time to time when Les Miles is involved.”

And so I’m picking Alabama. Unless something stupid happens.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Friday Andy: There Is A Time

For today's edition of this "Andy Griffith Show" clip, here's The Darling Family (real life name: The Dillards) with their sister Charlene, playing an old bluegrass tune entitled "There Is A Time."

Back with more later.

shameless promotion (2.0), part xiv

Editor's Note: In a renewed attempt to promote the failingwriting career, we present this week's column from the St. Clair Times, which now has a Twitter and — against my will — a Facebook page. As always, feel free to add your own thoughts here in the comments, or by finding my personal Twitter. Thanks in advance for your feigning of interest.
Thoughts on fear and holidays

Standing in line to enter a haunted house a little over a week ago, a teenage girl offered me a detailed explanation for why such a place would be the perfect spot for a serial killing.

“I mean, you go in there expecting to see that stuff, right?” she said. “So if there were somebody and they REALLY wanted to kill somebody, how would you know? You’d think it was just part of the show.”

I like to think she was joking. I like to think that.

The truth is, I was nervous about taking this group of kids — the bulk of whom came from, yes, a church youth group (we’ll get around to that in a minute) — on two levels. First, I have bad ankles/knees and was worried I might twist one of them and have to limp my way through the rest of the week (I’m the same guy who once broke his leg walking the dogs).

Moreover, I feared I might spook and shout some kind of loud profanity in front of this group of teenagers from church. That one would be kind of hard to explain.

“Mom, what’s a (horrible expletive she heard the youth volunteer at church say)?”

“Honey, where’d you ever HEAR such language?”

“Last Sunday at youth group.”

The question of how people of faith should celebrate Halloween has been prevalent for some time now, whether it’s with a “Judgment House” or with various “Trunk or Treat” nights at different local churches. Some even choose ignore the occasion altogether, owing to its rather shady history (exaggerated to death over the years … and yes, the awful pun’s intentional).

The most creative approach belongs to my college friend Bart, a youth minister. He encouraged his youth to celebrate Halloween as a “No Fear Day,” celebrating the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy.

“For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” (1:7)

Bart also encouraged all of us to observe All Saint’s Day, one of the coolest days in the church calendar. Light candles, sing songs about the service of the saints … celebrate the legacy of those who have gone before.

And then we can talk about one of the most uniquely American holidays that we have: Thanksgiving. They don’t make any cool houses that celebrate thankfulness, though.

(Or maybe they do.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thursday lines: November Rain

This week's edition of "Thursday Lines" comes to you courtesy of This week we have a new game: try to spot the most absolutely terrible matchup on the board (and there are several candidates). As always, if you have anything to say about lines or anything else, feel free to comment here or visit me on Twitter.
Ga. Tech (+13) at Va. Tech

W. Michigan (+3.5) at Central Michigan
UCF (-2) at Houston

Wisconsin (-20) at Purdue
Louisville (+6) at Syracuse
Virginia (-1) at Duke
Minnesota (+24.5) at Michigan St.
N.C. State (+3.5) at Clemson
Iowa (-17.5) at Indiana
Maryland (+8) at Miami
Illinois (+3) at Michigan
Air Force (-7) at Army
Florida (-14) at Vanderbilt
Baylor (+7.5) at Oklahoma St.
Colorado (-9) at Kansas
UNLV (+18) at BYU
Navy (+3) at East Carolina
Boston College (-3) at Wake Forest
Northwestern (+6) at Penn St.
Hawaii (+21) at Boise St.
(Note: If the Big XII ever really wanted to expand, couldn't it just get crazy and go get Boise? Why not, right?)
Washington (-35.5) at Oregon
Nebraska (-19) at Iowa St.
TCU (-5) at Utah
Alabama (-7) at LSU
Marshall (+9.5) at UAB
(Note: The Blazers may have turned the season last week by going for 2 — and making it! — at Southern Miss. Not sure what genius decided to schedule them for a Saturday afternoon the same day as 'Bama-LSU, though. There won't be 5,000 people in the stands.)
California (-14.5) at Washington St.
Troy (-11.5) at North Texas
Arkansas (+4) at South Carolina
Oklahoma (-3) at Texas A&M
Oregon St. (-5) at UCLA
Texas (-4) at Kansas St.
Missouri (-4) at Texas Tech
Tennessee (-20.5) at Memphis
Arizona (+9.5) at Stanford
Arizona St. (+5.5) at USC

Wednesday playoff scenarios: living the dream

Because of the lack of an Alabama game this past Saturday, there's not much to discuss in the way of a roundtable. If you want to throw up in your mouth about the difficulty of the season's final month, then I say read this post at RBR.
But it is the middle of the week, obviously, and since we've only a month left in the regular season, let's have some fun by giving you some possible playoff scenarios for this season, that exist in an alternate universe in which college football's postseason doesn't completely suck (think of it like the parallel universe on "Lost," only we don't eventually find out that everyone in that universe is ... aw, never mind).

My favorite tournament scenario — and apparently it's just me out here — remains the 6-team bracket, in which the top 2 receive bye weeks while the lower 4 play in the first round. I like it because it keeps meaning in the regular season while still providing a chance for the best teams to play things out on the field (besides, do we really want anyone outside the top-6 playing for a championship?).
Here's what it would look like based on the current BCS standings:
First Round
(6) Alabama vs. (3) TCU
(5) Utah vs. (4) Boise St.
6/3 vs. (1) Oregon
5/4 vs. (2) Auburn

BCS National Championship Game: Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4

Problems: Obviously, only TWO of the "Big 6" conferences are represented in this bracket, with notable one-loss programs like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Ohio St. all left out of the mix. On the other hand, with a month left in the season, it's likely most of that would sort itself out eventually (as it typically does). But you'd get a lot of bleating from people like, say, Bob Stoops, in December.
The other problem: where to play these games. If you play the first round on home fields — in Fort Worth and Boise — you'll hear it from the top 2 (who'd be cheated out of an extra home date and the resulting revenue). So someone smarter than I would have to figure out how to sort things out financially.

Of course, you could just blow the whole thing up, junk the entire system and start over with a 16-team bracket. That would look something like this:
First Round
(16) Iowa vs. (1) Oregon
(9) Wisconsin vs. (8) Oklahoma

(12) Missouri vs. (5) Utah
(13) Stanford vs. (4) Boise St.

(11) Ohio St. vs. (6) Alabama
(14) Michigan St. vs. (3) TCU

(10) LSU vs. (7) Nebraska
(15) Arizona vs. (2) Auburn

Problems: As much as I enjoy some of these matchups — seriously, who doesn't love MIke Stoops vs. Gus Malzahn in Round 1? — this is the end of the big-ticket non-conference games during the regular season — no way you're getting Michigan St.-TCU in the regular season when there's a bloodbath awaiting them in the tournament. It's also (probably) the end of the conference championship games, since that game probably won't help any of these programs in the broader national championship picture.
Also, for all the talk of "making the season too long," this bracket will make the season stretch to frigging forever. I enjoy the expanded baseball playoffs as much as anyone, but because of the extended schedule, the World Series stretched until Nov. 1 (and it was only Game 5!), and by the time it was over, barely anyone was paying attention.
Now, if you want to get REALLY nuts, check out this 16-team DOUBLE elimination bracket.

One more thought before we go: what's ultimately blocking a tournament in I-A college football is money and control: yes, the tournament could make a ton of money, but that money would likely be controlled by the NCAA — as opposed to the current bowl system, in which the programs themselves keep the lion's share. If we can find a way to fix THAT problem, everything else will follow after.
Got a better idea? Leave it here in the comments, or chirp at me on Twitter.

More coming later today.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tuesday tube: bayou bashing

One of the few road trips I really have no interest in ever making again is to LSU: as much as I enjoy New Orleans as a vacation spot, every time I go to Red Stick I fear I'm going to die. Going there and dealing with the LSU folks is roughly similar to a zombie attack. Observe:

Yeah ... just like that, actually.
Anyway, historically our guys haven't feared Baton Rouge as much as I: until the disaster of 2000, Alabama did not lose at LSU for over 30 years. Here are two of my favorites in that streak.

Those were fun. And while we're here, let's enjoy the last two in the series, two of my favorite games in this run.