Thursday, September 30, 2010

Thursday lines: starting your fall off right

It's a gorgeous day outside. So make sure you check these lines, make your picks and hurry off. As always, lines come from Please feel free to leave your own thoughts about these games in the comments section or on Twitter.
Texas A&M (+3.5) at Oklahoma St.
BYU (-6.5) at Utah St.
La.-Monroe (+33.5) at Auburn
(Note: Go ahead, make the joke ... I know you want to. Fine. Got that out of your system? Good. Be sure to stop by and see our new trophy while you're here.)
Vanderbilt (+7.5) at Connecticut
Northwestern (-6) at Minnesota
Kentucky (+2) at Mississippi
Miami (Fla.) (-2.5) at Clemson
Kansas (+8.5) at Baylor
Florida St. (-7) at Virginia
Temple (-3) at Army
Ohio St. (-17.5) at Illinois
TCU (-34.5) at Colorado St.
[Editor's Note: Thursday lines were interrupted so I could go out and take pictures of an overturned 18-wheeler blocking a state highway. Sorry.]
Navy (+9) at Air Force
Washington St. (+26.5) at UCLA
Michigan (-14.5) at Indiana
Tennessee (+14.5) at LSU
(Note: A tough game to call: Tennessee's terrible, but LSU can't be trusted. Ever.)
Wisconsin (-1.5) at Michigan St.
Va. Tech (-5.5) at North Carolina St.
East Carolina (+10.5) at North Carolina
Texas (+3.5) vs. Oklahoma (Dallas)
Duke (+7.5) at Maryland
Arizona St. (+5) at Oregon St.
Georgia (-3.5) at Colorado
Texas Tech (-9) at Iowa St.
Ga. Tech (-10) at Wake Forest
Louisville (+6) at Arkansas St.
Washington (+10) at USC
Notre Dame (-1.5) at Boston College
Boise St. (-40) at New Mexico St.
(Note: To me, Boise has to be the biggest lock of the season to cover these cupcake games, not just because they're so much better, but because they have to score every point they can to have any shot at a BCS berth. Seriously.)
Florida (+9) at Alabama
(Note: Already down to 7 in most places.)
Stanford (+6) at Oregon
Penn St. (+6.5) at Iowa
Nevada (-19.5) at UNLV

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

wednesday roundtable: Flora-Bama

Welcome to this week's edition of the Crimson & White Roundtable, on the eve of the Game of the Century (of the Week). As always, you're welcome to chime in with your own thoughts, either here in the comments section or on Twitter.

1) What is the biggest lesson we learned in the win over Arkansas last Saturday?
In order, we learned the following:
• That all the "biggest game on everybody's schedule/target on our backs" bluster is for real.
• That all our fears about our defense, particularly the secondary, are well-founded.
• That Ingram/Richardson > Ryan Mallett.
• That these are the champs, and they can rise to the occasion when it matters most, even if it's on the road in a game where very little has gone right for most of three quarters.

2) What is the biggest concern going into the game with Florida next Saturday?
To me, it's Florida's defense. Alabama's offense kept us in the game for a number of reasons, but Arkansas' defense certainly helped a great deal. Florida's defense will likely do no such favors, Charley Strong or no.

3) Will this contest be a preview of this year's SECCG? Why or why not?
It's hard to see how it's not going to be, at least where Florida is concerned. As of right now, every East contender is done with the exception of South Carolina, and they're having their usual upheaval at quarterback. So the Gators win the East unless they completely fall apart, which seems unlikely.
As for the West, I know it's early, but Auburn looks like a legit contender ... and, um, LSU is also here. So it's a tad early to gift the division to us at this point.

4) What part of this week's gameday experience are you most looking forward to?
Watching my drunk brothers say "IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!" over and over again. Making a bunch of "Tebow's crying!" jokes. Wearing jorts. ... Ya know what? It's going to be a fun game. That's about all I can say at this point.

Florida is back in town, and it makes me think of No. 4

The return of the University of Florida to Tuscaloosa this weekend is, naturally, fraught with storylines, whether it's Saban vs. Meyer, the rematch of the last two SEC Championship games, John Brantley-Greg McElroy, Alabama's regular-season winning streak ... or even Daniel Maguire's rematch against the Florida fans who caused him to moon them five years ago.

One storyline that probably won't get much play: Florida's coming back to Tuscaloosa since October 2005, the day fate dealt Tyrone Prothro one of the cruelest blows I've ever witnessed live.

It's hard to think of Tyrone Prothro as one of the greats in Alabama football history. He played barely more than one season in Tuscaloosa, and his career stats — 42 catches, 672 yards and 4 TDs, plus one return TD and one rushing TD — are underwhelming. He wasn't a heralded recruit when he came to 'Bama from Heflin (Cleburne Co.) and probably won't make an appearance in the Bryant Musem, except for ... yeah, this:

What those numbers will never reflect, of course, is how much Tyrone Prothro meant to Alabama, and vice versa. When No. 4 stepped on campus in 2003, he was entering a locker room that, frankly, was broken. Dennis Franchione's departure in 2002, and the subsequent scandal involving Mike Price had damaged the program to a startling degree; Alabama was a national punchline, only a few months removed from a 10-win season.

From a pure football standpoint, it was a team that lacked playmakers, due to probation and bizarre recruiting. Coming into 2003, Alabama's best offensive weapons, in order, were Shaud Williams (forced to carry the football an alarming number of times that year), Brodie Croyle (as brittle as a sand dollar) and ... actually, there wasn't really a third one. It was a team desperately in need of someone with blazing speed on the perimeter, something Prothro possessed but didn't fully harness until the following year (when he was the only returning receiver with experience and the primary kick returner).

In a way, Prothro's career at Alabama is emblematic of that entire period in Alabama football history: tantalizing flashes that ultimately amounted to little. In 2004, Prothro emerged as one of the conference's most exciting players, even earning a spot on the all-SEC team as a kick returner. But he never flourished at wideout, primarily due to the fact that the guy throwing him passes was Spencer Pennington and the guy calling the plays was Mike Shula.
2005 was shaping up as the year Croyle-to-Prothro became one of the go-to combinations in the country. He turned in a dazzling touchdown catch in the opener vs. Middle Tennessee, then made a national name for himself with "The Catch" vs. Southern Miss. He was emerging as the rare football player with explosive talent and a high football IQ: there was one moment in that year's win over Arkansas where Pro, after catching a pass on a third-and-long, actually stopped in the middle of the field, turned his head, found the first down marker and made sure he fought past it. I'd never seen anything like that before, and I'm certain no one wrote about it the next day.
And then, of course, there was his day vs. Florida. The numbers for the day don't really do it justice, but let's try: 5 catches, 134 yards, 2 TDs, a punt return TD that was nullified due to a holding call, and the undying admiration of Alabama fans everywhere. More than that, there seemed to be an intuitive connection between Prothro and quarterback Brodie Croyle; wherever Croyle threw the ball, Prothro went and found it.
Then it happened. I haven't watched the play since I saw it live, won't watch it now and won't ask you to do it, either. In my memory, I still see Brodie Croyle heaving the ball towards the end zone, trying to convert a fourth down we didn't need — Dave Rader would say after, "We were just trying to win the game" — Prothro jumping for it and landing at an odd angle, the horror that overtook the stadium when they realized that no, his shoe didn't come off, that was his foot pointing that way ... and the reality quickly setting in that Tyrone Prothro was done, possibly forever. Alabama's offense wasn't the same again for the next three years after that play.

Actually, we all tried to rationalize at the time. None of us knew what too many of us know now: that Prothro's injury was botched in the immediate aftermath, that he wound up having to endure (at least) three different surgeries on the broken leg, that the play in that end zone was actually it for his career. When Prothro brought out the game ball before the 2006 Auburn game — more than a year after he'd suffered the injury — he could still barely make it to midfield at a brisk trot. It was disheartening to everybody who watched him embarrass defenders during '04-'05.
In reality, it's not really fair to say Prothro's college years were a total loss: he did receive his degree (coach Saban placed him on medical scholarship upon arrival in '07), and he remains one of the more popular ex-Alabama players (you can follow him on Twitter if you so choose).
It just seems like a career unfinished. The whole country deserved to know Tyrone Prothro for more than just one incredible catch; they should've seen this 5-8 dart playing three times his size, throwing crushing blocks, catching passes that should've been out of his reach and doing everything he could to make Alabama fans proud of being Alabama fans again. One play, 6 seconds, took that away from him, away from us, for good.

If he can't bring himself to watch on Saturday, I can't say that I blame him.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tuesday 'tube: Florida week needs no catchy titles

It seems like we were just doing this a few months ago, but here we are again with another edition of "Florida Week youtube," preparing to welcome the Gators to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
For two programs that consider each other rivals, Alabama and Florida don't have much of a history when it comes to regular-season meetings. In fact, we played Florida exactly four times during the regular season in the 1990s: 1990-91 and 1998-99. Florida won three of those. The fourth, of course, was the most memorable.

Florida didn't come back to Tuscaloosa again until 2005, Urban Meyer's first season in Gainesville, and his only trip to Tuscaloosa (until, obviously, this Saturday). As it turned out, an ambush awaited them.

So Meyer's memories of Tuscaloosa aren't so positive. And also, while we're here, we might as well just re-visit last year's showdown in Atlanta ... ya know, just because.

Regardless of what happens Saturday, remember to savor the moment. Florida won't be back for a while. Roll Tide.

gameday texts: sequence 3

Before we get into the text messages that made Saturday so memorable for me and everybody else, I have a favor to ask of those who might be out there receiving text messages from me. My friend Maguire posted last week that these posts would make more sense if I could add my own sent messages, to provide context; unfortunately, my own sent messages get deleted quickly because they take up too much space. So if you have sent messages from me that you feel should be added here, add them in the comments section, or send them to me via Twitter and I'll try to add them in later on.
Anyway, to the texting. As always, these are real text messages with real time stamps, and each name on the message is the name as it is appears in my contact list. You've been warned.
Kendra (7:54 am.): I wonder what the J in Rocket J. Squirrel stands for. (Note: this isn't football-related, but was hysterically funny.)
Pedro (8:36 a.m.): What rhymes with uppity? (Note: I have no idea to what this is related.)

Pedro (9:20 a.m.): I thought "the Iron Skillet" was what you won at all you can eat throwdown every day at 2 at the exit 102 PETRO Station.
Pedro (10:10 a.m.): You know who else refers to himself in the 3rd person? Elmo.
Chad C. (11:18 a.m.): Actually, I believe he (Mallett) referred to his legacy in the third person. I wonder if he realizes his whiteness?

Halcombe (11:06 a.m.): Every one of the 40 or so GT idiots wearing the Ronald McDonald wigs and white paint on their chest should be required to lick gym socks 4 their stupidity.
Pedro (11:09 a.m.): The Tech whiteout should stay, if only so we can see the parade of geeks in white jeans dancing to the Bud song. That says it all.

(On Tennessee, where the locker room is named for Peyton Manning)
Halcombe (11:23 a.m.): I'd say that there'd have to be a space somewhere for the DSOL logo and J. Timberlake's "Rock Your Body" video playing on a Sony Bravia 3D TV.
Maguire (11:24 a.m.): I wonder if it's now standard practice to moon the trainers.
Chad C. (11:24 a.m.): I heard they were changing it to the "Kiss My A-- Kiffen locker room" I like that one.

Chad C. (12:18 p.m.): I'm waiting on the NCAA to put helmets on the umpires ... or would that be the DOT???
Maguire (12:23 p.m.): They lowdown ... they some snitches.
Jamie (12:45 p.m.): Was just sitting here thinking, a turnover would not be good for the blazers.
Pedro (1:15 p.m.): What exactly goes through a woman's head when naming her son "Mustafa?"
Dad (2:19 p.m.): UAB!
Travis P (2:20 p.m.): YEA YEAH

Dad (2:32 p.m.): The traditional hog walk??
Maguire (2:32 p.m.): I thought (the red-out) was green.
Whit (2:37 p.m.): Verne Lundquist looking old as (expletive).

Chad C. (2:50 p.m.): Swinging at what??? Nobody knows.
Dad (2:51 p.m.): Really ready.
Whit (2:52 p.m.): Already watching UAB in OT.
Pedro (2:58 p.m.): Julia cheered that false start (note: "Julia" refers to Peter's daughter, who's a year-and-a-half old and will one day rule the universe).
Maguire (3:11 p.m.): (Our new kicker's tackling prowess) A welcome change from Leigh Tiffin's sissified behavior on KOC.

(On what Dre Kirkpatrick does well)
Chad C. (3:18 p.m.): Grow dreadlocks???
Whit (3:18 p.m.): Right now he's the new Kelf Bailey.
Dad (3:18 p.m.): Get us beat.
Maguire (3:18 p.m.): He stands up straight and doesn't tackle. Oh wait ...

Chad C. (3:19 p.m.): When is someone going to HIT Mallett?
Maguire (3:33 p.m.): I guess they're not going to stop play to review our spot the way they did theirs.
Pedro (3:42 p.m.): If we don't get pressure, we'll have to depend on Mallett doing that to win.
Travis P (3:42 p.m.): With Lester non helping. I would repeat that all day.
Chad C. (3:44 p.m.): I'm just excited 'Bama decided to make a defensive play.
Dad (3:44 p.m.): Already muted TV.

Maguire (3:52 p.m.): Agh. Tried to force it.
Dad (3:53 p.m.): 3 runs would have scored.
Chad C. (3:53 p.m.): No, Jesus would've seen Maze wide MF'n open.

Maguire (4:00 p.m.): DAMMIT! Floated it and never saw Crim.
Chad C. (4:00 p.m.): Jesus would've floated that one over his outside shoulder too.
Pedro (4:00 p.m.): Today's Tuscaloosa News had an article about McElroy having been introduced to so many famous people. McElroy's gotta stop showing how introduces foot to bullets.

Chad C. (4:02 p.m.): Somebody needs to see if Dre has a ticket to this game. He's watched this (expletive) all day.
Maguire (4:03 p.m.): Get 21 out of the game.
Dad (4:08 p.m.): Mistakes will kill.

Jamie (4:14 p.m.): Worst OCs are the ones who outsmart themselves.
Maguire (4:37 p.m.): RUN THE BALL.

Maguire (4:43 p.m.): Freaking Swiss cheese.
Dad (4:44 p.m.): I'm begging for a turnover.

Jamie (4:44 p.m.): 10 points. As someone who sat through last week's AU game, don't bring that (expletive) to me.
Maguire (4:48 p.m.): We look immature and very sloppy on D. Way too many mental mistakes.
Maguire (4:49 p.m.): Helluva slider he kicked there.

(On who we have left on the schedule we can beat.)
Chad C. (4:51 p.m.): Judging by today?? No one.
Pedro (4:51 p.m.): Amanda votes Ga. State. I vote UT and Ole Miss.

Dad (4:53 p.m.): Sad but without G-Mac mistakes we are ahead.
Dad (5:01 p.m.): Offense physically tougher than defense.

Maguire (5:15 p.m.): Mallett is apparently a whining sissy, too.

Maguire (5:27 p.m.): We need to complete this drive and make one more just like it.
Jamie (5:32 p.m.): Everybody at the tailgate is asking: why not run every fn down?

Jamie (5:37 p.m.): Darius is ... large.
Dad (5:38 p.m.): May not get the ball back.
Maguire (5:40 p.m.): Gut check.

Jamie (5:40 p.m.): Game set match.
Maguire (5:41 p.m.): LESTER!!!
Pedro (5:42 p.m.): 22 and 3 in Wildcat. Try and stop us.

Dad (5:42 p.m.): Too soon.
Chad C. (5:44 p.m.): Starting to hate the institution of marriage. Not mine, just the part where people have weddings during the 4th quarter.

Pedro (5:44 p.m.): Somebody should tell Dareus his agent says not to get hurt. We need 11 healthy bodies out there.
Dad (5:46 p.m.): May lose yet but we got guts.
Pedro (5:53 p.m.): I'm just glad our daughter was in the other room on Lowery's "pass interference." She would've been, um, scared.

Jamie (5:50 p.m.): Good throw Heisman.
Dad (5:50 p.m.): Ha!
Pedro (5:50 p.m.): Dre found a use for himself.
Maguire (5:51 p.m.): I take back everything I said about 21 today.
Dad (5:52 p.m.): Believe that was our boy.
Chad C. (5:53 p.m.): Somebody must have told him his team was playing.

Maguire (5:59 p.m.): Man up. Yes sir!
Dad (5:59 p.m.): Punt please.
Chad C. (6:01 p.m.): Love it!!!
Maguire (6:01 p.m.): 4-0. Roll Tide.

Jamie (6:44 p.m.): Gene is still zipped.
Jamie (6:46 p.m.): Surprisingly very loud tonight. Thought there would be a fan hangover.
Pedro (6:55 p.m.): You know you married the right girl when an early season conference game is on and she says "oh, he's lost wieght" after the first shot of the head referee.
Dad (7:11 p.m.): Thank God Spurrier doesn't have Mallett as his QB.
Pedro (7:11 p.m.): I'm worried that "magic blue carpet may be some newfangled slang. But what for ...
Jamie (7:25 p.m.): Rooting for a team that MUST match score for score is really disheartening.

Dad (8:58 p.m.): Georgia must be just awful.
Pedro (9:10 p.m.): To hell, to hell to hell with Georgia the cesspool of the South.

(On who UGA will target in its next coaching search)
Maguire (9:12 p.m.): I've heard Muschamp is the latest rumor. But he's a (expletive).
Dad (9:12 p.m.): Kirby.
Pedro (9:15 p.m.): They've got the Jimmy Buffett version of Miles now, per my wife. I'm guessing they go after Muschamp, then Kirby Smart.

Maguire (9:29 p.m.): Leinenkugel?
Dad (9:33 p.m.): This kinda looks like a WAC game.

Jamie (10:12 p.m.): This one feels good coming off last week. Thought Gus had his A game.
Zach (8:40 a.m., Sunday): I'll take it for sure.

Dad (10:34 p.m., Sunday): Punt.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

week 4 thoughts: these are, after all, the champs

The truest champions — the ones we remember for years and years and years — are the ones that keep coming even with all those circumstances and setbacks, that won't be kept down because that's what champions do.

I wrote these words back in February. I thought about them all summer. I've been thinking about them since fall camp opened up.
Yes, it's true that every game is a big game when you're Alabama. Yes, it's fair to say that a number of teams — Ole Miss, LSU, Auburn, Tennessee — circle Alabama on the schedule every year, just because beating 'Bama can make a season. Yes, Alabama plays with a target on its back all the time.

But it's different when you're the champs. It just is. Other teams organize special events when you visit. You're the lead story on Sportscenter every time. And all anybody wants to do is knock you off.
This is the life of a champ defending his crown.

Let there be no doubt: Arkansas is a very good football team. Ryan Mallett, whatever his warts as a clutch player — as well as his bizarre tendency to refer to himself in the third person and talk like an extra from "8 Mile" — is an outstanding talent. On Saturday, the perfect storm I've dreaded all season — talented, focused quarterback, at home vs. a young, confused group of defenders — happened, and then some. The Hogs scored in two plays to open the game, rolled up 300 yards of offense in the first half, squashed two Alabama scoring opportunities with forced turnovers and led 20-7 late in the third quarter. Let there be no doubt: the goalposts in Fayetteville were scheduled to be torn down Saturday.
Only Alabama wouldn't roll over. For whatever other problems this team has, these are the champs. Or, as Dad said via text late in the game, "We may lose yet but we got guts." The Tide kept coming back and kept coming back ... and Arkansas folded.
Alabama 24, Arkansas 20 ... and still the champs.
Look, the party may be over as early as this Saturday. Most of us were so exhausted by Saturday's test of will, we missed Florida's rather easy dispatching of Kentucky.
I'm just pointing out this team proved it's unlikely to roll over. We take on all comers; feel free to knock us out if you think you can.

Some other thoughts ...
— While we're praising Alabama for coming back, it's worth noting that Arkansas folded like a cheap accordion in the second half. From the point at which they went ahead 20-7, they went punt-interception-interception. More to the point, they seemed timid on offense, like Petrino wanted to run out the clock and escape. It didn't work, and here's why: when you climb in the ring with the champ, you HAVE TO KNOCK HIM OUT. Trying to win a decision doesn't work. Period.
Furthermore, and I hate to disparage a college kid because Arkansas lost Saturday for a variety of reasons, but Ryan Mallett's last interception was a ghastly decision and an even worse throw. An experienced quarterback — particularly one who considers himself a Heisman contender — knows you have to eat the football and live to fight another day. Forcing the football into coverage like that was essentially an engraved invitation to the end zone. Game. Set. Match.
— Speaking of interceptions, kudos to Greg McElroy, who endured two awful picks — both of which would've been touchdowns had he made the right read — and a ton of curse words, from Nick Saban (probably) and my wife (definitely) but hung in there long enough to give his team a chance to win. Contrast that, for example, with what happened to South Carolina Saturday night in Auburn: the second Steve Spurrier saw weakness in his quarterback, he yanked him ... which would've been fine except he was on the road in the fourth quarter, in the loudest snake pit in the SEC.
While we're on the subject of McElroy, it behooves me to credit our pass protection, which has been nothing short of outstanding thus far in 2010. Arkansas did record 3 sacks on Saturday, but one of them was a coverage sack, the other on a blitz (Arkansas just out-schemed us) ... and I can't remember the other one.
— Speaking of pass rush, has anyone told Marcell Dareus that he's actually off suspension now? Yeah, they actually reinstated him two weeks ago.
— I actually turned off the sound Saturday, so I didn't hear much of what Verne and Gary talked about. But I did get a text message from a friend of mine accusing Gary of doing something to Ryan Mallett that's sort of disgusting. So I'll take that as a sign.
— Guess Jeremy Shelley answered my question about clutch kicking.
— I was extraordinarily happy for Dre Kirkpatrick grabbing the game-clinching interception. But I can't be the only one who noticed how Arkansas attacked No. 21 repeatedly Saturday. This could become a trend.
— Saturday's officiating crew was, um, suspect. I'd say more, but it would just sound like petulant whining. And Ryan Mallett did enough of that for everybody.
— I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fourth-down call to ice the game, notable because Dad was begging them to punt — his final text reads, "Punt please!" But the call actually makes as much sense as anything: frankly, if you had the choice of gaining an inch or punting it back to them with 50 seconds left ... that's basically a no-brainer, right?
Of course it is. Champs get a yard when they need one. And these are the champs.

Friday, September 24, 2010

shameless promotion (2.01), week iv

Editor's Note: This column runs in today's edition of The Daily Home.
Stop with the color coordinating already
Can we please do away with this idiotic “color” fad in college sports?

You know what I’m talking about: the thing where people tell their fans what colors to wear to certain games. I’m not certain where this trend started, but it needs to end and it needs to end quickly.

The first place I remember this happening was at South Carolina, when Gamecock fans planned a “blackout” of then top-ranked Florida for an ESPN night game (I’m sure it started before this — this is just the first one I remember). Steve Spurrier’s Gators were undoubtedly intimidated, but managed to scrape by, 54-17.

That hasn’t stopped other schools’ fan bases from trying similar ploys. Penn State famously conducts “white-outs” at Beaver Stadium; Notre Dame occasionally has its students wear green (or gold or whatever it is Notre Dame wears); even Auburn got into the act last Saturday vs. Clemson with “True Blue” Saturday (as opposed to its normal fare of “All Auburn All Orange” … or something).

Maybe the most hilarious two examples of this phenomenon came in Alabama road games: in 2008 and 2009, when Georgia and then Mississippi State announced “blackouts” of the Tide. The two programs lost those games by a combined score of 72-34.

Setting aside whether the ploy does any good (it doesn’t), isn’t it just dumb? Since when does the color in the stands have an effect on anything?

Unless, you know, they were able to dress in a way that made them look like a giant Lord Voldemort. That, ladies and gentlemen, would definitely affect the game.

Anyway, on to the picks. Last week we finished a milquetoast 3-3, with Auburn’s failed cover sealing the push. That brings us to 9-9 for the season.

I’m declaring a special “black-and-white-and-read-all-over-out” for this week. Let’s see if it gets us anywhere.

(Home teams in caps.)

TENNESSEE (-14) over UAB: Dramatic wins rarely go as unnoticed as UAB’s last-second desperation heave that beat rival Troy a week ago at Legion Field. After winning that game, does it even matter what happens this week against a wounded Vols squad?

OLE MISS (-2.5) over Fresno St.: On paper, it makes utterly no sense that the Rebels — whose 28-14 loss to Vanderbilt a week ago was the SECOND most embarrassing loss they’ve had this season (and we’re only 3 weeks into it!) — should beat a giant-killer like Fresno. But that’s the thing with Houston Nutt’s crazy train: you have to be prepared for the unexpected. So give me the Rebels and three touchdowns. Why not?

Florida (+14) over KENTUCKY: Unreported so far among the tales of the Gators’ offensive woes: their defense is still awfully good.

Georgia (PUSH) over MISSISSIPPI ST.: OK, so here’s why I’m not ready to give up on the ’10 UGA team just yet:
• A.J. Green is eventually coming back.
• Their schedule gets considerably easier after this.
• You forget this now, but we actually were ready to bury Richt three years ago (in 2007), after the ‘Dogs took a pounding on the road vs. Tennessee, then sweated out a tense win over Vandy. They responded by ripping Florida, thumping Auburn and finishing with 10 wins. Not saying that will happen here, but I’m willing to give them another week.

(Just one more week though, OK? You blow this and you’re dead to me, impossible good looks or no.)

LSU (-8.5) over West Virginia: A game with as many fascinating sub-plots as it has teeth (that’s a joke, see, because … oh, never mind). The fan bases will repeatedly yell expletives at one another and may possibly riot. The coaches are both insane and love living on the edge.
But LSU’s the better football team. And they should pull away late.

Alabama (-7) over ARKANSAS: Look, I wanted to pick the Hogs here. I really did. They’re coming off a big win, and they’re at home with a high-powered offense. Compare that to ‘Bama, whose defense, to this point, can’t rush the passer, stop the run, defend the pass or make sure tackles. And yes, Arkansas’ “red-out” is ridiculous, but it shows a sense of purpose: they need this game to prove they’re an SEC elite, and not just a member of the “they could be dangerous” second-tier.

Except, there’s this: Alabama is still the champs. And it makes no sense to pick against them until someone proves otherwise.

AUBURN (-3) over South Carolina: Yes, it’s fair to call Auburn “lucky” thus far: they had no business beating Clemson on Saturday. Yes, it’s fair to wonder what Auburn’s going to do vs. a Gamecock defense that will be the best they’ve faced thus far. And yes, the coaching matchup looks heavily one-sided in Carolina’s favor.

So why pick Auburn? The night atmosphere last week at Jordan-Hare inspired me. I see them gutting this one out, just the same as they did with Clemson.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

shameless promotion (2.0), part xi

Editor's Note: In the ongoing effort of this blog to promote its primary author's flagging failed career as a writer, we present to you this column from the St. Clair Times. As always, you may add your own thoughts in the commentary section, or visit me on Twitter. We thank you in advance for your feigning of interest.

Talking to Machines

“Welcome to Nameless, Soulless Corporation That Provides A Service You Wish You Didn’t Need. How may I help you?”

At first I was confused. I thought I had dialed the technical support line and would be speaking with a person, or at the very least, an automated voice telling me I’d have to hold for a while before I spoke with a person.

What I’d gotten instead was an automated voice … that appeared to want to have a conversation with me.


“Hello, welcome to Nameless, Soulless Corporation That Provides A Service You Wish You Didn’t Need. How may I help you?”

“Um, what?”

There was a pause.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch that. Briefly describe to me the problem you’re calling about.”

Wait a minute, I thought. It’s one thing to talk to a technical support representative sitting at a desk in a different country with a fake name like “Kevin” or something, who speaks English as a third language. Now I’m supposed to have a conversation with a computer?

I took a deep breath.

“OK … I’m calling about that Service You Guys Provide That I Wish I Didn’t Need. It’s not working correctly.”

There was another pause.

“… Service We Provide, sure. What seems to be the problem?”

I described the problem as best I could. It occurred to me that maybe I should’ve taken a binary code course online.

There was another pause.

“… It sounds like you’re calling about your service. Is that correct?”

“Um, I guess so.”

“Please answer ‘yes,’ ‘no’ or ‘there’s a problem.’”

Did a talking computer just scold me?


“Please answer ‘yes,’ ‘no’ or ‘there’s a problem.’”

I’m not sure what sort of face I was making at the time. I do know that my wife had already picked up her phone to contact the local authorities.

“Um … there’s a problem?”

“Briefly describe to me the problem.”

“I already did.”

“… I’m not sure I understood that last part. Briefly describe to me the problem you’re calling about.”

I began to wonder what an aneurysm really feels like.

“Look, I need to speak to an agent, OK? I want to talk to a person! I’m tired of talking to a computer!”

“… Would you like to speak to an agent? Just say ‘agent.’”


“… OK, you’d like to talk to an agent. Is that correct?”


“… One moment, please.”

There was another pause. And some soft music, which frittered away what was left of my will to live.

“Hello, my name is Kevin. I can help today?”

Thursday lines: about to get real

This week's lines come to us courtesy of, as always. Enjoy them at your own risk.
Miami (-4) at Pittsburgh
TCU (-18) at SMU
(Note: I actually picked Baylor to come in and pull of a mild upset — or at least a cover — last week. Um, yeah ... about that.)
N.C. State (+8) at Ga. Tech
(Note: Does anyone even remotely trust the Techs at this point? Anybody?)
Va. Tech (-4) at Boston College
Fla. International (+12) at Maryland
UAB (+14) at Tennessee
(Note: OK, so he probably didn't get in for real, right?

Whatever. UAB deserves SOMETHING resembling good luck at this point.)
UCF (+7) at Kansas St.
Miami (OH) (+20) at Missouri
Air Force (-14) at Wyoming
Wake Forest (+19) at Florida St.
(Note: Wake was one of my other potential upsets a week ago. Thanks a lot, guys. Hey, remember when Jim Grobe was the hot name in everybody's coaching search? Including ours?)
Stanford (-5) at Notre Dame
North Carolina (-1.5) at Rutgers
Temple (+14) at Penn St.
Tulane (+20) at Houston
(Note: No team's season was de-railed quicker than the Cougs' was last week — not only did UCLA pound them, but they lost potential Heisman candidate Case Keenum AND his backup in a matter of minutes. Now they're going with the third-stringer, a freshman. Ouch.)
UCLA (+16) at Texas
Arkansas St. (+11) at Troy
Nevada (-4) at BYU
(Note: An underrated thumping from last week: Nevada's cremation of Cal in Reno. The Wolfpack, suddenly, looks like a legitimate challenge for Boise St. in November. We shall see.)
Oklahoma (-14) at Cincinnati
Kentucky (+14) at Florida
(Note: Most people in Florida have completely skipped this game and moved on to next week.)
Georgia (PICK) at Mississippi St.
Fresno St. (+3) at Mississippi
South Carolina (+3) at Auburn
Oregon St. (+17) at Boise St.
San Jose St. (+31.5) at Utah
West Virginia (+9.5) at LSU
(Note: Opened at 6.5 and has jumped 3 whole points this week. Not sure I get the logic, but OK.)
California (+7) at Arizona
Oregon (-12) at Arizona St.

Back with more later today. Roll Tide.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

family conversations, 2010 version, part 7

Welcome back to "Family Conversations," a much-beloved running segment in which I trade emails with my cousin's husband (cousin-in-law?) Jamie about 'Bama football, Auburn football and life in general. This week, a look at how we're objectively feeling about our teams and our rivals heading into Week 4. Feel free to disagree below in the comments section, or hit me up on Twitter.

will: My thoughts on Auburn, having seen most of the game vs. State and the second half of Saturday night vs. Clemson:
• I stand by what I said about Newton: a transcendent talent who's going need some significant help if Auburn's going to compete for a championship.
• Someone should tell coach Chizik it's OK to unzip your bizarre short-sleeve windbreaker thing when it's 90 degrees.
• I don't know if Auburn's going to get better defensively. They're not getting worse, either. They kind of are what they are: some talent, good enough to hang around, never really going to dominate anybody. Thus far they've played well enough to win.
• Which, to me, is the real storyline so far. Yes, the 'Bama fan in me wants to sit here and haughtily say Auburn was lucky to get out of Starkville, and was lucky AS HELL to escape without a loss to Clemson (which would've derailed the season). Then again, that's what good teams do: they find ways to win, sometimes goofy ways that are unbelievable and become more unbelievable with each passing day.
• Am I all in on Carolina? I suppose. if they get out of the next two games — at Auburn, home against 'Bama after a week off — there's a solid chance they go to Gainesville with the division on the line in November.
(Of course, it's worth noting that Carolina's been here before and found ways to screw the pooch. So let's just say I'm cautiously optimistic.)
Jamie: Auburn: I see a team that has beaten a decent SEC team on the road and what I believe will show to be a good team in Clemson, all the while really...strugling. To me as an AU fan this is encouraging. What can happen when if put it together? I for one hope we get to find out. Offensively, Seems like we are strugling to run the ball, getting things bottles up and getting beat up front, but we lead the league in rushing. I guess that is what Newton brings. Problem is, if he doesn't start finding the open receiver, it's not going to matter. Defensivly I feel like it is against some sort of religio for us to actually prepare for a team. Like we get more satisfaction in getting beaten up in the 1st half then make the necessary adjustments. So far 2nd half D has been great, and is a testimate to said adjustments. I keep telling myself that noone we played in the 1st 3 games had any reason to show anything offensivly before they played us. S Carolina has been forced to show their hand, so we'll see if my hope is a reality.

will: My 'Bama thoughts (and I've seen us play every down for two years):
• Kickoff coverage has thus far been much better than last year. Of course, I don't want to jinx it, so ...
• It's hard to say much about the offense. They've done exactly what it took to win 3 games. Their biggest contribution thus far: staking the defense to an early lead over Penn St., which forced the Lions' freshman QB to have to play from behind in a hostile environment. That was the game.
• The defense has downgraded sharply. There's simply no other way to say it. I see a team that can't rush the passer (even at Duke, with Dareus in the lineup, we couldn't generate any pressure), a team with a secondary that can't cover anybody much and a team that's missing tackles in critical situations. Arkansas might score 42 this week. I mean that.
• This team remains impeccably coached, and can still win 9-10 games on the strength of playing smart. But Saturday's game doesn't look too good to me at this point.
Of course, that could just be me.
Jamie: Bama: Noone will outscore them. On your point about not getting pressure, I haven't watched much bama ball this year, especially x and o type watching, but it would seem to me like Nick is using LB's more to help the young secondary in pass coverage instead of locking the corners down and bringing LB pressure. Might be a reason for lack of pass rush. Either way, Ryan Mallett is having trouble sleeping this week after what he went through last year.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

wednesday roundtable: on the razor's edge (get it?)

With each passing hour, I'm becoming more and more convinced that we're not getting out of Fayetteville unscathed. No kidding, at this point, I'm thinking the game might turn into an Arena League affair. And I'm not sure we need to be involved in one of those, on the road in the SEC. I'm trying to think of anything that will take my mind off it.

This actually won't help, but here goes anyway: this week's version of the Crimson & White Roundtable. As always, feel free to disagree or quibble with me in the comments section or visit me on Twitter.

God help us all.

1) What is the most important thing we learned about the Alabama team in the wake of the Duke game?
Actually, I don't think we learned a frigging thing in Saturday's game. Alabama has an offense capable of scoring points in bunches (we already knew that) and a young defense prone to prolonged lapses (we knew that, too). Otherwise, um ... well, kickoff coverage is better. And it appears we've got capable kick returners in Julio and Trent Richardson. And none of our kickers have yet to attempt a pressure kick, which is terrifying going into the land where Leigh Tiffin once melted down like the U.S. economy.

2) What is the biggest area of concern in respect to Alabama's performance in the upcoming game against Arkansas?
Well, our defense can't rush the passer, can't stop the run effectively, struggles to defend the pass and has trouble making sure tackles. Other than that? No concerns. None whatsoever.
Except this one, and RBR posted an extensive thought on this yesterday: teams like Arkansas are built specifically to take on SEC foes like Alabama. So it's a little disconcerting, given those problems we listed above.

3) Which is more dangerous: Ryan Mallett and the Razorback offense or the Arkansas defense?
I'm going outside the box and saying it's a concern just to go to Arkansas under any circumstances. As I said yesterday, strange things tend to happen in the state of Arkansas. When you combine everything we talked about above with the strangeness that typically takes place west of the Mississippi, along with the fact that this Arkansas program needs desperately to prove it belongs among the SEC's elite ... um, that's a little dangerous, yes.

4) How important is the Arkansas game for Alabama's prospects both in the SEC West and the conference as a whole?
It's probably more important for Arkansas than it is for us, but let's take a shot: Alabama still has to face Florida, South Carolina (on the road!) and LSU (also on the road). It'd be nice to not have that slate facing us if we're already down a game in the conference.
(Yeah ... this didn't help at all. Sorry.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tuesday 'tube: SEC calling

This week's version of Tuesday 'tube is focused solely on great Alabama moments in Fayetteville, Ark. We haven't had as much success vs. Arkansas as you might think: since 1998, Alabama has won there exactly twice — 2002 and 2008. And not only that, but strange things seem to happen in Arkansas. In 2000, we played in a driving rainstorm that was ultimately lost on a last-second drive by the Hogs in which a) they were gifted a first down on a fourth-down defensive holding, b) they converted another fourth down because they were playing 12 players at the time (apparently I'm the only one who remembers this). In 2004, Marc Guillon made his first start (first of two, it turned out) at 'Bama, and we ultimately lost by 17 (I actually had to look this up, as I have no memory whatsoever of this game). In 2006, we played well enough to win, only Leigh Tiffin failed to make a kick.

So that leaves us with 2002 and 2008. Enjoy. And here's to better times.

See you tomorrow. Roll Tide.

gameday texts: sequence 2

Here's the continuation of our "gameday texts" series, concluding with a Monday text I received from my Peter about what he may or may not have seen at the hospital. Draw conclusions at your leisure. Fair warning: my phone died halfway through the game Saturday, so this Saturday's version may be a tad light. Have fun.
Dad (10:18 a.m.): She stumped her toe and complains a lot.
Maguire (11:10 a.m.): You're at Duke, and it's not basketball season yet.
Whit (11:10 a.m.): You should feel confused. Your IQ just jumped 15 points as you entered campus. Who knows ... maybe you'll join those two in the library with their books ... scary.
Maguire (12:24 p.m.): UGA is sloppy on D and special teams. They better shape up quickly or it will get ugly.
Maguire (12:25 p.m.): And yes, I'd punch Mallett in the face. He looks like Ivan Drago, but I bet he's a lot softer.
Jamie (12:30 p.m.): Some Doritos late night cheeseburger would hit the spot right now.
Dad (12:45 p.m.): I love potato salad! Don't you?
Rob (1:35 p.m.): How bad is Ole Sis?
Jamie: Stand alone (in Cameron Indoor Stadium), and for 30 straight minutes jump up and down yelling: "ooooooohhhhhhhhhooooohhhhhhoooohhhhhhhooohhhhhh!!!!"
Dad (2:25 p.m.): An this feller said "have a drink!"
Whit (2:33 p.m.): Vandy!
Chad C. (2:58 p.m.): How bad you think their (Duke's) frat boys are?
Maguire (2:59 p.m.): Another good reason to hate Dook.
Halcombe (3:09 p.m.): Chris Collins said he was busy sipping a mimosa at a brunch with some influential Republican senator: "What did you say? Huh hah ha ha ha!"
Maguire (3:19 p.m.): Mallett sounds like an inner-city youth.
Jamie (3:33 p.m.): Um, few 'Bama fans there?
Maguire (3:43 p.m.): Welcome back, Mark. We missed you.
Jamie (3:45 p.m.): From TV looks like Duke brought a good group to BDS.
Chad C. (3:54 p.m.): Time to start the "Rammer Jammer" cheer?
Maguire (3:56 p.m.): This could get out of hand in a hurry.
Maguire (3:58 p.m.): And welcome back to you too, Marcell.
Maguire (4:09 p.m.): Dook's #4 was pulling hard on Mark's left leg. F@&!$ stupid thug. I would have pushed him too. You have no chance to win, so you try to hurt somebody.
Halcombe (4:09 p.m.): Verne, just heard Urban's heart exploded on that failed fourth down. Back to you.
Bart (4:16 p.m.): Real funny, guys. Who set difficulty on Junior Varsity?
Halcombe (4:17 p.m.): Ingram has a higher ypr right now than Percy Harvi has yam (yet another migraine).
Whit (4:20 p.m.): He's been watching Jamie Christensen's highlight films.
Whit (4:22 p.m.): Saban at halftime — "We are not dominating the game on defense like we should be." Roll Tide.
Maguire (4:46 p.m.): That really escalated quickly.
Halcombe (4:46 p.m.): Wonder if your UA tight end's nickname is "Soap?"
Rob (4:47 p.m.): Not a bad showing by the Heisman winner.
Maguire (4:48 p.m.): Yeah, it really got out of hand.
Maguire (5:02 p.m.): Whoo! Way to make up for the near fumble.
Bart (5:26 p.m.): Two fumbles, two games. Say goodbye to Lacey.
Maguire (5:41 p.m.): Did ALL the Dook fans leave after the 3rd?
Chad C. (5:42 p.m.): Rumor in Alabama: Saban is walking the stands asking fans if they want to play the rest of the game. What number are you gonna be?
Maguire (6:07 p.m.): 3-0. Roll Tide.
Dad (7:39 p.m.): Did you enjoy the Nutt era at Ole Miss?
Whit (7:41 p.m.): Auburn playing like Opelika High School.
Jamie (8:14 p.m.): Needless to say the Cam Newton Gameday signs might rip tonight.
Maguire (9:56 p.m.): Lucky sons of bitches.
Maguire (10:51 p.m.): Haha! Gutsy call, MSU head coach. To hell with Notre Damn.
Monday (bonus text)
Pedro (3:21 p.m.)
: Think Ingram's hurt — pretty sure I just saw him getting rolled out of the elevator at DCH.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

week 3 thoughts: explosions and long road trips

My apologies for the lateness of this post — due to circumstances I did not foresee (namely, the traffic all over everywhere) we didn't make it back from Durham until 7 p.m. Sunday. By then, all I wanted to do was pour myself into bed. In any case, some scattered thoughts from Saturday:
• As it did a week ago vs. Penn State, Alabama showed a remarkable ability to block out the weirdness of the circumstances in its thumping of Duke. There were a number of quirky things about Saturday's game: the fieldhouse where our guys had to dress that appeared to be 2 miles from the stadium, the "intimate" setting that looked like a really large high school venue, the fact that (at least) 50 percent of the crowd was 'Bama fans (it was like Vandy, only not as big). Saban's guys never let Duke (or its fans) believe that an upset could happen at any point, and by the end of the first quarter the game was already over.
(As an aside, you know the phrase "they could've named the score?" Well, take it from someone who was there: Alabama could've named the score. The final — Alabama 62, Duke 13 — wasn't even remotely indicative of how dominant the Tide was. Had they wanted to score 150, they could've. It was an afternoon reminiscent of coach Bryant's teams in the late '70s, when the other side was just happy to be there.)
• Saturday also couldn't have gone much better for Mark Ingram, who broke multiple big runs — even showing off his confidence in his knee with a few nifty moves — scored a few times and was out of the game by halftime. This even satisfied my wife, who loudly protested Ingram's presence in the lineup from the time it was announced.
• It is, of course, a rather glaring concern that Duke's offense moved the ball as well as it did, particularly through the air, where Arkansas will almost certainly look to hurt us this week. Having said that, it's also fair to say that, by the time the Devils started moving the ball, they were already behind 28-0, so it's fair to wonder if our guys just weren't playing with a great deal of intensity. Meaning? I don't think we've learned all that much about our team yet. But we're about to learn a lot.
• Duke athletic officials were prescient enough to open Cameron Indoor Stadium — across the street from Wallace Wade — to the public about 2 hours before kickoff, enabling scores of 'Bama fans (like me) to wander in, snap a few pictures and drink in the atmosphere. A neat venue, even if you actively root against Duke most of the time (and I do!).
• Which reminds me: if you ever wondered why everyone hates Duke, you only needed to spend a few minutes on campus around their student body to figure it out. They're that snotty Eastern prep school that's always portrayed in movies, only sprung to life.
• The Duke campus makes it worth the trip, however: every building is constructed of the same stone, and the chapel — a cathedral-like structure that dominates everything — is gorgeous. We were there nine years ago in the middle of spring, so to come back and see all the 'Bama fans wandering around, snapping pictures, it was sort of like the Twilight Zone.
• Biggest crowd pop of the day: when they introduced Coach K and two of his assistants, in honor of their accomplishments with USA Basketball. Hard not to get fired up over that.
• One more good road trip story and then I'm off: on the way back to our hotel, we stopped by the student union for a minute, just to breathe in some air conditioning. Per chance, we wound up overhearing the following conversation between a group of three flabbergasted girls:
Girl No. 1 (confused): "I guess they just like football a lot."
Girl No. 2 (more confused): "I don't know why."
Girl No. 3: "Well, they are No. 1."
Girl No. 2 (even more confused now): "Why'd we play them again?"

And with that, it's on to Fayetteville. Roll Tide.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Thursday lines: let's be careful out there

This week's schedule is chock full of games that look tricky on paper; you could talk yourself into a number of teams "keeping it close" if you stare at the schedule long enough. You'll see what I mean.
As always, lines this week come from, though you do have to search to find them.
Cincinnati (+2) at North Carolina State
Kansas (+3.5) at Southern Miss
(Note: Opened at 3.5, and on some sites has gone all the way to 6. No idea why — maybe it's Turner Gill's cursing ban.)
California (-3) at Nevada
Arkansas (+2.5) at Georgia
Georgia Tech (+1) at North Carolina
(Note: Imagine my surprise when I checked the schedule and found that Ga. Tech will be less than 10 miles away, kicking off roughly 2 hours prior. We'll have a difficult time containing the von Herrmanns.)
Ohio (+31.5) at Ohio St.
Kent St. (+21.5) at Penn St.
Maryland (+13.5) at West By-God Virginia
Iowa St. (+5) at Kansas St.
Vanderbilt (+14) at Ole Miss
(Note: Let's just make a deal from now on: all games involving Houston Nutt and/or Les Miles are off the board. OK?)
East Carolina (+17) at Va. Tech
Hawaii (+11) at Colorado
BYU (+8.5) at Florida St.
USC (-15) at Minnesota
(Note: This is NOT one of the games you could talk yourself into, in terms of "keeping it close." The Gophers have openly quit on their coach again, and the Trojans are still a few weeks away.)
Alabama (-24) at Duke
(Note: The over/under for this one is 56. That over looks pretty good at the moment, right?)
Colorado St. (+7) at Miami (OH)
Air Force (+17.5) at Oklahoma
Nebraska (-4.5) at Washington
Arizona St. (+16.5) at Wisconsin
Washington St. (+21) at SMU
Florida (-15) at Tennessee
Troy (+4) at UAB
(Note: Why this opened with UAB favored, I have no idea — it's already swung to Troy (-3) in a lot of places.)
Baylor (+21) at TCU
(Note: This game screams "trap," doesn't it?)
Louisville (+16) at Oregon St.
Clemson (+6) at Auburn
(Note: Here, without comment, is a picture of a blue Auburn helmet. So, ya know, have fun with that.)
Akron (+23) at Kentucky
Mississippi St. (+9.5) at LSU
Tulsa (+6.5) at Oklahoma St.
MTSU (+4.5) at Memphis
Northwestern (-7) at Rice
Fla. International (+28.5) at Texas A&M
Navy (-3) at La. Tech
Notre Dame (+3) at Michigan St.
Texas (-3) at Texas Tech
(Note: CLICK-CLACK!!!)
Boise St. (-24) at Wyoming
(Note: Boise SHOULD be a lock the rest of the year, due to their need to drill every opponent on the schedule, to help their BCS chances. I said, "should.")
Iowa (-1.5) at Arizona
Houston (-3) at UCLA
(Note: I mean, I know UCLA's struggling, but ... I mean, they're at home against a C-USA team and they're GETTING 3? Really?)
Wake Forest (+17.5) at Stanford
(Note: Has potential to be one of those "I put this on while I was falling asleep and wound up staying up till 2 a.m. to see who won" type of games.)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wednesday roundtable: hitting the road

A programming note, since I've had a question or two: due to me not having enough time, and not wanting to cause any problems at work, I asked out of the bloggers' roundtable at My apologies to the handful of folks who might have read it once or twice.
In any case, kleph from RBR has once again asked us to step up for this week's Crimson & White Roundtable. I'm sure he'll have it rounded up for us later in the week.

1. What is the most important thing we learned in the wake of the Penn State game?
Offensively, I think we learned that our offense is multi-faceted (is that a word?). Much like Rocky in the second Apollo fight, we spent a few rounds fighting right-handed, then switched back to southpaw and delivered a sweeping knockout blow (with the added bonus that we didn't take 15 rounds to do it). It's worth noting that we didn't go to the spread passing game because Penn State was stacking the line or anything — as I noted Monday, the Lions curiously didn't stack the line most of the game. Instead, it just seemed like Jim McElwain and Greg McElroy got bored and decided to chuck it around a few plays. This, to me, is McElwain's (and really most every offensive coordinator's) biggest weakness as a play-caller: he sometimes feels the need to put the ball in the air, presumably to prove his own genius, when running the ball was working just fine. But it worked Saturday, so what's to quibble?

2. What is the biggest area of concern given the upcoming contest with Duke?
For a moment, read the stats from Duke's track meet loss to Wake Forest. Go ahead: I'll wait.
OK, so it's worth noting they were playing Wake Forest (with apologies to Dr. Randy Harrison), and not the caliber of competition they'll see this Saturday. Nevertheless, given our problems pressuring the passer and covering receivers ... yeah, I'm a bit concerned.
(Which, of course, leads into question #3).

3. How much will the return of Marcel Dareus and (possibly) Mark Ingram affect the team's strategy?
Having Dareus on the field means we should (should) be able to pressure the quarterback better without the use of as many exotic blitzing. Observe.

As for Ingram, I'm not in favor of rushing him out there if he's anything less than 100 percent. But it is worth noting that Richardson was in the game on roughly 90 percent of the offensive snaps last Saturday; I don't think the coaches really trust Eddie Lacey too much at this point (they'd probably prefer he play more of the Upchurch role as the season wears on).

4. What part of the gameday experience are you most looking forward to on Saturday?
I'm not entirely certain — and I'd have to check the history of Duke's football program to know for sure — but ... well, is this the biggest football game on Duke's campus since they hosted the Rose Bowl in 1941? It's possible, right? And that's always fun.
Also, last year my friend Peter and I drove to Lexington for the 'Bama-Kentucky game and had multiple people say, "You drove how far?! For a FOOTBALL game?!" That was fun, too.
(Note: I was going to make a "Biscuitville" joke here, but I just don't have the courage.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Tuesday 'tube: taking Tobacco Road

Finding videos for Duke Week wasn't so easy. Off the field, Alabama and Duke share a coach (Wallace Wade, whose name is actually on the stadium in Durham) and a history in the Rose Bowl (fun fact about Duke football: in 1941, because of lingering fears following the Pearl Harbor attacks, Rose Bowl organizers moved the game from Pasadena to Duke's campus).
In fact, Alabama's last meeting with Duke on the field was one of the sadder nights in recent Alabama football history: Mike Shula's Crimson Tide won an extraordinarily lifeless 30-14 game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in front of 85,000 bored and angry fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Blue Devils ultimately finished 0-12 that season.
Anyway, since I can't come up with anything better, here are the highlights of the first two weeks, courtesy of TheMrUAFootball.

And, since it wouldn't be right to post anything related to Duke without mentioning the basketball team — also defending national champs — here's the video of the near-miracle in last year's title game.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

week 2 thoughts: welcome back, Lions

In slightly more than 10 seasons of regularly attending Alabama football games, I've never been part of a more bizarre home atmosphere than what happened this past Saturday. I suppose that's what happens when two fan bases who aren't used to seeing one another every every year get together: the levels of vitriol are quieter than normal. I remember playing Oklahoma in '02-'03 — the two fan bases basically partied together for two days, game outcome be damned.

Still, even for a game of such magnitude, Saturday was a strange day. Spurred by Nick Saban's remarks earlier in the week, Tide fans didn't boo or jeer Penn State's players at any point during pregame warmups. And when they saw Joe Paterno for the first time ... I mean, wow. It was like everybody's grandfather had just emerged from the tunnel.
Moreover, Saban himself seemed jovial. At midfield, he met with Paterno, Mal Moore and Bobby Bowden — in town for the day for reasons that weren't entirely clear — to pose for the photo my wife expertly captured with her own awesome camera. He seemed relaxed. We all did.
A few minutes later, when the pre-game fly-over didn't accompany the end of the "Star-Spangled Banner" — instead showing up about five minutes too late — the strangeness of the day was cemented. It seemed like exactly the sort of atmosphere that might lead to a bizarre game — turnovers, penalties, you name it — and the end of the winning streak.

As it turned out, that didn't happen. Saban's team took care of business, just like always. They pounded out yardage on the ground, hit a couple of big plays through the air, forced a few turnovers and, when it seemed like we couldn't put the Nittany Lions away ... put together a drive that put them away.
Alabama 24, Penn State 3. And it was never really even in doubt.
In a way, I almost felt bad about the whole thing. We had some friends who came to the game with us who aren't Alabama fans; by the middle of the third quarter, they were probably bored stiff (they ended up disappearing midway through the fourth and hooking back up with us at the tailgate). But, as I tweeted right after the game, that's the Alabama way under Nick Saban: efficient, workmanlike ... and boring as hell.
Not that I'm complaining. As my friend Bart said yesterday, "I remember 'exciting' as an Alabama fan. I'll take this over that any day."

Some other thoughts ...
• Penn State's (apparent) defensive game plan continues to make very little sense two days later. The Nittany Lions lined up most of the first half in a 4-3 look, with a linebacker/hybrid shaded out of the box, apparently to stop the pass. Was this an open invitation to run the football? If it was, that's what they got: Trent Richardson gashed them repeatedly, and they didn't seem to make much of an adjustment. I don't get it.
• Greg McElroy's TD pass to Preston Dial may have been in direct response to my post in which I wondered about the ability of our tight ends. A great throw and catch.
• While we're on the subject of TD passes, I must confess, I'd never heard of Kevin Norwood (that is his name, right?) before Saturday. I will post his TD as penance.

• Jerry at WBE noted this today, but it's worth repeating: Alabama didn't exactly lock Penn State down offensively, as the score might have indicated. The Lions had three drives of 40-plus yards, only 'Bama turned them over four times, including Robert Lester's bizarre fumble return/fumble/fumble again sequence that resulted in a 97-yard loss for the offense.
The biggest issue for the defense: with Dareus out and Courtney Upshaw hobbling, the pass rush is next to non-existent; it's fashionable to complain about the secondary (particularly Kirkpatrick) but as we've seen in a recent years, a pass rush can make your secondary look way better than it actually is. Hopefully having 57 back on the field changes things a little.
• Also a concern: place-kicking. I know it hasn't been a problem yet, but ... I mean, does anyone feel remotely safe if we're in a situation where we need a field goal to put away a game? Anybody?
• I can't post this without attesting the unreal heat and humidity that came to Tuscaloosa Saturday; it hasn't been that muggy in a month. At around 3 p.m. I think it started raining, only everyone was already so soaked, they barely noticed.
(Funny story: two weeks ago I heard Musberger and Herbstreit talking about the humidity being a factor during the Va. Tech-Boise game ... and then they flashed the weather report on the screen and the humidity was 43 percent. Forty-three percent? It's 43 percent in my house on a daily basis! Who pays attention to 43 percent?)
• For reasons that aren't entirely clear, Alabama had Preston Gothard bring the game ball to midfield. Preston Gothard's main claim to fame is this ...

OK, so maybe it wasn't inexplicable.
• Finally, I feel the need to share this, if only because it encapsulates the rather bizarre nature of the day: at the halftime gun, Penn State's team hustled toward its locker room. Shuffling behind them, of course, was Paterno. Erin Andrews caught him for a brief interview in the end zone, meaning he and his escort now had to make their way to the locker room basically by themselves.
So as he starts to make his way to the exit, the Bryant-Denny cameras catch him; he's now in full display on all four screens. The fans start to cheer. They cheer louder. They keep cheering. Again, Paterno looks, walks and talks like everybody's favorite Italian grandpa; plus, he's a living legend.
Of course, he's pretending to ignore what's happening, instead walking with his head down pensively. Then, just as he's about to disappear from view, he looks up ... and acknowledges the cheers with a quick pump of his fist. The crowd erupts.

That's why it was worth paying the money for this game. Roll Tide, coach Paterno. See you at your place next year.

gameday texts: first sequence

We'll have more thoughts on Saturday's remarkably boring routine win over Penn State later tonight. For the time being, here's a new blog feature: "Gameday Texts," a collection of hilarious text messages I receive from various friends and family members. Hope you'll enjoy them as much as I did. Names will appear as they display on my phone, and all time stamps are accurate.
Maguire (9:29 a.m.): Mark Stoops -- the best of the Stoops brothers.
Pedro (9:53 a.m.): Can I create a policy where no one goes to the hospital on gameday? It'd be a whole lot cooler if I could.
Whit (12:01 p.m.): They just said cocks.
Pedro (12:35 p.m.): But if the spread option get stopped, how can RichRod still be the Lord and Savior of Wolverine football?
Pedro (1:29 p.m.): To hell with Georgia.
Pedro (1:54 p.m.): Amanda says they're (Georgia Tech) flipped out by all the white people, & she hasn't seen this many white people in the stands outside Cullman High.
Pedro (1:56 p.m.): And we all know, if anyone knows white, it's Amanda von Herrmann.
Dad (2:15 p.m.): Does everybody detest Bob Davie?
Pedro (2:44 p.m.): Let James Madison in the BCS!
Halcombe: When did Tommy Glavine become the official spokesman for Big League Chew?
Pedro (3:12 p.m.): So what are the odds the BCS paid off Va. Tech to lose that game? How 'bout that somebody at Idaho will allege that in print?
Whit (3:42 p.m.): Gettin' beat like he stole something.
Jamie (4:06 p.m.): Ohio State should realize special teams is a third.
Dad (4:51 p.m.): Go in and start getting taped.
Jamie (4:58 p.m.): Jacory Harris is not really helping his team.
Jamie (5:43 p.m.): The only vibe on this one ('Bama-PSU) has to do with the 0 points PSU will score.
Pedro (6:05 p.m.): It's strange getting ready to watch a game on ESPN and hearing the pregame flyover from your living room.
Halcombe (6:13 p.m.): Is there a reason for reviewing FSU fumble w/OU up 47-10 w/2:21 left in the game? Thanks Jimbo, Bobby would've done the Christian thing and taken a whoopin like a man.
Halcombe (6:15 p.m.): And Brian Kelly, is there any reason to not guard Denard Robinson's Paul Pierce impersonation on the QB keeper to the right?
Pedro (6:18 p.m.): Amanda says she prefers that to the 25-year-old Bud jingle. Apparently, she didn't enjoy me dancing with Julia singing that this a.m.
Pedro (6:42 p.m.): You're missing the snuggie macarena.
Jamie (6:45 p.m.): What about this Richardson guy, who's he?
Jamie (6:47 p.m.): I asked my buddy if (PSU) was playing a 4-7.
Dad (6:57 p.m.): I don't know any of our players.
Jamie (7:03 p.m.): What the hell just happened.
Jamie (7:23 p.m.): Bro, it's already ballgame.
Pedro (7:29 p.m.): The AFLAC trivia question was so easy, even Amanda got it, even though it was about the NFL (1st 3 Super Bowl MVPs).
Halcombe (7:48 p.m.): Delta Tau Chi: Look dude, you guys haven't won anything since 1982. Kerry Collins replica: Well, at least our coach has Medicare.
Pedro (7:49 p.m.): I'll take that frat douche wins fight now, mysteriously dies in the spring for $500, Alex.
Jamie (7:51 p.m.): You know who else is confused? Penn St.
Bart (7:59 p.m.): Methinks we graduated too soon. Should have savored the college experience more.
Dad (8:21 p.m.): Bama can't put 'em away.
Pedro (9:06 p.m.): You should invent a Big 10/Independent coefficient, aka "how many games Bear woulda won if he played pansies like y'all did most of your coaching career."
Dad (9:28 p.m.): I'll take it.
Pedro (9:36 p.m.): Wonder if Saban's going to rag McElroy for cutting him off to shake Paterno's hand.
Maguire (9:48 p.m.): I love it.
Sunday (bonus)
Zach (7:52 a.m.): 3 is the best RB in the nation.
Jamie (11:49 a.m.): Alabama is grotesquely good.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

weekend tube: it's 9/11

May we never forget.

The best to you all today. Roll Tide. And God bless America.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday extra promotion: picks column

Editor's Note: My regular "shameless self-promotion" column didn't appear yesterday because, um, I didn't write an SCT column this week. To make up for it, here's the football forecast column I write every Saturday for The Daily Home. I meant to post these every week, and maybe now I will. Whatever: I get paid the same for this, anyway.
What's Past is Prologue

I don’t know why, but the movie “JFK” ropes me in every time. It’s shoddy history — Kevin Costner’s lousy New Orleans accent uncovered a massive government conspiracy? — and I’m fairly certain it contains subliminal messages (I watched it once around bedtime and had some very suspect nightmares).

Anyway, the point — wait, here it is! — is that, at the end of the film, as Kevin Costner’s lousy New Orleans accent is walking away, the screen flashes up the following words: “WHAT’S PAST IS PROLOGUE.”

Really, that’s what Week 1 was for most college football fans: prologue. With the exception of Kentucky and Vanderbilt, nobody in the SEC played a game in which it should’ve reasonably expected much of a challenge. Of course, as Ole Miss showed, those cupcakes don’t always go down so well.

That won’t be the case this week. Auburn has already proven its worth as a challenger in the SEC West, and by the end of today, we’ll know who else belongs in that “worthy” category, as well.

Which is where this column comes in. In an effort to be more inventive last week, I picked a number of teams to either beat the spread or pull outright upsets, and suffered as a result: a disappointing 3-4 in Week 1.

Blame Gary Crowton, Jack Crowe, Jeremiah Masoli … whatever. This week looks much more challenging. So let’s get to it.

SOUTH CAROLINA (-3) over Georgia: Everything the Gamecocks think they can accomplish in 2010 — challenging for the division, a big bowl game, etc. — begins and ends with this game. If Carolina loses today, they’re suddenly a game down and looking at an October that includes Auburn and ‘Bama in back-to-back weeks, with a trip to Florida looming in November. Win, and they can relax, if only for a few minutes.

(And yes, I know I said I love Georgia this season. But a freshman quarterback? On the road? Against a team with this kind of urgency and purpose?)

FLORIDA (-16) over South Florida: Please remember for a moment that the Bulls are the same team that helped precipitate Bobby Bowden’s departure from Florida State a year ago when they whipped the ‘Noles 17-7. This isn’t a gimme. I remain convinced the state of Florida could secede from the “union” of NCAA football, form its own conference and immediately qualify for BCS inclusion.

VANDERBILT (+10) over LSU: Tell me if this sounds familiar: Les Miles’ sublimely talented squad screws around for four quarters and lets an inferior team hang around, then nearly chokes away a 20-point lead before pulling a win out of thin air.

(LSU fans all just gave me the face-palm collectively.)

TENNESSEE (+12.5) over Oregon: I just can’t stomach the thought of a team from the West Coast coming to Neyland Stadium, at night, and winning by two touchdowns. I just can’t.

ALABAMA (-12) over Penn State: Little things about this game make it cool. Like seeing Joe Paterno giving one of his famous grouchy press conferences, then realizing he was talking about Alabama; seeing those uniforms together again on the gridiron and thinking about Barry Krauss and Bobby Humphrey and Derrick Thomas; hearing the band play “Fight On” in your building. That kind of thing.

As for the game itself, whenever a road ‘dog like this hopes to pull an upset, it usually comes down to this: is there one thing we do well that the home favorite does not? For example, in 2008, Alabama thumped third-ranked Georgia in Athens for one very simple reason: it controlled both lines of scrimmage from the jump. If there is one thing Penn State does, and Alabama doesn’t have an answer, you’ve got the makings of an upset.

Reviewing the matchups, though, I don’t see it. Assuming Alabama does what it always does — limit turnovers, control the lines and make sure tackles — Penn State will hang tough, but won’t win. The helmets should still be cool, though.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Thursday lines: a veritable buffet

This weekend, quite simply, is jam-packed full of action. There's really no reason to leave the house unless it's to see a game; even Friday promises to be good, with an eye-popping Clay Co. at Leeds matchup just down the street from my house.
No line for that game, fortunately. But there are plenty of others for this weekend. Lines today come courtesy of Without further ado ...
Auburn (-2.5) at Mississippi State
West Virginia (-13.5) at Marshall
UTEP (+20) at Houston
(Note: Anybody else remember this one from last year?)
Memphis (+13.5) at East Carolina
Duke (+5) at Wake Forest
San Jose St. (+38) at Wisconsin
Hawaii (+3) at Army
Michigan St. (-29) at Fla. Atlantic
(Note: This looks like a joke line, of some sort. Then again, FAU's the same team that needed a hgue comeback and a blocked FG to beat UAB last week.)
Ga. Tech (-14) at Kansas
(Note: Overlooked embarrassment of the week: Turner Gill losing his opener at KU to North Dakota St. Yikes. By the way, I'll never think of Turner Gill without thinking of this hilarious post at EDSBS.)
Georgia (+3) at South Carolina
(Note: Feel free to shake your head at the continuing saga of A.J. Green. It's OK.)
South Florida (+16) at Florida
(Note: I guess there's no need to remind everybody of what the Bulls did last year vs. FSU? Everybody remembers? OK, good.)
Idaho (+28) at Nebraska
Colorado (+9) at California
Michigan (+4) at Notre Dame
(Note: This game has great name recognition but very little else.)
Florida St. (+7.5) at Oklahoma
Iowa St. (+14) at Iowa
Ga. Southern (+26) at Navy
(Note: The battle of Paul Johnson's former employers! This game could be over in less than 180 minutes. Seriously.)
Miami (Fla.) (+9) at Ohio St.
BYU (-1) at Air Force
Troy (+14) at Oklahoma St.
(Note: This game has no significance, except for this: it was after OSU went to Troy — and lost — in 2007 that Jenni Carlson of "The Oklahoman" penned the famous column questioning the toughness of on-again, off-again quarterback Bobby Reid. Which, of course, precipitated this:

That's going to play in the background for a minute while I finish this.)
LSU (-10) at Vanderbilt
Wyoming (+29) at Texas
Syracuse (+13.5) at Washington
Penn State (+12) at Alabama
(Note: So much is going to be said in the next few days, it seems like overkill to say anything else.)
Oregon (-12) at Tennessee
(Note: I'm sorry, I know Tennessee is thin and has suffered greatly over the past few months. But seriously, a West Coast team coming to Neyland Stadium at night ... and they're favored by 2 TDs? Really?)
Western Kentucky (+23.5) at Kentucky
UAB (+12) at SMU
Ole Miss (-20.5) at Tulane
(Note: Stop snickering. Seriously, stop. OK, go ahead — get it out of your system.)
Stanford (-6) at UCLA
Virginia (+19.5) at USC