Thursday, December 30, 2010

shameless promotion (2.0), part xvi

Editor's note: In this blog's renewed attempt to promote its primary author's spectacularly failing career as a writer, we present you this week's column from the St. Clair Times. Please feel free to comment here or post your thoughts on Twitter. Thanks in advance for your feigning of interest.
Pausing to praise the man behind the mug

'Cause there's no hall of fame for that working class hero/
No statue carved out of stone/
His greatest reward is the love of a woman/
And his children/
So after he's gone/
That old working class hero lives on

For most of my life, I’ve stumbled over the answer to the question, “What’s your dad do?”

It was easy with Mom: she’s a teacher. “What does my mom do? She’s down the hall. Go ask her.”

With Dad it’s slightly more complicated. “Um, he works for the government … we’ve moved a couple times … I don’t really know.”

At one point in middle school some of my friends were convinced Dad was a secret agent of some description. Dad, of course, wouldn’t say one way or the other. Which was fine with me.

But the truth is, for the better part of 30 years, my dad, Bruce, has worked for the United States Department of Agriculture. In the beginning, his agency was known as Farmer’s Home Administration (it’s now called U.S.D.A. Rural Development).

It’s one of those agencies charged with helping non-profit interests and public bodies (like rural water authorities) find ways to get help from the federal government. Blustery politicians and their media mouthpieces enjoy demonizing such agencies, even as they’re meeting with them behind closed doors in an attempt to secure funding for their next big project (for which they will take most of the credit). And the people who work in these offices don’t ask for any credit — they just sign the papers and fade into the background.

Which is why it wasn’t a huge surprise that Dad decided to handle this news in a similarly unceremonious fashion: One day this past spring, while we were in the car together, he tapped me on the shoulder, grinned and said, “Hey man … I’m retiring.”

Now … I’m a writer. In my head I picture someone delivering news like this in grandiose fashion: Everybody gathers into a small room with dozens of cameras and microphones, a hush falls over the crowd, and the retiring party sheepishly announces the news, as though he can’t believe so many people would be so interested in his life (even though his people are the ones who organized the even to begin with).

Just this past year, the news has been primarily dominated by sports figures who intentionally dragged out their own retirement drama, just to squeeze out a few more moments of fleeting fame (see Favre, Brett).

Dad has steadfastly refused any such attention or affection, even refusing to give an official notice at work until two weeks prior. He delivered a few “thank-yous” at a small luncheon at his office last week, and Thursday (that’s today if you’re reading our printed edition) he’ll go in around 7:30, work until about 4, then lock the door and go home, just like always. Won’t be a single camera there to take his photo or one writer there to give the event a poetic celebration.

OK, there might be one.

Thursday lines: the rest of the bowls

We covered the undercard of bowl season during last week's version. Here are the rest, starting with New Year's Day.
Northwestern (+10) vs. Texas Tech (Ticket City Bowl, Dallas)
(Note: Ticket City Bowl? Do what?)
Penn State (+7) vs. Florida (Outback Bowl, Tampa)
Alabama (-10) vs. Michigan St. (Capital One Bowl, Orlando)
(Note: I have absolutely nothing to say about this game. Nothing.)
Michigan (+4.5) vs. Mississippi St. (Gator Bowl, Jacksonville)
TCU (-3) vs. Wisconsin (Rose Bowl, Pasadena)
UConn (+17) vs. Oklahoma (Fiesta Bowl, Glendale)

Va. Tech (+3.5) vs. Stanford (Orange Bowl, Miami)

Arkansas (+3.5) vs. Ohio St. (Sugar Bowl, New Orleans)
(Note: We'll cover the Ohio State thing in more detail later. Suffice to say it's enough of an outrage that my friend Amanda sent me a text message, something she never does.)

Middle Tennessee St. (PICK) vs. Miami-Ohio (Mobile Bowl)

Texas A&M (+1) vs. LSU (Cotton Bowl, Arlington)

Kentucky (+3.5) vs. Pittsburgh (Birmingham Bowl)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

family conversations: we've come a long way, baby, part iii

Welcome back to "Family Conversations," in which I trade emails with my cousin's husband (cousin-in-law?) Jamie about Auburn, Alabama and life in general (you can read previous installments of this version here and here). As always, feel free to be part of the conversation, either here or by visiting me on Twitter.
will: set the over/under for total yards in the BCS MNC game at 864.5. Over or under?
Jamie: The over yards? I'd have to go with over based on the season so far. There might be 180 plays run in this game. It won't take a lot to get to that number.

will: What was your view of Gus Malzahn's near-exodus to Vanderbilt? A distraction? No?
Jamie: Gus' Vandy deal in my opinion was as smooth as it could be. Got a look, set a time frame, made a decision, and went on about business. From someone who got sick and tired of Jimmy Sexton shopping Tubbs every year, I thought the Gus thing was very cut and dry.

(Note: Since we had this conversation, Maryland has reached out to Malzahn. So maybe this story's not over.)
will: Finally, what do you think of this story this story about Nick Saban reminding his juniors about the possibility of an NFL lockout? Does it make you think he knows something? Or is it just in-house recruiting?
Jamie: Already commented on Saban's public service announcement to his talented Juniors. I don't have an issue with the route he took here. If you thing Saban is the only coach to mention the possible lockout to potential draftee's you drink a lot. On Saban knowing something, I don't think Saban has any more NFL contacts than do half of all other college coaches so if he knows something I assure you most all other coaches do as well.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tuesday tube: Bowl memories, part 4

Our tour of recent 'Bama trips to bowl games (non-championship) concludes with the Tide's last trip to Orlando: the 1995 Citrus Bowl vs. Ohio State. Unfortunately, because youtube overlords find new ways to make the site no fun to use, I can't find actual game footage. So instead, here's the part where a dog ran on the field.

Back with more later this week. Roll Tide.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Thursday lines: lousy bowl edition

As I'm typing this, Utah and Boise St. are playing a virtually unwatchable bowl game in Las Vegas. It's a game that, in a way, proves part of the problem with picking bowl games: there are just way too many variables. Take the regular accounting for variance in a regular-season college football game, then add a 6-week layoff, and all the potential for off-field incidents and injuries therein, then add the fact that there's no guarantee both teams will care. For further evidence, see Alabama's complete flop vs. Utah in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Then again, the favored team might just stay completely healthy, stay completely focused and just pound the crap out of the underdogs (like Florida vs. Cincinnati in the 2010 Sugar Bowl). You just never really know.
Anyway, here's a look at the rest of the bowls through New Year's Eve. Lines this time come from
Navy (+3) vs. San Diego St. (Poinsettia Bowl, San Diego)
(Note: The over/under for this game is 60. The over/under for Ron Burgundy jokes during the game: 112. Take the over.)

Tulsa (+10.5) vs. Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl, Honolulu)

Fla. International (+1.5) vs. Toledo (Little Caesars Bowl, Detroit)

Ga. Tech (+3) vs. Air Force (Independence Bowl, Shreveport)

North Carolina St. (+3) vs. West Va. (Champs Sports Bowl, Orlando)
Missouri (-3) vs. Iowa (Insight Bowl, Tempe)

East Carolina (+7.5) vs. Maryland (Military Bowl, Washington D.C.)
Illinois (+1.5) vs. Baylor (Texas Bowl, Houston)
Arizona (+6) vs. Oklahoma St. (Alamo Bowl, San Antonio)

Thursday, Dec. 30
Army (+7) vs. SMU (Armed Forces Bowl, Dallas)
(Note: Intriguing because it's an "Armed Forces Bowl" that's actually played in the backyard of the non-military team, as well as because it involves in SMU, the program whose misfortune was immortalized recently in the documentary "Pony Exce$$.")
Kansas St. (PICK) vs. Syracuse (Pinstripe Bowl, New York)
UNC (-2) vs. Tennessee (Music City Bowl, Nashville)
Washington (+14) vs. Nebraska (Holiday Bowl, San Diego)

Friday, Dec. 31
South Florida (+6) vs. Clemson (Car Care Bowl, Charlotte)
Notre Dame (+3) vs. Miami (Sun Bowl, El Paso)
Central Florida (+7) vs. Georgia (Liberty Bowl, Memphis)
Florida St. (+3) vs. South Carolina (Chick-Fil-A Bowl, Atlanta)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

family conversations: come a long way, baby, part ii

Following up on last week's post, here's more of my email conversation with my cousin's husband (cousin-in-law?) Jamie about Alabama football, Auburn football and life in general. Feel free to join the conversation by commenting here or by finding me on Twitter.
Jamie: 1) Really? I mean Really?
will: It's just a yahoo columnist. Take it for what it is and move on.
But the link does raise an important point, and only because I saw it happening with 'Bama fans last year and seen it this year with Auburn fans this year: Don't let a-holes like me take away the fun of all this. Seriously, seasons like this one don't come along all the time; don't let it go to waste by spending all your time being irked by snark from a few nay-sayers (fine, "haters") or rival fans. Enjoy the ride. Seriously.
Another thing: Whenever a team wins a championship of any kind, inevitably some fans will paint the victors as the ultimate underdogs, talk about how THE MEDIA picked against them all year and say they never got any RESPECT from the community at large. In the case of Auburn, they were favored to win every game by at least 3 all season, with the exception of their toughest road game (at 'Bama). Yes, it's way more fun to say you were an underdog and no one believed you could do it ... but the truth is, like Alabama last year, everybody pretty much knew you could.

Jamie: Got no problem with anyone picking against my team. My problem comes when ass faces use their platform to unleash an obvious personal vendetta and forget they are actually supposed to be professional. Your point about Vegas liking us all year actually backs up the no respect crowd. The no respect crowd doesn't look at Vegas for the respect factor, they look to Lee Corso, Tim Brando and the like. We were picked to lose by multiple outlets every week since Clemson save two so when Vegas says we will win, and the talking heads say we will lose, that's the definition of no respect. I don't personally care who picks us to win.

2) I'm going on a limb and saying AJ McCarron never starts at Alabama. You?
will: I put this to a poll of some of my 'Bama fan friends, and all of us agree that you're pretty far out on the limb here. While he failed miserably on his only four plays vs. Auburn — and I'm calling that a failure of play-calling as much as execution — he looked full of promise in all his other (less pressure-filled) appearances in 2010. The kid has a cannon for an arm, and if there's a knock on him, it's that he has TOO much confidence most of the time, and is likely to give Nick Saban an aneurysm before he graduates.

Jamie: Like I told you later, I will climb back on the limb a bit about AJ but not back to the tree. I didn't remember typing that he would not start. I guess that's the meth. I was thinking he would underwhelm. I still have that feeling. I will take the heat when I am likely wrong.

3) If McElwain leaves, would you want to go the way of...hold your breath...THE SPREAD? (enter psycho music)
will: Well, first of all, I should start this by expressing how disappointed I was in the offense this season. Ever since February, I repeatedly brought up how excited I was to see how the offense would function in 2010, how McElwain would find creative ways to get Ingram and Richardson on the field, how Julio, Maze and Hanks would fit in. The harsh truth: I'm still waiting. Alabama's offense showed flashes of creativity and innovation — showing versions of the Wildcat, lining Ingram/Richardson up at wideout, etc — but retreated into a shell when things got tight, and looked an awful lot like Mike Shula snuck into the booth vs. both LSU and Auburn. And that's before we even discuss the offensive line, which actually regressed as the season went on.
As for the spread, it's not as though Alabama runs the wishbone now. McElroy spent probably 45 percent of the season in the shotgun/Pistol set, and ran a number of plays you'd typically associate with the "spread" — the sweep play, multiple screen passes, etc.
My thought: regardless of who's in charge of the offense, and regardless of the sets, the play-calling must (MUST) revolve around the talents of Trent Richardson, as a runner and a pass-catcher. If he's not touching the football 35 times per game, I don't know what to believe anymore.

Jamie: After watching Gus do what he did with us, I am sold on the up tempo style of O. I really believe the speed of the defenses over the last 10-15 years have forced the college game into this.

Tuesday tube: Bowl memories, part 3

Today's (non-championship) bowl memory actually comes from a game Alabama lost: the 2006 Independence Bowl, played under interim head coach Joe Kines. I'm posting only because of two fantastic moments on the field ...

And one beautiful moment off it.

Back with more later this week. Roll Tide.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Andy: who do you think you're kidding?

"You don't believe I can get banjo sounds out of this here jug?"

Friday: all's not quiet

This week has been full of the same stuff that normally happens this time of year: coaching changes, BCS complaints and off-field issues. It's been fun to track it passively, and in that vein, here are some links to tide you over through today.

— The biggest story upon which I completely whiffed was Wil Muschamp's hiring at Florida, which sent even the normally cynical boys at EDSBS into a tizzy.
Muschamp, like all coaching decisions, is a wager, but damn, Jeremy Foley. That's not the table minimum. That's the ... mortgage right there. We all just ordered the fugu together, and if the chef gets it right you'll taste the faintest hint of the fish's fatal poison on your tongue in a sublime culinary experience unlike any other. If he gets it wrong, we die.

Of course, it's immediately pertinent to Alabama fans because a) Alabama plays in Gainesville this coming October; b) Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, a friend of Muschamp's (they're both UGA guys), has reportedly been offered the DC job at UF. As of this blog, Smart hasn't announced any kind of decision on the job, and coach Saban is (predictably) kind of pissy about the whole thing. I'll say only this: I don't really care. Smart does seem like a capable coach and everyone who knows him seems to speak highly of him, but it's not like he's pulling a Gus Malzahn (running his own unit completely independent of the head coach). Saban is the real DC in Tuscaloosa; I don't expect that to change.
— Other things coaching change related: Why exactly did Muschamp flee Austin so readily? Burnt Orange Nation has a poetic answer. Just for fun, let's watch Marcell Dareus do his thing at the Rose Bowl one more time.

Elsewhere, Auburn kept Malzahn from having to go to Vanderbilt by raising his salary (I'm sure this will spark some kind of misguided post about "loyalty" and how much Gus is just in love with the Loveliest Village, etc, etc, etc) and West Virginia is throwing Bill Stewart a very long retirement party. I hope it ends with someone being slapped across the face.

— In actual football things, Capital One Bowl preparation began this week, with a big question about who will play safety in the absence of Mark Barron. Let's just say I'm not optimistic. We're sure Greg McElroy will be there, though — he gave a great interview this week about the game and his career in general. Also, three freshmen earned All-SEC honors, though how Demarcus Milliner was named to an all-anything team is worthy of an investigation.

— Looking towards the future, the program picked up a pair of commitments this week, from JUCO DL Quinton Dial (originally signed two years ago) and Aaron Douglas, a former freshman All-American at Tennessee. Per Chris Low:
Douglas' signing with Alabama won't be a popular decision with Tennessee fans. He was the Vols' most promising offensive lineman when Derek Dooley took over for Lane Kiffin following the 2009 season. What's more, he was a Tennessee legacy. Both of his parents were former Tennessee athletes. His father, David, was an offensive lineman on the Vols' 1985 SEC championship team and later played in the NFL. His mother, Karla Horton Douglas, was the starting center on the Lady Vols' 1987 national championship basketball team.

One more note on the future: Alabama fans (and really, college football fans the world over) will be forced to pay attention to NFL labor negotiations this offseason, specifically as to how they might affect the college football landscape in 2011. OTS actually covered this in pretty spectacular (in other words, standard for him) fashion last week.
Neither the players or the owners can really afford a work stoppage, and despite all of the heated rhetoric to the contrary, an agreement will probably be reached in the coming months and there will be no work stoppage. Having established that point, people who view a lockout as an inevitability are really putting the cart before the horse.

— Two miscellaneous Auburn related things: The NCAA says it will work on closing the loophole that allowed Cam Newton to remain eligible in 2010; and Trooper Taylor is suing Auburn city schools. Or something.

— I tried (actually really tried) to watch Alabama's basketball win over Southeastern Louisiana Wednesday night. But I just couldn't. This is the same team as last year; even the faces haven't changed that much. It's a quality defensive team that will hang with every team it plays, will play hard every night ... and will ultimately lose a number of games by 6-10 points because of a complete inability to score when it matters. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Probably some Andy coming a little later. Roll Tide.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

family conversations, 2010 version: we've come a long way, baby

With Auburn on the cusp of a national championship and with the temperature in Hell a robust negative 25 degrees Fahrenheit it seems like the perfect time to break out the "Family Conversations" gimmick, in which I trade emails with my cousin's husband (cousin-in-law?) Jamie about Alabama football, Auburn football and life in general. Fair warning: If you're still kicking yourself about the fact that our guys blew a 24-point lead to these guys at home the last time out, this may be a difficult read. But, if you can make it through and have anything to say, feel free to leave a comment here, or find me on Twitter.
will: As I'm sitting here writing this, I just tweeted (can't believe I used that word) a video of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, two days after winning the Heisman Trophy, reading the top-10 list on last night's "Late Show" with David Letterman. He's less than a month from playing for the first national championship for his university in more than 50 years. Read all that again.

To say the state has been turned on its head since this time last year would be more than an understatement. To be honest, I'm a tad envious watching it all; as much fun as it was for us watching it all a year ago (climbing back to the top after a decade of mostly misery), I can't escape the feeling that it's somehow different for Auburn (climbing to uncharted heights out of basically frigging nowhere). It's roughly the equivalent of being a Yankees fan watching the Red Sox make a World Series run; it's special to win the title as a Yankee, sure, but it's different for Boston.
Jamie: We are definitely in unchartered waters but if you look at it as a whole, it's not like Auburn is a nobody who shouldn't be there. 10th most wins nationally in the past 25 years and 3 undefeated regular seasons in the SEC since realignment (Bama 92, 08 and 09 the only other). We had it in us, just needed the breaks. Coincidently, we stomped a mud hole in people in 2004 and didn't play for it. This year, we catch a few breaks and squeak through some games and here we are.

will: In retrospect, I'm not even mad that our defense surrendered a 24-point lead in the span of basically a quarter in November. Really, I'm not. Anyone who watched Auburn this year would know enough to know they can score 28 points without even really trying. What's going to take a long time to get over are the wasted possessions at the end of the first half, and the complete inability of the offense to muster anything resembling a killer instinct in the second half. We knew 27 points wouldn't be enough to win the game. At least we should have.
Jamie: The Bama game was definitely...weird. As I have said before, if we were down 24-0 after a couple pick six's and a dropped td pass by us, I would have thought we might have a chance. That complete turnaround is something I will likely never see again. On that stage. With that much on the table. Weird.

will: In a way, though, what happened in that game — and watching what's happened to Auburn this year — underscores what it takes to go through a 14-game season undefeated. You don't have to be flawless all the time; you do, however, have to get the right breaks at the right moments, have to avoid key injuries and penalties, have to take everybody's best shot week after week without cracking. And you have to be very good. It happened for Bama last year; it's happening for Auburn this year.
(And by the way, Auburn's going to thump Oregon. Write it down. We don't even have to discuss it.)

I'm curious as to your opinion of coach Chizik, whether it's changed at all in 2010. Because I'm biased, I have a natural reluctance to give the guy too much credit for the season. I do give him credit for hiring Gus Malzahn and then not getting in his way at any point, for being a low-key guy who doesn't hog the spotlight (he's kind of stuck his chest out more and more as this season has gone on, but who could blame him?) and for recruiting with a vigor his predecessors did not. As for his defenses, I do think it's worth noting that two top-flight defensive coordinators have a D that isn't even in the top-50 nationally in total defense. On the other hand, there are depth issues, which are a problem when you're trying to support a Malzahn offense that flies. And they have coached up Nick Fairley into a beast. And the defense has played very well in the second halves of most games all season.
The real test of Chizik as a coach may come next season, when Auburn is dealing with the burden of being the defending champs without their QB and their veteran OL, and playing at Clemson, at Carolina, at Arkansas, at LSU and at Georgia. But we can worry about that another time.
Jamie: Chiz gets the credit period. His call to go for 2 second half 4th downs in T town. He's the head guy. He'll catch hell for something in the future when he shouldn't so I'll be damned if I don't give him the credit for where we are today. The respect the staff has for him speaks volumes.

will: You asked me last year how Alabama fans will remember Saban, as one of their own or a hired gun? How will AU fans remember No. 2? Like a comet, I guess.
Jamie: AU fans, and myself will remember 2 as one of the best. A HIRED gun? I hope not. A one and done legend? Sure.

will: Suppose something goes horribly wrong in Glendale and Auburn somehow doesn't win (which won't happen, but bear with me). Are you content just to be there?
Jamie: If we do not win in Glendale I will be very disappointed. To get there and lose would be devastating. I can tell you however, that seeing the interlocking AU on every sports show, every night from here to California, is very big for our program. Win or Lose, we are THE show right now. If not but for 4 weeks, we are (Thank you Ron Burgundy) a big deal. It's not new for some fan bases. For little brother, it's pretty damn fun to watch.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday tube: Bowl memories, part 2

This week in my continuation of Alabama bowl memories (non-championship), I'm sharing the lesser known of Alabama's two Sugar Bowl dates with Penn State. I was sharing this story with someone yesterday, and it's worth repeating. At the time, Penn State was essentially stuck in the same place Boise State is now: they were recognized as being pretty good, only they were independents (no conference games) and couldn't get high-profile dates to raise themselves nationally.
So, because he was a friend, and because everyone realized they could make boatloads of cash, coach Bryant talked the Sugar Bowl into inviting Penn State in 1975 to play 11-1 Alabama (actually Penn State's second trip to the Sugar Bowl, and the second time they'd played Alabama in their history).

Alabama won the game, but Penn State had so much fun they came back in '79 (for the famous Goal Line Stand game) and '82 (when they beat Herschel Walker's Georgia). Plus they got a yearly series out of it with Alabama, something everyone is still pining for in 2010. So it worked out pretty well for everybody, really.

Back later with more. Roll Tide.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Andy: that BADGE means somethin!

"We're liable to have folks out there who are here for more than a good time, if you know what I mean."

weekend reads: long overdue

My apologies to everyone for the dearth of posting here — real life and finals and all that keep getting in the way. There are literally about a dozen different topics I should've blogged about by now, but I just haven't. Anyway, to make up for it, here's a completely half-assedbatch of links for perusal on a chilly Friday.
— Of course, no story in college football was bigger than Urban Meyer's resignation from Florida (again). I have no idea what to make of it, but EDSBS (not surprisingly) had the most poignant entry on it, comparing Urban Meyer to ... I don't know, something from Laos? The money paragraph:
If Urban Meyer was 75% there, he didn't belong at his job, a job that just happened to be coaching the University of Florida, then he ultimately did what was right in leaving. The percentage of person who showed up to the Heavener Football Complex every day was 100% present for four years straight, and the difference for the 347 days since his return was evident in the percentages: the 71% win percentage at 7-5, the 0% shot at an SEC Title after the dreadful bedcrapping at Alabama, and the 100% legality of the forward bounce pass LSU used on a fake field goal to beat Florida at home. 75% percent of being there is still 7-5, a total that at Florida will get you 100% fired eventually.

If you have a few extra minutes to kill and want to read a minister's take on things, read this post from this here blog a year ago, in which I solicit the opinion of someone who had a piece of his brain forcibly removed from his skull.
My advice for Urban? You've got to trust somebody. You became successful as a head football coach by controlling things, by making the decisions and telling people what to do. Your health and your family don't work on those parameters. If you're going to straighten things out with your health and your family, you've got to trust your family to be involved in decisions and trust your doctors when they tell you that you're killing yourself by doing what you're doing. You can succeed in football doing things the way you've done them, and you'll keep climbing the ladder and dancing on the top rung. Life ain't just football, and some day you're gonna want to make up for lost time on some of those other ladders that don't have 2 minute offenses. Those ladders require some trust and foundation, and you earn those the hard and slow way.

Of course, the conversation now turns to where Florida will go next, a saga sure to have some interesting twists and turns that ultimately lead nowhere, before Florida does what we all expect them to do by hiring Dan Mullen. Seriously, who else makes more sense for them? And why on earth would Mullen turn it down?
(Two more coaching carousel note: this story from The Tennesseean says Gus Malzahn could get up to $3 million per year to be the head coach at Vanderbilt; also, Jim McElwain's name has come up as a potential offensive coordinator at Texas.)

— In news closer to home, even a most uninspiring season garnered some awards, first for Greg McElroy, not a Rhodes Scholar, but the conference's Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
“If (the NFL) doesn’t work out, hopefully Northwestern Law School, depending on where else I apply.”

The Tide also had four freshmen honored, as well. What Cody Mandell did to warrant being honored by anybody is beyond me. Were there no other freshman punters anywhere in the SEC?
Wrapping up the 2010 season, Chris Low has a pretty short recap, while RBR has a closer look at the season by the numbers. In one very big way, those numbers back up something I thought all year: the real culprit for the defensive drop-off was in the front seven.
As much hand wringing that was done over the green Crimson Tide secondary the real weakness of this defense was the inability to stop the run. Not only did the Alabama defense allow opposing offenses to earn more than 1,000 yards on the ground during the regular season for the first time since 2007 they permitted a whopping 60% more yards than last year. Yeesh.

And so, in a way, we're back to where we were at this time in 2007: if Alabama is to be a top defensive unit in 2011, it simply must get tougher in the front 7. The good news: this program has much more talent now than it did at this time 3 years ago. And we have the nation's highest-paid coach, as well. Surely that's worth something.
One more thing on Saban, while we're here: he and Mark Dantonio have a pretty neat relationship, too.

— In the midst of winning every award he could last night, Cam Newton did sit down with ESPN to profess his innocence in everything. Meanwhile, Cecil Newton made the top of the Sports front in the Birmingham paper today by saying he won't come to the Heisman ceremony. I continue to be astonished at the notion that Cam had NO IDEA anything was going on, especially since ... well, it was Dad's idea to go to Auburn in the first place. To paraphrase Kevin Costner from JFK, Gentlemen, I find your story simply not believable.
(Also, since AU folks had so much fun with the 'Bama guy who asked for a continuance in his trial so he could attend the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena ... well, y'all got served. Maybe we think it through a bit more next time before we throw stones, eh?)

— Finally, since it's December, that means it's time to do 2 things: talk about how silly the bowl system is — Tower of Bammer does it for us in two parts, as does TBL with an extended rant about how it's ruined the holidays; and attack/defend the BCS: TBL again, with a takedown of Bill Hancock.

That's that for now. Some Andy coming later in the day, most likely. Roll Tide Roll.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tuesday tube: Bowl memories, part 1

To take the cowardlyuncooperative way out this month, I'm going to post videos of great (non-championship) bowl games past. For starters, here's the 2005 Cotton Bowl, just because.

See you tomorrow. Roll Tide Roll.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

thoughts from championship weekend

Just a few observations from the weekend that was in college football, before I turn my attention to the two take-home finals which are looming (as well as the season finale of "The Walking Dead").

— That Auburn dominated South Carolina Saturday night in Atlanta wasn't a huge shock: yes, the Gamecocks flirted with an upset at Jordan-Hare in September, but the truth is Auburn's much better than they were then, and playing with the confidence that comes from an undefeated season that includes a 24-point comeback on the road against your archrival (it's killing me to write that). But the seminal moment, for me, was Darvin Adams' Hail Mary reception right before halftime, the one that basically sealed the game in the Tigers' favor. When you're catching 50-yard Hail Mary passes on the SEC's biggest stage, it's pretty much your year.
And that's sort of what I was getting at in my post a week ago: The difference between very good teams and championship teams, for the most part, is getting the bounces. The Alabama that won the national championship in 2009 didn't drop easy touchdown passes, didn't fumble at inopportune times and didn't get outplayed in the second half. The Auburn team that's going to win the championship in '10 can do similar things.
— If I were Gene Chizik, I think I'd wear a t-shirt with middle fingers on the front and back 24 hours a day, if only to remind everyone what they said about him when he was first hired. As an Alabama fan, however, there's a part of me that kind of wants Auburn to win the title in January, to coach Chizik the kind of job security that would come with such a feat.
The fact is, anyone wondering why the same guy who finished 5-19 at Iowa State without a hint of improvement in two seasons is suddenly on the verge of a national championship, is it really such a mystery? The Iowa St. version of Chizik didn't have Gus Malzahn as his offensive coordinator, didn't have Trooper Taylor beating the bushes for recruits and didn't have the best player in the country taking his team from good to great. Chizik deserves unending credit for swallowing his ego and letting his guys do what they do. I think that's commendable. But it's also worth noting that Auburn's head coach who is a career defensive specialist coaches a team that isn't even in the top 50 in total defense.
— That reminds me: Nick Fairley had a fantastic quote from the "NOBODY BELIEVES IN US" file Saturday night in Chris Low's blog.
“People say our defense is suspect. I’ve been hearing that all year. All that does is give us motivation to go shut people down.”

Look, I know the tendency of everyone when they're successful is to say no one believed in you (even if, as in the case of Auburn in 2010, they were the odds-on favorite in every game they played except the Alabama game). At the same time, Nick, do you know why people have said your defense is "suspect" this season? Because it is. Auburn surrenders an average of 360-plus yards per game through 13 games, and nearly 5.3 yards per play. Auburn's defense hasn't received the label of "suspect" because of some inane predilection media members and football pundits have to bash Auburn.
To the unending credit of the AU D, they have come through every time they were badly needed (vs. 'Bama, vs. LSU) and they played their best game of the season Saturday vs. Carolina. They're rounding into form at the right time.
You know what it reminds me of, actually? The Alabama offense in 2009. Everyone will remember the Heisman Trophy and the domination of Florida, but Alabama's offense went through a remarkably putrid period during midseason, only scoring two touchdowns from the Ole Miss game (Oct. 10) through the first half of the LSU game (Nov. 7). It's not even really accurate to say they did just enough to win, since the Tennessee game, without Terrence Cody's heroics, would've been lost.
But the 09 offense caught fire in the last month, staged late rallies to beat LSU and Auburn, then showed out in the biggest game of the season in Atlanta, just like Auburn's defense has this season. That's what happens for championship football teams.
— Happy though I guess everyone was for South Carolina (for reaching Atlanta for the first time), Steve Spurrier is still receiving way too much credit from pundits and fans. First of all, anyone who pretends this South Carolina team experienced some kind of revelation this season is kidding themselves; the Gamecocks won the SEC East primarily because the rest of the division regressed so egregiously that they were suddenly the best positioned squad. On a neutral field, SC would be at least a one-touchdown underdog against every team in the West except for (maybe) Ole Miss. In fact, everyone predicting them to pull the upset in Atlanta was conveniently ignoring the fact that, in their most recent meeting with a team from the West (Arkansas), they lost by 21 ... at home.
Moreover, the 2010 version of Steve Spurrier isn't an evil genius; he's just a guy. Every pundit who picked Carolina to win — like, say, Lee Corso — mentioned Spurrier in their prediction, "The Ol' Ball Coach," who would surely draw up some plays to upset big, bad Auburn like in the old days. Which would be fine, except Spurrier's not that kind of coach anymore: Carolina finished the season 47th in passing offense, with Stephen Garcia the 65th best passer in the nation (Greg McElroy, by comparison, is 50th). To be perfectly honest, Carolina didn't do anything particularly well on offense in 2010; their total offensive ranking is 50th nationally, 2 spots behind the Georgia team everyone decried as a fraud all season. Color me unimpressed.
— I really don't have the strength to discuss CBS' coverage of the SEC Championship Game, which was its usual low caliber. I will say this: what he lacks in general TV skill, Gary Danielson makes up for by saying things that make very little sense. Early in the game, during a piece about how big WRs have hurt Auburn's secondary in 2010, Danielson verbalized a bizarre stream of consciousness that had to be heard to be believed (I didn't DVR the game, but hopefully someone who did will back me up here). The essence of it, I think, was that because the NFL doesn't allow college freshmen to enter its league — like the NBA does — athletes are allowed to mature physically and psychologically, and are thus quite imposing by the time they're upperclassmen.
That was the essence of it. What he actually said, I can't replicate. I just can't.
UPDATE: Friend of the blog Amanda von Herrmann DID pull her DVR of the game, found the rant, and transcribed it. And it is as amazing as I remember.
At 47 minutes in ...
Verne: Well, we've seen Auburn play, and I know you've pointed out the big wide receivers.
[graphic displaying receivers they've faced this season- Jeffrey, Childs, Green, Jones, and Jeffrey again]
Gary: (interrupting) Well... well... and all of these guys. One of the oddities, if you look, there's Jeffrey in the first game in the beginning and here he is at the end. It's one of the oddities about college football is you can't turn pro early. Okay so these guys, if these are basketball players, they're a tough matchup in the NFL. And so now they're out here in college football, they're a really tough matchup in this game.

(Note: I'm not going to cover the "Cammy Cam Juice" thing, because if I do I'll be sorely tempted to share a completely inappropriate text from one of my cousins that would get us all in trouble and possibly get me uninvited to Christmas. Suffice to say, CBS should probably re-think how it covers college football in the future.)
— As Gentry Estes notes, if the BCS were a 16-team playoff, Alabama at Auburn would be a first-round matchup. Gawwwd.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday linking party returns

With the season now over and less happening on a typical Friday, it seems like the the right time to bring back the links, at least to give you something to read before the weekend.
— Sadly, the biggest story continues to be Cam Newton's eligibility, best summarized here by Dr. Saturday.
What the ruling boils down to, then, is a novel set of circumstances that very conveniently allows the most celebrated player in the country to fall through the cracks, just in time to lead his team to a conference and possibly a national championship, and claim his personal reward in New York City. There's been some might fine lawyerin' on the Plains over the past month to get the Tigers' MVP past the defense, and they succeeded.

I can't say any more about it than has already been said: they celebrated — and thumbed their noses at everyone they could find — in the Auburn camp, and scratched their heads and wailed everywhere else. Honestly, I can't really argue the case, since, in 10-plus years of paying attention to the NCAA (since I'm a Bama guy, and we're the cheatinest cheaters that ever cheated), I still have no idea what is the organization's modus operandi. To quote a text from my cousin Rob, "They don't follow precedents or their own rules just ... who is being investigated and what time of the month it is." Of course, they got it right, according to Mr. College Football, and he's way smarter than I am.
(One other lingering question: Does anyone really believe the student-athlete in question had absolutely no knowledge of what was taking place? Because if you do, you're either admitting that a) Cecil Newton is a surprisingly smart con man, or b) his son is a dunce. I'm not sure I believe either of those things.)
— Here's a report on Mark Barron's torn pectoral muscle. Did you know he was our leading tackler this season? Because that's awful.
(Note: While we're here, let's commend the guys from Tower of Bammer for being able to poke fun at themselves in the wake of last week's Auburn disaster. I'm not quite there, but I'm glad they are.)
— Reporters in Boulder seem pretty assured Colorado is prepared to hire its new coach, and it's not going to be Jim McElwain. Does this make you happy?
— Speaking of coaches, read this story about Rich Rodriguez, Josh Groban and emotion. Now remember that Alabama was ready to hire Rod in 2007, only his wife basically said no. Then high-five yourself.
— Since it's December, let's talk about how terrible the BCS is. Let's keep talking about it until February. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Friday Andy returns with "Dooley"

One of my favorite musical scenes in the show.

Incidentally, the music group in question is The Dillards — called "The Darlings" on the show. The man playing Briscoe and the woman who played Charlene were not, in fact, members of the band.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday lines: Looking LIVE

Today's edition of "Thursday lines" originates from the press box at Jordan-Hare Stadium, where the Leeds Green Wave just took a 7-6 lead over Hamilton in the AHSAA 3A championship game. I have my doubts Hamilton can seriously challenge them ... unless they fumble a lot (a fumble set up Hamilton's first score) and commit tons of penalties (they just got popped for a personal foul that will give Hamilton the ball at midfield). But it's been fun so far.
(Note: Here's where you think I'm going to take some kind of dig at Auburn for making everyone park in Tuskegee and bus back to the stadium, or because the coffee they provided was cold and tasted sort of like poison. But, see, I'm not. So there.)
(Note: In the time it took to write this, Auburn commit Jonathan Rose ran an interception back for a touchdown. Feel free to free-associate about the poetry in a kid who's going to Auburn next year dominating on his future home field. Leeds 14, Hamilton 6.)
Anyway, this week's lines come to you courtesy of As always, feel free to discuss these here or by finding me on Twitter.
Arizona St. (+6.5) at Arizona

Northern Illinois (-14.5) at Miami (OH)
Illinois (-6.5) at Fresno St.

Rutgers (+20) at West Virginia
Pittsburg (PICK) at Cincinnati
Troy (-4) at Fla. Atlantic
Utah St. (+40) at Boise St.
(Note: Bad week to be Utah St. Bad, BAD week.)
Oregon (-15.5) at Oregon St.
Auburn (-5) vs. South Carolina (Atlanta)
Washington (-8) at Washington St.
Florida St. (+4.5) vs. Va. Tech (Charlotte)
(Note: Hey, this one is close to selling out! Good for you, ACC.)
UConn (+2.5) at South Florida
(Note: Can TCU take the Big East's BCS bid this year? Can we just go ahead and start that now?)
Nebraska (+4) vs. Oklahoma (Dallas)
USC (-8) at UCLA