Sunday, November 27, 2011

week 14 thoughts: if we're going to play, we might as well win

Since this season began, it has been the strangest I can ever remember.

I don't really mean on the field, necessarily. The action on the field — until last weekend, anyway — had been relatively formulaic. It's been a weird season for me personally, for my family and for Alabama in general. The season started really before I was ready for it, without us in the building or even in town for the first time since 2008. There were two road trips, a home game, some tailgating ... but mostly, we were somewhat separated from the action this fall. It was different, but not necessarily a bad thing. 
One of the reasons for the difficulty, though, was my grandfather's ongoing battle — and he battled it all the way — with cancer, which began in one place and just kept spreading (as cancer will, I suppose). The weekend of North Texas, we were at his house, taking in a day of football and attempting to make the moments last forever. The day after the heartbreaker vs. LSU, we were at his bedside again, as he struggled to keep his eyes open and his mind in one place (all the while wondering why Alabama's kicking game could do no better). 
He died very early Wednesday morning. 
And so Thanksgiving Weekend — and the Auburn game that caps it — was even more a family affair than usual. We all missed most of Arkansas-LSU receiving visitors at the funeral home; nobody saw ESPN's College Gameday, because we were at the graveside service. 
By the time we sat down to actually watch the game, there were myself, my wife, my mom (an Auburn fan whose family has owned season tickets for almost as long as there's been such things), my dad and his sister — all of whom have spent the last month caring for their dad, alternately laughing and crying — and it seemed somewhat strange that anyone was even playing a game. Only a year ago, I remember walking out of Bryant-Denny Stadium a shivering, angry person; on Saturday, the first time since 1997 an Auburn-Alabama game kicked off without me in the building somewhere, I was calmly sitting on a couch and wondering how anyone could care so much. "The rest of the world kept going this week?" I thought. "I'm somewhat surprised."
Dad said he felt the same way. 
"If we're gonna play, though, we need to win," he said. 
And so it was.

In a way, the aftermath of Saturday's 42-14 win at Auburn has been an indicator of the entire season for Alabama: nobody's talking about the result, so much as whether Alabama deserves a BCS rematch with LSU (Cecil says yes, but then again, of course he does).  If there was an enduring image from Saturday, it was Trent Richardson's 57-yard run in the fourth quarter to seal the deal, the one where he slapped away a defender like a boxer swatting at a gnat.
That summed up the game for Bama: For all the bluster about "Never again" and "four quarters" and all that noise, when it came down to it, Auburn was a team in Alabama's way in 2011. Just like Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and the 12 other teams on the schedule that aren't LSU. The past two seasons, Auburn has appeared to be more prepared to play than Bama; there were things the Tigers did that Alabama seemed unprepared for. Not this time — the two best plays for Auburn all day were a pooch punt and a kickoff return.
On the one hand, Alabama was a much stronger team, so the end result didn't come as a huge surprise to anyone outside the state. At the same time, nobody goes to Auburn and whips the home team like that. I mean, not ever. Alabama fans have a right to take satisfaction in that result, no matter the records.
And that's a pretty good ending to the weirdest football season of my lifetime. I'm sure Granddad enjoyed it.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

a column about Thanksgiving

Editor's note: I feel like I write this particular column every year around this time. So I apologize in advance. As always, feel free to comment here or find me on Twitter.
Thankful for these, and all our many, many blessings

I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret
I can’t see how You’re leading me unless You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

Like most people, I grew up blessing every meal, in pretty much the same way.

My dad — and, I later found out, his dad — bless every meal with the same words almost every time. Some version of the following: “Gracious Heavenly Father, we’re so thankful for these and all our many, many blessings.”

Blessings, like all rituals, can become something of a repetitive pattern after a while. Repeat the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed enough times, and eventually you’ll be able to do it in your sleep.

So it wasn’t until recently that those words — “we’re so thankful for these and all our many, many blessings” — really provoked much thought in me.

To be honest, ours isn’t a culture where being thankful is considered much of a virtue. The culture of never being satisfied — “staying hungry,” to put in the language of sports — and always moving upward doesn’t lend itself to counting blessings.

Still, I can’t remember a year when stopping and being thankful could be more necessary. The year started with icy blizzards, has featured long-running scandals, drought, wildfires and a debate over illegal immigration that seems to become dumber by the day. Even the one time of year that should be the most fun — football season — has been obscured by a scandal so sad and disturbing I don’t even like the idea of putting it in print.

In the midst of it all were the worst storms that ever hit this state, a killer track of tornadoes that turned the whole world upside down for all of us. When the sirens went off last week, it was like a terrifying memory flashing back. No storm siren will ever sound quite the same, after April 27.

To be honest, watching the news — and, truthfully, writing the news — isn’t the sort of thing that makes a person think about how blessed they are, or how thankful they should be.

And that’s probably why we need it so much. We need to be reminded of all the things about this world that are right. We need to sit still for just a few minutes, eat a little too much food, watch a few football games we don’t care about and share meaningless chit-chat about relatives who may or may not still be alive. We may even need to be moderately embarrassed by that one family member who talks too much and says goofy things at the dinner table (in our family, it’s me).

That’s one of the many reasons I can’t wait until we’re around the table so we can share in that blessing one more time. You never really know how many times you’ll get to hear it.

* Rich Mullins' "Hard to Get" is one my favorite songs ever, even though he only recorded it through a lousy tape recorder he probably bought at K-Mart or something.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tuesday tube: so much on the line

None of my normal prattling about Auburn Week, at least not for now. Instead, here's something sort of odd to ponder: This will be the fourth Auburn game (beginning in 2008) with a direct impact on the national championship scene.
Since it's Tuesday, here are the 2 most fun of the previous 3.

Let's have some fun this Saturday. Roll Tide.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

gameday texts: chaos week edition

Welcome back to another edition of "Gameday Texts," an open thread that chronicled a roughly 28-hour period in which the world of college football basically went ham. As always, messages appear in this space exactly as they do on my phone, complete with timestamp. Also as always, be warned that some of the content here might be mildly offensive. But it's fun.

Whit (8:05 p.m.) Espn2!

me (9:13 p.m.) Clever move, Iowa State, trying to look like USC. Don't think it's working anymore.
Whit (9:13 p.m.) It's going to happen.

me (10:22 p.m.) I. Don't. Believe it.
Whit (10:22 p.m.) Shhhhhhhhh
Jonathan Page (10:23 p.m.) Seriously??

me (10:38 p.m.) Not so hard to at this point to figure out why ISU isn't any good. Gotten the game handed to them all night & keep handing it back.

Maguire (10:34 p.m.) Same way ISU missed it against us in Shreveport in '01.
Pedro (10:35 p.m.) That kicker up for a transfer?
Jonathan Page (10:43 p.m.) Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Rob (10:44 p.m.) Erin: yay can you imagine how excited those ugly cheerleaders are!

Travis P (10:50 p.m.) 2ot. Time for an OMG!!!!!
me (10:50 p.m.) No. Bleeping. Way.
Whit (10:50 p.m.) Shhhhhhhhh
me (10:51 p.m., Friday) "Gryffyndor wins!"
Maguire (10:51 p.m.) I know, right?!
Jonathan Page (10:51 p.m.) Yeah. That happened.
Maguire (10:51 p.m.) God, I love college football.

Rob (10:52 p.m.) So ur saying there's a chance
Jonathan Page (10:53 p.m.) That sound you here is the entire BCS committee selling their souls hoping this situation gets cleared up by Conf Championship weekend

Maguire (11:02 p.m.) Apparently ISU is "all in" as well. It's like an infection Rhoads brought with him.

Halcombe (7:46 a.m.) What I'd say if I were an SC anchor: The Barry Sandes, needing only one stop to stay unbeaten, retire unceremoniously to the Cotton Bowl.
Halcombe (8:44 a.m.) Watching a little "Miracle" to get the coaching juices flowing.  The other team will be shouting "Quit calling me a Soviet bastard. I'm telling."

Halcombe (9:03 a.m.) Please Big & Rich don't come to my city. IN fact, don't come within 90 feet of me. No. Seriously. I have a restraining order. Yep. The whole band.
me (9:05 a.m.) Your first Saturday facepalm comes courtesy of Lee & Kirk's stupid cowboy hats.
Whit (9:06 a.m.) Aw that's ok good try

me (9:26 a.m.) The Penn State guys may be tiring of Tom Rinaldi. Just sayin.
Halcombe (9:29 a.m.) Rinaldi: So Jay Paterno, did your dad have sex with Milk or his boyfriend/Spider Man bad boy in the late 70s SF gay rights movement? WTF?

Whit (9:28 a.m.) Just saw car with carolina cocks in big red letters across the back. Ugly girl inside.

me (10:12 a.m.) "Saturday Night in Death Valley" remains the most overrated thing in college football.
Pedro (10:18 a.m.) No, Joe Paterno's history of building character & integrity, making a difference in the world for the good, is the most overrated thing in college football
Jamie (10:51 a.m.) Last loss was 2002 to bama. That's a pretty good streak.

me (10:29 a.m.) The Gameday feature about Andre Ware neglected to mention how Houston deliberately ran it up on everybody that year b/c they were on probation, so Andre could win the Heisman. 
Rob (10:31 a.m.) They have done that this year.

me (11:30 a.m.) The "sports bar at 11:30" crowd is a little terrifying.

Maguire (11:34 a.m.) I just had a random thought. Ole Miss should hire a black head coach. Their alumni will have to be pacified by the return of Col. Reb. 
me (11:54 a.m.) Per Jack: He said something that sounded like, 'Fck it' & threw away his megaphone."

Maguire (12:06 p.m.) Just overheard a guy pointing to Reese Phifer Hall and telling his kid that he had a math class in there with Derrick Thomas.

me (12:33 p.m.) Some douche just came in & asked if a TV could be turned to "Rutgers-Cincinnati." I feel like fighting him on principle.
Rob (12:34 p.m.) He should have to sit in time out for that.
Halcombe (12:39 p.m.) Tell him water polo/lacrosse aren't televised ... or sports for that matter.
Courtesy Daniel Maguire

me (1:07 p.m.) Appears to be plenty of good seats available today.
Rob (1:08 p.m.) I'll bet I mailed it in
Maguire (1:14 p.m.) Far too many. Ungrateful students. 

Rob (1:17 p.m.) Um furman is beating uf
me (1:19 p.m.) Furman!!
Whit (1:25 p.m.) Furman? ... german???

me (1:20 p.m.) I have to say, it's fun to watch this offense, even though it drives me insane.
Maguire (1:21 p.m.) Yeah. It's sort of like us in the 70s.
me (1:52 p.m.) Insert the standard "Well, this offense is hard to prepare for" comment.

me (2:09 p.m.) Dre getting his skull bashed in.
Chad C (2:11 p.m.) He got his 6. Damn the rest.

Halcombe (2:28 p.m.) In 3:25, the collective Cock Nation will go "Son of a ... Mutha ..."

me (2:42 p.m.) How many more times can we fail on that kick before we stop trying?
Maguire (2:43 p.m.) I wish we'd just go for it. That's getting old.

me (2:52 p.m.) Stewart made a great point a minute ago: This game doesn't mean anything to GSU, practically. They already won their league & qualified for the playoffs.
Maguire (2:53 p.m.) True. They're playing for pride, though. I worry that we're looking ahead to next week.
Halcombe (3:05 p.m.) I'll take whatever I can get. Now we'll go play in our tournament while you wait out the BS ... uh ... BCS. Freudian slip.

me (3:11 p.m.) Good to see our kickoff coverage is remaining consistent.
Chad C (3:12 p.m.) If it wasn't for spcl teams, we would be unstoppable.
Maguire (3:12 p.m.) It has the consistency of shit. 

me (3:16 p.m.) Clock cannot run fast enough.
Maguire (3:17 p.m.) I'm conflicted between wanting it to run and get this over with, or slow down so we can score 21 more points.

me (3:36 p.m.) Gators came back valiantly vs. Paladins.

Travis P (3:38 p.m.) Dre still smoked
me (3:40 p.m.) Now seems like the right time to mention that 3 didn't even make it to 20 carries 2 weeks ago.
Travis P (3:42 p.m.) Still to early
Dad (3:51 p.m.) So Oregon looks good tonight and jumps to #2. How bout that?

Maguire (3:53 p.m.) I wish we would not play "Sweet Caroline" over the PA system like every-freaking-body else in the country. When did we become followers?

Maguire (4:04 p.m.) 10-1. Roll Tide.
Jonathan Page (4:20 p.m.) FB buddy Jeff Moore brings up a good point. "4 Straight 10 win seasons for the Tide. 5 years ago many of us were looking to trade our first born for that kind of run."

Whit (4:19 p.m.) #auburnweek #hateweek
me (4:34 p.m.) Now it's Auburn Week. God help us all.
Maguire (4:35 p.m.) Let the hate flow freely.
Rob (4:45 p.m.) Yep ready to head into enemy territory
Dad (4:54 p.m.) Amen brother

Halcombe (4:38 p.m.) No name ESPN Radio dude, you talking about ND and a BCS bowl right now is why you are a no name. 
Pedro (5:14 p.m.) Ohio State vs. Penn State — loser gets the NCAA investigators first

Jonathan Page (5:33 p.m.) Another FB observation: "So the Tide got a possible assist in the BCS by the Cyclones, irony anybody?" ... No, that's coincidence, shitty, shitty coincidence.
Jonathan Page (6:16 p.m.) In an Irish bar in downtown Denver. Without prompting they switched the feed to LSU/Ole Miss ... Now I'm drinking heavily. 

me (6:24 p.m.) I think I could watch the video of Corso dropping the f-bomb on live TV for hours on end. Fowler & Herbstreit's reactions are priceless. 

me (6:37 p.m.) Over/under: How many points COULD LSU score tonight, if it so desires?
Whit (6:37 p.m.) 78
Rob (6:40 p.m.) 74
Jonathan Page (6:46 p.m.) Hmmmm, I'm thinking low 50s
Jonathan Page (6:57 p.m.) A better over/under would been Ole Miss turnovers

me (7:35 p.m.) Ole Miss needs to ask for 8-minute quarters in the 2nd half.
Whit (7:35 p.m.) Running clock
me (7:35 p.m.) I know I used that one back when we played them. But it still applies.
Rob (7:36 p.m.) Just forfeit
Jamie (8:01 p.m.) Bad news for ole miss. They started the 2nd half.

Jamie (7:41 p.m.) I haven't been watching. How many times has herbie mentioned speed/tempo? 56?

me (7:46 p.m.) Vols just missed on a wheel route. On 3rd & 1. Vs. Vandy.
Jamie (7:47 p.m.) We would have run a reverse flea flicker wheel route on 3rd and 1
Halcombe (7:49 p.m.) Sounds like an episode of Young and the Restless with a sub: (Soft, low voice) Playing the role of Victor (Vandy) are the Vols. 

Whit (7:57 p.m.) Kinda intrigued about oklahoma baylor

Whit (8:02 p.m.) Referee in usc game — "holding. Offense number 55. bear hug. *imitates bear hug*

Jamie (8:04 p.m.) We know why tennessee couldn't catch the vandy db. They were apparently blocking during the run back.

me (9:02 p.m.) /sings USC fight song repeatedly
Rob (9:02 p.m.) And Baylor
Rob (9:03 p.m.) Just say rg 3 a lot

Maguire (9:07 p.m.) What would we do without Musberger?

me (9:09 p.m.) I find the nickname "Black Mamba" to be offensive.
Rob (9:10 p.m.) That's cause u were in a locker room in opelika
Whit (9:18 p.m.) That name belongs to kobe

Jamie (9:20 p.m.) I think all these teams got together and agreed that playing LSU is probably not a good idea.
me (9:27 p.m.) Dooley to assistant: "YOU CAN'T CHALLENGE IT! SHUT UP!"
Jamie (9:28 p.m.) If they blow it dead they can't call it a td right?
Jamie (9:31 p.m.) So the ref who blew the whistle just didn't say anything I guess.

Jonathan Page (9:30 p.m.) WTF PAC 12 special teams

Jamie (9:35 p.m.) How close is arkansas to playing for a national title?
Jamie (9:40 p.m.) Oregon lses, okl loses this week or next, ark beats lsu. Bama wins out does that put bama 1 ark 2? Who else?

Jamie (9:46 p.m.) I don't think brent knows what that annoying yellow line means

me (9:55 p.m.) Virginia!!!!

me (9:59 p.m.) An LB for UVA just broke his left leg in half. I cried. I'm still crying.
Jamie (10:01 p.m.) One of those "been there" moments?

me (10:07 p.m.) No idea what's happening in UVA-FSU right now.
me (10:14 p.m.) I have no words to describe what just happened.
Jonathan Page (10:15 p.m.) Yeah, I'm confused. Wasn't this game over 15 minutes ago?
Jamie (10:16 p.m.) And the crazyness has rolled over to oregon-usc

me (10:19 p.m.) TEXAS
Audra (10:20 p.m.) Sucks and we are close behind

me (10:20 p.m.) Dear Lane Kiffin, Fck yo couch.
Rob (10:20 p.m.) How lucky is chip Kelly
Maguire (10:21 p.m.) DIAF

me (10:26 p.m.) Les Miles thinks Oregon played it perfectly.
Jamie (10:26 p.m.) No chance this goes through
Whit (10:27 p.m.) of course they did. Do they have real grass in oregon?
Maguire (10:27 p.m.) Chip Kelley went to Les' off-season clinic.
me (10:28 p.m.) Miles says to fake it.
Maguire (10:28 p.m.) Shankopotamus!
Rob (10:28 p.m.) Suck it PAC douche
Jonathan Page (10:29 p.m.) And Oregon is out of the conversation

me (10:29 p.m.) Stacey: "He (Lane) just looks so ridiculous."
Jamie (10:31 p.m.) Barkley: "like totally rad game brah"

Jamie (10:30 p.m.) Ou about to go down as well.
Maguire (10:37 p.m.) Let's go, RGIII.
me (10:45 p.m.) These coaches are aware that they're allowed to call timeout, right?
Whit (10:46 p.m.) And right on time ...
Jamie (10:46 p.m.) Chip kelly thinks he starts next weeks game with 6
Maguire (10:46 p.m.) They also went to Les's clinic.

Maguire (10:48 p.m.) Time for OU's kicker to get foot AIDS.
Maguire (10:49 p.m.) It's been going around.
Maguire (10:52 p.m.) Guess the foot AIDS epidemic has been stymied.

Maguire (10:53 p.m.) Now time for a 51-second miracle drive.
me (10:53 p.m.) Itchy lineman took away the headline: "BOB STOOPS' BRASS BALLS"
Maguire (10:53 p.m.) Editors are either relieved or pissed.
Jonathan Page (10:57 p.m.) Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
me (10:58 p.m.) No. Effing. Way. Again.
Jonathan Page (10:58 p.m.) Why settle for a FG?
Jamie (10:59 p.m.) North goal post looks at south goal post with a look that says: be safe my friend, be safe.
Travis P (10:59 p.m.) Amazing. Not done yet.
Pedro (11:00 p.m.) If Robert Griffin III isn't a top 5 pick, somebody's high

Jonathan Page (11:00 p.m.) And the Sooners just quit
Maguire (11:01 p.m.) And insult aded to injury there on the kickoff.
Travis P (11:09 p.m.) The squib onside kick. Joy joy joy
Maguire (11:01 p.m.) God, I love this game.

me (11:03 p.m.) Just plant one on her, RGIII. You earned it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

a newspaper column that never ran about Penn State

I finally got back on the horse with my newspaper column this week, but it never ran due to a lack of space. So it will appear on this blog exclusively, if only because I don't have a whole lot else to talk about this week. As always, feel free to complain about this either here or on Twitter.
Nothing left to do but cry

We spent almost two years thinking about ways to make the trip to see Alabama play Penn State this September.

We wanted to make the trip because we’re big fans of the program; because we knew the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime trip (one of the only places in the world that cares as much about college football as people in the South); and because we wanted to see Joe Paterno.

“It’s the last time we’ll ever see JoePa again,” one of my friends said, explaining why we should fork over the money to make trip. “Definitely worth it, man. Definitely.”

People in Alabama have always felt a kinship with Penn State, specifically because of Paterno. In 2001, when Paterno and Florida State’s Bobby Bowden were on the cusp of breaking Paul Bryant’s record for all-time wins, Alabama fans were virtually unanimous: “I hope Paterno gets there before Bowden does.”

We felt that way because we had watched Paterno’s teams compete against Bryant’s in the 1970s; because of the class Paterno showed competing against Alabama throughout the 1980s; because the PSU program always carried an aura of class and integrity that Bowden’s at Florida State did not.

That aura doesn’t exist anymore this week, not after the horrifying molestation charges that surfaced this week against former PSU assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Included in that charge: that Paterno and other PSU officials had knowledge of Sandusky’s (alleged) abuse of children — and not vague knowledge, but specific eyewitness testimony — as long ago as 1998 … and took no measures to stop it. Now Paterno is fired, two other university officials have been arrested, State College is up in arms and the entire community is in disarray.

There are no winners here.

In the succeeding days and weeks since coach Paterno was officially fired last Wednesday, the story has gone through the typical rinse-and-spin cycle that a news story goes through these days. Specifically, a round of columns and blogs telling saying he should’ve been fired; another round wondering how it affects his legacy; and a third round saying we should not be talking about any of this, not when abused children are part of the discussion.

The fact is, there is nothing poignant or witty for anyone — columnists, bloggers or television personalities — can say about any of this. It’s sad. It’s awful. It’s sad and it’s awful and I hate every bit of it.

That ticket for that Alabama-Penn State game, it turns out, represents the last time a Paterno-coached team ever lost a game. It’s a memento I’ll probably keep forever.

I hate it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

playoff scenarios, for better and worse

Frankly, we've beaten this playoff horse to death here. We've discussed multiple scenarios in this space; we've discussed the trouble with being too inclusive, and so forth. There's really not much more we could say about this topic we haven't already said.
Of course, what else is there to talk about? When you think about it, it's been a pretty boring season: everyone pretty much agrees that Alabama and LSU are the two best teams in the country ... and they already played. Even if they play again, pretty much everybody agrees it would be better if it came in some sort of tournament scenario.

So, with that in mind, let's look at a few playoff scenarios, what they would look like according to the current BCS standings, and how they'd probably play out. Please note: I'm basically making these up as I go, and it's worth noting they probably wouldn't wind up the way I'm thinking. Let's just have some fun here.

Dec. 31
(4) Oregon vs. (1) LSU
(3) Alabama vs. (2) Oklahoma State
Jan. 6
Thoughts: This one is (obviously) the most plausible scenario, if only because you could maintain the current setup and use this without too much of an issue. Moreover, think about the amount of money you could make off a week like this one: That's four programs' fan base, in one location — in my mind, the semifinals and finals would stay in the same city — for possibly as long as 14 days.
That's also the big problem: In the NCAA basketball tournament, a fan's commitment for the Final 4 is basically a long weekend (if your team is in the Final 4, you're there for the semifinal on Friday, and the championship game Monday). But football games can't be played within two days; they require a turnaround of at least 6 days. So if you're a fan of, say, Oregon, you have to consider whether you want to spend the money on traveling to New Orleans, spending (at least) a week there ... and that's not even including the cost of game tickets.
As far as the actual games, how much would LSU be hating life? They get a rematch against an Oregon team that appears to be hitting all cylinders, then (probably) a rematch with Bama in the final. Yeesh.

(Note: This is one I kind of made up on my own.)
Dec. 24
(6) Arkansas at (3) Alabama (Tuscaloosa)
(5) Oklahoma at (4) Oregon (Eugene)
Dec. 31
6/3 vs. (1) LSU
5/4 vs. (2) Oklahoma State
Jan. 6
Thoughts: I made this one up a few years ago, because it seemed like it would alleviate the problem of being too exclusive; because it added value to the regular season (giving the top-2 a bye seems like a pretty significant incentive); because, to be honest, if you can't at least get recognized as a top-6 team, I can't see giving you a shot at a national championship.
Obviously, there's very little shot these matchups would stay the same, since both Arkansas and Oklahoma have pending matchups that will affect their respective rankings. We're just going to pretend  for now. And if these were the matchups, a ton of rematches are once again on the table. Then again, so what? Basketball teams play rematches in the tournament all the time, and nobody seems to mind.
There is one other problem: If you give Alabama and Oregon an extra home game, that's an extra injection of cash into the local economies that nobody else gets. The higher seeds might expect a little something extra to be happy about that.

Dec. 24
(8) Va. Tech at (1) LSU (Baton Rouge)
(5) Oklahoma at (4) Oregon (Eugene)
(6) Arkansas at (3) Alabama (Tuscaloosa)
(7) Clemson at (2) Oklahoma State (Stillwater)
Dec. 31
8/1 vs. 5/4
6/3 vs. 7/2
Jan. 6
Thoughts: Somehow we managed to give two ACC teams a shot at the title. Ridiculous. Let's pretend we did it with (predicted) conference champs, plus 2 at-large berths (rated in order of BCS standing):
Dec. 24
(8) Oklahoma at (1) LSU (Baton Rouge)
(5) Michigan State at (4) Clemson (Clemson)
(6) Cincinnati at (3) Oregon (Eugene)
(7) Alabama at (2) Oklahoma State (Stillwater)
Thoughts: OK, this is even more ridiculous. We just gave Cincinnati a shot at a national championship. Absurd.
(Note: I suppose you could redo this and just seed them by ranking, which would make Cincinnati the 8, Michigan State the 7 and so forth. It still makes a mockery of the regular season.)

Dec. 17
(16) Stanford at (1) LSU (Baton Rouge)
(9) TCU at (8) Arkansas St. (Jonesboro)
(13) Oklahoma at (4) Clemson (Clemson)
(12) Alabama at (5) Michigan State (East Lansing)
(11) Nevada at Cincinnati (Cincinnati)
(14) Arkansas at (3) Oregon (Eugene)
(10) Northern Illinois at (7) Houston (Houston)
(15) Va. Tech at (2) Oklahoma State (Stillwater)
Dec. 24
(Note: In my mind, we'd re-seed after each round, and home fields would be the result, much like in the NFL.)
Quarterfinals (On-Campus)
Dec. 31
Semifinals (New Orleans)
Jan. 6
Championship (New Orleans)
Thoughts: Chaos, man. Whole lotta chaos.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday tube: Meet Georgia Southern

A little known fact about me: I spent the first two years of my professional career — such as it is — working as a sportswriter in south Georgia, about 45 minutes away from the campus of Georgia Southern University.
Like a number of schools, Georgia Southern gave up its football program during World War II; unlike a number of those programs, though, GSU didn't bring theirs back until the 1980s, when they hired then-UGA defensive coordinator Erk Russell and started winning every championship in sight.
Their best player was a back named Adrian Peterson. No, not that Adrian Peterson. The GSU version of AP was arguably the best player in the history of I-AA, and certainly the best in the history of the program. In the 1999 championship game vs. Youngstown State, he did this.
 It remains the most legendary play in the history of the program, one that is once again back on top in its subdivision (currently ranked 2nd). I can only wish them the best once the postseason begins.
But I wish them no good Saturday. And since I can't think of anything else to run, here's a link to Marquis Maze's punt return vs. Arkansas.

Monday, November 14, 2011

gameday texts: week 11

Welcome back to another edition of "Gameday Texts," which started slow (much like Bama) but picked up as the day went on. As always, all messages appear exactly as they do on my phone, complete with timestamp. Also as always, all are [sic]d; fair warning: a few may be possibly offensive (though not really). Feel free to contribute your own thoughts, either here or on Twitter.

Whit (8:05 a.m.) "Oregon ... just a bunch of space hippies"

Halcombe (8:40 a.m.) Did I just hear the latest Pokemon are Lunesta and Cymbalta? I give up.

me (8:42 a.m.) Strange week. Don't think I'm mentally prepared to watch us play tonight.
Maguire (8:44 a.m.) I'm with you there. Doesn't really feel like game day. I'll be going through the motions. Just hope our guys aren't doing the same.
D. Hardin (8:56 am.) My give a damn got busted last week
Dad (9:09 a.m.) Weirdest week I can recall ... all around ... very strange.

Halcombe (9:10 a.m.) There are other games besides PSU-Nebraska today?
Halcombe (9:13 a.m.) The whole "Game Day from Palo Alto" idea was better in concept than reality. What is it 4:30 a.m. out there?

Dad (9:56 a.m.) Think anybody will show up in Starkvegas today?
me (9:57 a.m.) Hopefully the team.
Dad (9:58 a.m.) That is "iffy" at best

Halcombe (10:41 a.m.) Is that the crying Indian dude making picks on Game Day?
Halcombe (10:46 a.m.) Picking UGA in a rivalry game that really matters is like telling your mom your mother-in-law "really understands." Everyone loses except Auburn. 

Rob (12:03 p.m.) What's up with these puss punts by muschamp?

Rob (12:29 p.m.) Texas doesn't fair well against sec schools. Go mizzu!

Jamie (12:52 p.m.) What's you're halftime speech down 49-0?

me (1:27 p.m.) Brando: "We've seen Jim Grobe do this at Wake Forest before, haven't we?" Rest of the world: "What?"

me (1:45 p.m.) Kentucky may be the worst SEC team of my lifetime.

Rob (1:50 p.m.) That was a fumble by Brantley. Kinda obvious when both his hands hit the ground while being tackled. These guys are getting paid for this?

me (2:21 p.m.) Penn State students will riot some more, I guess.
Rob (2:22 p.m.) They better I need some more primetime coverage to watch!

Jonathan Page (2:37 p.m.) Overused quote of the day? "X controls their own destiny"
Jonathan Page (2:38 p.m.) Gettin on my nerves

me (2:39 p.m.) Memorable opening lines, by Verne: "This year the game will be played in Athens."

Audra (2:41 p.m.) That stupid blue field hurts my head.

Dad (2:43 p.m.) Defense cheers after giving up 6 on first down
Mama (2:58 p.m.) It looks like georgia has several bulldogs.

Mama (3:01 p.m.) Ummmmm what about these kids painted black? Is that appropriate?

Mama (3:04 p.m.) That's german for touchdown maker?
me (3:06 p.m.) What's Uzomah?
Mama (3:07 p.m.) That is bengali for lobber

Mama (3:13 p.m.) Thorpe is bengali for watch him catch!

me (3:30 p.m.) Classic moment just now in Boise-TCU game: Badly burned DB fell over like he'd been shot. "I can't catch that guy — I'm in pain!"
Audra (3:30 p.m.) Don't tell Jess ... go horned frogs
Rob (3:33 p.m.) Ha just saw it he got sniped!
D. Hardin (3:59 p.m.) My neck!!! My back!!! My neck and my back!!! I need a Backieautomee!!!
Halcombe (3:40 p.m.) Real life: My wife has been having contractions all day (may be false) and I go, "There's your Dr." during wide shot of Sanford.
Me: There

Rob (3:52 p.m.) Auburn is sure making uga look good
Halcombe (4:04 p.m.) What if UGA were to beat LSU in SEC title game? We would all never hear the end of it. 

Jamie (4:07 p.m.) At least we know how to lose

Halcombe (4:29 p.m.) I didn't realize Mizzou's baseball team was good enough to beat Texas. What? On, that was the football score. Eww.

me (4:32 p.m.) AU Network guys sound like they could use a drink or 8.
Dad (4:44 p.m.) Na na na na na napa know how

me (4:53 p.m.) CBS just credited a UGA player for dancing with the band like a doofus.
Jamie (5:16 p.m.) His team has taken the manhood of his opponent. He can do whatever he wants.

me (5:00 p.m.) I will absolutely accept a Sugar Bowl bid vs. Boise. Just because. 
Rob (5:01 p.m.) Ditto and I wi be there
Maguire (5:03 p.m.) Me too. Let's knock Kellen Moore's front teeth out.
Rob (5:04 p.m.) Mostly cause I love Cajun food

Halcombe (5:01 p.m.) I know Verne has a story somewhere that begins with, "You know, I was eating a pie at a Bob Evans ..."
Halcombe (5:05 p.m.) Fifth Quarter with Gary Danielson, and special musical guest Kutless?
Halcombe (5:06 p.m.) Verne gave up on even trying to say "Hancock" right on that toss to the studio." Hack-coh, cock-han ..."
Halcombe (5:07 p.m.) UGA's kinda luck: Win big but lose Crowell to some freak high ankle sprain and lose East lead.

Audra (5:27 p.m.) That camera man is gonna make me have a seizure if he keeps going back and forth on that blue field.

me (5:42 p.m.) Why'd they score that one? Because (bleep) you, that's why.
Rob (5:43 p.m.) That one was for fairley
Audra (5:57 p.m.) Now that took balls
Audra (5:57 p.m.) I hope u know what I am talking about, otherwise awkward

me (6:05 p.m.) How badly does the MWC want to job TCU? They already made them go to Boise, & now this.

Jamie (7:04 p.m.) And to think, our head coach didn't want to give cam newton a scholarship. Shouldn't that be some kind of hint?

me (7:05 p.m.) "No points, just a lot of physicality."
Jamie (7:11 p.m.) I think state is playing 13 men at the los

me (7:14 p.m.) "Hey, even though the kid clearly has psychological issues kicking from that distance, let's send him back out there! I'm a genius — don't question me."
Maguire (7:15 p.m.) That's that we were saying.
Maguire (7:17 p.m.) I think we should quick kick in those situations.
Dad (7:27 p.m.) They should just go for it anyway. MSU can't move it.

Maguire (7:24 p.m.) This is getting ridiculous.
me (7:25 p.m.) My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.
Rob (7:28 p.m.) Yeah on. It

Halcombe (7:28 p.m.) Glad to see Notre Dame didn't feel compelled to match Terps' crazy jerseys.

me (7:39 p.m.) The old "Throw it up & Hope We get Pass Interference" offense.
Maguire (7:39 p.m.) That wasn't a mistake. 13 knew he was beat, so he knocked White down.

me (7:49 p.m.) Without a doubt, my favorite running thing a/b Oregon is that they sometimes go for 2, just cause.
Halcombe (7:53 p.m.) The Eye of Sauron is beating the Ents 8-0 after the first age of man.

Halcombe (8:00 p.m.) Shamrocks taking care of the Caligraphy class gone awry in the Catholic Bowl right now.
Halcombe (8:04 p.m.) Oregon band played Phantom Menace finale piece (where the slobbering thing gets the blue orb) following that last first down. 

Jamie (8:08 p.m.) If you are a huge fan of special teams, and you are watching espn, you have a noose around your neck and are on a ledge.

Halcombe (8:29 p.m.) Cardinal must have looked to UGA-UF game for pointers on how to give up TDs on 4th and long.

Dad (8:45 p.m.) HE MADE IT!!!!
Halcombe (8:46 p.m.) Congrats on the FG make. Only one week too late.

me (9:02 p.m.) I quit.
Maguire (9:03 p.m.) I'm drinking now c
Rob (9:04 p.m.) I need scotch

me (9:07 p.m.) State turning to the magic of Favre.
Maguire (9:08 p.m.) I hope it's not his uncle's style of magic. At least, not the kind he tried to work on Jenn Sterger.

Maguire (9:16 p.m.) Special teams ... or special ed?
Maguire (9:30 p.m.) Our 3rd down conversion woes might have something to do with our aversion to throwing the ball past the line of scrimmage when we need 7 yards or more.

Maguire (9:41 p.m.) #3 may be from another planet.
Maguire (9:41 p.m.) Like Krypton.
me (9:42 p.m.) If you shoot him you'll just make him mad.
Rob (9:43 p.m.) Erin said like a rhinoceros

Jamie (9:45 p.m.) 2 weeks in a row auburn has scored more points that alabama vs common opponents. Get some.
me (9:45 p.m.) I can't talk right now. I'm drinking.

Jamie (9:53 p.m.) You're just embarrassed from my last observation.
me (9:59 p.m.) I'm definitely embarrassed about something.

Maguire (9:54 p.m.) 9-1. Roll Tide.

Dad (10:15 p.m.) Stanford uni looks like Bama from 1966

me (10:21 p.m.) Pac-12's MNC hopes just died on the table.
Rob  (10:22 p.m.) And possibly heisman
Audra (10:23 p.m.) Today has turned out good

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday tube: more cowbell

I can't come up with a clever intro for this week's edition of "Tuesday tube." Let's just say, it's the last time we went to Starkville, and we took care of business.

Monday, November 7, 2011

gameday texts: Game of the Century edition

Welcome back to this week's edition of "Gameday Texts," my own personal open thread from a football Saturday. Apologies in advance for my general sense of pessimism as the day wears on; you can also note the collective urge to kill rising among fellow Bama fans. As always, messages appear here exactly as they do on my phone, complete with timestamp, and all are [sic]d. Also as always, be warned that some of the language here might be mildly offensive. Feel free to contribute your own either here or on Twitter

Halcombe (8:20 a.m.) Aw snap! Baby face playin at Rite Aid. That was SO my '93.

Me (10:09 a.m.) People at our tailgate just knocked each other over to be part of the "WOOOOOOOO" crowd on TV.

Rob (10:28 a.m.) Evidently big al eats honey badgers

Halcombe (10:37 a.m.) The beauty of X-BOX's Kinnect is that you get the chance to watch how limp your buddy fake throws a football. 
Halcombe (10:38 a.m.) Your Cheez-It Fans of the week look like their mom and dad could share a closer genealogical tie than marriage. 

Me (10:39 a.m.) This lady could totally make good on that threat.
Maguire (10:55 a.m.) His ass won't be all that quits.

Me (10:44 a.m.) Great Moments in Overheard Conversation: "Look, I understand you just got out of rehab & all that BS. But you better get your asses over here."
Halcombe (10:46 a.m.) Les talking to his QBs?
Rob (10:47 a.m.) Ha next comment hold my beer and watch this

Halcombe (10:45 a.m.) Is it wise for the lone black dude Game Day analyst to pick against the home team ... in Alabama. Got bigger stones than me.

Halcombe (10:56 a.m.) Corso's keeping the Wilson beard so he can play "Bad Santa" with the Mrs. down the road ... "Won't be able to walk for a week."

Me (11:48 a.m.) Guys at the tailgate just reenacted the "Holler Network" scene at a group of LSU girls passing by.
Me (11:42 a.m.) "We think Vandy can take em today." No, they cannot. Because they are Vandy.

Rob (11:44 a.m.) Well at least somebody believes in them
Maguire (11:55 a.m.) Vandy can take 'em ... for 55 minutes, maybe.
Jonathan Page (12:26 p.m.) I wonder how many bookies take bets against Vandy where the bettor doesn't know who the opponent is.

Jonathan Page (12:27 p.m.) Great Tail-Gating. If the Zombie Apocalypse starts here even the Undead will be well fed.

Whit (2:36 p.m.) Come on vandy!!!!

Jonathan Page (3:21 p.m.) Army 14, Air Force 0. Go America!!

Me (4:30 p.m.) So, um, this is happening.

Jonathan Page (5:29 p.m.) Apparently we (Army) are only good if we have a 4-10 yes to finish a contest.

Me (5:31 p.m.) /makes corndog joke
Whit (5:32 p.m.) Corndog is right up there with bammer and barner as dumbest nicknames

Jamie (6:13 p.m.) Todd Mcshay makes the point that neither qb has played in a game with this much hype. I'd say neither has Joe Montana.

Halcombe (6:50 p.m.) Explain to me why USC-ARK is a Top 10 matchup?
Me (6:58 p.m.) How pissed are Nessler & Blackledge tonight?

Halcombe (7:00 p.m.) Hang on, it's time for Taste of the Town. And Todd's face filling on twice baked chicken.

Halcombe (7:02 p.m.) Think that "He'll do anything to win" commercial is biting Kyle Busch in the a$$ right about now?

Me (7:03 p.m.) Thank God. 3 hours & this can all be over.
Maguire (7:06 p.m.) Indeed. Let's play ball.
Halcombe (7:06 p.m.) If Gary and Verne were any more excited they'd pop like the bad dude from Big Trouble in Little China. I'm Jack Burton, signing off.
Me (7:08 p.m.) According to Gary, AJ has never played in a game of this magnitude. Has anybody?

Halcombe (7:11 p.m.) Has to be pretty cold in Tuscaloosa. Saban, wear an undershirt next time. Don't need your nature's thermometers poking me through my Vizio ED glasses.

Halcombe (7:17 p.m.) When did you get the old Chicago Bulls PA announcer?
Halcombe (7:19 p.m.) Really wishing for a "Smelley to Fluker reverse" just because.

Me (7:20 p.m.) Guess there's no need to say it.
D. Hardin (7:21 p.m.) Nope! But I can ask the question why!
Maguire (7:21 p.m.) But we moved the ball fine. 
Whit (7:22 p.m.) Yes mr. falhurst I'm sure a good fonging is in order.

Halcombe (7:26 p.m.) Y'all should have a couple skanks on the sidelines, so when Jefferson comes in they can distract with a "Hey bouey! You lookin good."

D. Hardin (7:32 p.m.) There punter is a good'n
Me (7:33 p.m.) I wish our kickers were worth a damn. 

Halcombe (7:38 p.m.) You guys shoulda sprinkled some Miralax on the away sidelines for Les' sod munchies.

Halcombe (7:42 p.m.) Verne just called you guys Arkansas. I think he owes you an apology

Me (7:43 p.m.) What's the point of play-faking on 3rd & 20?
Jamie (7:46 p.m.) Not smart
D. Hardin (7:47 p.m.) What the hell!
Me (7:48 p.m.) That whole sequence was extraordinarily stupid.
Maguire (7:48 p.m.) We might as well just got for it every damn time.

Me (7:53 p.m.) Dominated the 1st quarter & nothing to show for it. Damn it all.
Rob (7:54 p.m.) Yeah can't lose PTs!!

Maguire (7:58 p.m.) Got to keep pounding away. The ice will break eventually. 

Jamie (7:59 p.m.) What in the hell are they thinking?
Me (7:59 p.m.) We just lost. 
Whit (7:59 p.m.) Relax
Maguire (8:00 p.m.) Nah. We'll be fine. 
Jamie (8:01 p.m.) LSU won't score but its sure giving them a better chance
Rob (8:06 p.m.) Yeah can't lose PTs!!
Halcombe (8:02 p.m.) Insert "Hey Bouey!" skanks.

Halcombe (8:13 p.m.) I'm no 'Bama fan, but I sure hope Richardson busts one on this drive because that pissie Aussie's salute after his punt irks me.

Maguire (8:20 p.m.) Punch it in. Punch till we can't no more!
D. Hardin (8:22 p.m.) We got one!!!yayayaaaaa

Halcombe (8:20 p.m.) My wife: The biggest problem I have with South Carolina is that their jersey is white but their helmet is off white. Looks like it was bleached too many times.

D. Hardin (8:26 p.m.) Ohh ohh we kicked it past the 10 to the 8 yrd line!!! Ahhhhahha

Me (8:41 p.m.) Remind me to spend all summer bitching about the opportunities we wasted in this game & how they cost us a championship.
Whit (8:42 p.m.) Remind me to punch you right in the baby maker

Jamie (8:59 p.m.) Been fun to watch and exactly what I expected.
Maguire (9:02 p.m.) We're stronger in the 2nd half. Got to keep punching them. They'll go down eventually. 

Me (9:23 p.m.) Serenity now ...
Maguire (9:24 p.m.) The dam's gonna break. Just keep it up
Maguire (9:29 p.m.) I hope it's theirs.

Me (9:30 p.m.) Dre is always very proud of himself.

Maguire (9:41 p.m.) Damn it. That was the one thing we didn't need to do. 

Jamie (9:46 p.m.) Lsu has to stretch the field. Not hard to defend an offense that runs all plays within 10 yards if the line of scrimmage.


Me (10:01 p.m.) Gary has said "Remember last year" about 25 times. 

Me (10:03 p.m.) If he can't move to catch the ball, he shouldn't be out there. Coach screwed up again. 
Me (10:12 p.m.) Honey Bun should be ejected for that. That's malicious. 

Bart (10:22 p.m.) McIlwait squandered TDs running plays we didn't need to use to score.
Rob (10:22 p.m.) Not good they are better at fgs than us

Me (10:29 p.m.) Well. That was awful.
Whit (10:29 p.m.) Twas fun
Rob (10:31 p.m.) Yep that sux
Me (10:32 p.m.) 2nd year in a row we lost to them in the 4th quarter. Ridiculous.
Maguire (11:24 p.m.) Well, damn. I hate it when you're pessimistic and right. Roll Tide.

Me (11:13 p.m.) Guess they'll roll Toomer's Corner tonight.
Maguire (11:26 p.m.) That's what I said when we were walking out. I bet those rubes are doing just that right now.

Halcombe (9:51 a.m., Sunday) I uttered curse words for you this morning at 7:30 ... wait ... 6:30 ... at any rate. I uttered them in your honor. The ghost of Scott Norwood has hit Tuscaloosa.

week 9 thoughts: lessons from the Game of the Century

Credit to for the image
One of the reasons I love sports so much is that it is a distraction from "real life," whatever that may be. Of course, it's often a pretty good metaphor for it, as well.

See, here's the thing I've learned as I've gotten older: In life, people lose, for the most part, more often than they win. Most folks are attempting to simply make it out with a draw. And it's never more clear than on a day like Saturday: With the attention of the entire nation centered on Tuscaloosa, Alabama came out focused and prepared, and put everything — heart, soul, whatever else — on the line.
It should have been enough. It was not. LSU was also focused and prepared, equally as talented, and also put everything on the line — heart, soul, whatever else. The Tigers made better decisions; the Tigers got more breaks. They won and we did not.
Well, that's life, folks. Friends turn against you. You get passed over for promotions you think you deserve. People you love die.
The trick, in football as in life, is whether you can absorb the hits and keep moving forward. This team may not win a championship, but it can still be very good. And it still has business to tend to.

That was the nice half of my analysis from Saturday. The other half of it is this: Saturday's game enforced a couple of rather disturbing trends that have sustained themselves during the past few seasons for this program in big games.
The first is our offensive (in every sense of the word, really) tendency to squander possessions and leave points on the field. It was made painfully clear last year vs. Auburn — and no, not all of that was on the coaching staff, but still — and it's cropped up periodically this season (specifically, on two separate occasions against Penn State and Arkansas, this team couldn't gain a yard on three plays). It hasn't really hurt us until now, but that's because we hadn't played anyone on LSU's level until now. In the first quarter on Saturday, we had a chance to take control of the game, put LSU on its heels vs. the best defense in the country three different times, and we failed. I'll cede this point to OTS:
As a general rule you need to get some points any time you go inside your opponent's 40-yard line, and we could not do that several times last night. More specifically, even barring touchdowns, what we needed to do was advance the ball deeper into LSU territory to allow the reliable Jeremy Shelley to convert the short-yardage kicks that are within his range. Unable to do that however due to a sputtering offense, we were left to try errant pot shots with a hapless kicker with no real chance of success.
This, of course, leads to a second disturbing trend: Alabama is getting beaten in the fourth quarter in big games. And not just beaten physically, but outcoached as well. For all the talk about Alabama's coach staff and its cerebral abilities, it almost seemed like we overthought things Saturday; LSU won because Les Miles and his staff stayed out of the way and let their players play.
Take the overtime possession, for example: Alabama went screen pass (incomplete); took a terrible penalty for illegal substitution (really?); incompletion (Richardson was open on a wheel route); then took an even more terrible sack. Missed field goal, game over. On the biggest possession of the game, everything that could have gone wrong did.
(One other note: Why were we playing for overtime anyway? At the point where Bama held LSU on a third-and-1 near midfield, roughly 1:30 remained in regulation, with Alabama holding all three of its timeouts. Saban made no effort to stop the clock, effectively saying, "I do not trust my offense to give us a chance to win this thing here; I'd rather take my chances from the 25." I sort of understand — if Alabama attempts to mount a drive and turns it over, he gets barbecued for giving the game away. Even so, go win the game, man!)
Now, here's where you have to admit that the difference between "overcoaching" and "getting outplayed in the fourth quarter" is perilously thin. AJ McCarron missed a wide-open receiver on one of those many red zone trips; the Wildcat play that was ultimately intercepted was actually open, only Marquis saw it about a second too late and lollipopped the throw (and even then, Williams nearly caught it); two (unnecessary) illegal blocks on Mark Barron's interception of Jarrett Lee kept Alabama from a first-and-goal that almost surely would've netted a touchdown in the third quarter. And it's certainly not the fault of the coaches that Maze failed to field a punt in the fourth quarter that swung the field position to LSU's advantage (we can question why he was out there in the first place with an ankle that clearly was limiting his mobility, but if the ball did in fact hit a camera wire, that's just a bad break).
(Notice how I haven't mentioned the kickers at all? I'm not going to — frankly, at no point did we put them in a position to be successful. That's on the whole team, not just them.)

And that's life: a few decisions don't work out, you catch a bad break, you get beat. You pick yourself up and you carry on. So, let's do that.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

we'll beat LSU ... unless we don't

There is, as you may have heard, a rather large football game in Tuscaloosa this Saturday. It's arguably one of the largest home games in the history of Alabama football, and definitely the largest game in Tuscaloosa (if only because big games like this took place in Birmingham until the turn of this century).

Full disclosure: Growing up, I never thought of LSU as a big "rival" of Alabama's. The two biggest games on the schedule have always — and continue to be, for the record — Tennessee and Auburn. LSU was always one of those games that was always tough, but usually an impediment in the way of a championship.
Two things changed my personal view of the game; and, by extension, the general view of the series from a national perspective. Weirdly, both are related to Nick Saban.
First, when Saban went to LSU in 2000, he changed that program from "talented group that plays everybody tough" to "national power." And in doing so, he raised the expectation level for the fan base, as well — suddenly being "respectable" or "tough" just wasn't enough anymore. For the Alabama-LSU series, that meant a shift in the dynamic of the series; for much of the decade, LSU was the superior program, and Alabama was the scrappy underdog looking to foil the Tigers' championship plans.
Of course, by now everyone knows that Saban's return to the SEC — taking the job at Alabama — threw a little extra intensity into the LSU game. It's not fair, of course — Saban is not a native of Louisiana by any means, and he didn't betray the Tiger fan base to go to Alabama (he betrayed Miami). Even so, the mere sight of the guy on Alabama's sideline incites LSU fans — a notoriously rowdy lot anyway — into a frenzy. And I guess I can understand, sort of, but it makes me want to beat them more than ever.

All that to say, I've spent most of the past month thinking about how we're going to beat LSU. In 2009 and 2010, I was pretty confident that ours was the better team; in '09, I spent most of the day telling anyone who would listen that we were going to blow the Tigers out. That was dumb, it turns out, and in no way do I feel that way heading into Saturday. In fact, I don't know how to feel about anything.
Which is the point of this blog. Here are the factors I can come up with for Saturday's game — by all accounts, two evenly matched teams, talent-wise — coupled with the equally valid reasons that say those factors are basically garbage.

We're playing at home. This has to be at least a slight advantage, right? The night atmosphere in Tuscaloosa — 100,000 people who have been anticipating this night for a month and will have all day to ... um, prepare — has to be worth something, doesn't it?
Unless ... First of all, the home team has rarely owned much of an advantage, historically, when LSU and Alabama match up. Just check out the history of the series and you'll see: the recent trend (two straight won by the home team) is virtually unprecedented here. Hell, for about 30 years, Alabama couldn't lose in Baton Rouge ... ever. And the last time the home team won three straight? The '40s.
Second, LSU has no reason to fear coming to Tuscaloosa. The dramatic win in Tuscaloosa two years ago was fun, but it was also the first time LSU had lost in Bryant-Denny since 1999 (that would be the year before Nick Saban came to Red Stick). In fact, going all the way back to 1990, Alabama has defeated LSU in the state of Alabama a total of four times.
And, of course, there's the tiny little fact that LSU has already whipped two pretty good opponents away from home this year.
So it's nice to have the game at home, but not a huge advantage.
(Note: There's one other nagging concern I have, and it might be baseless, but hear met out: There's at least the possibility that Saturday's crowd will lack in enthusiasm specifically because of the importance of the game. Basically, I'm a tad concerned that so many diehards will sell their tickets — because they can feed their family for a month on the scalper price — that the stadium will be full of people who aren't so much interested in the game as they are in being there. Sort of like a Super Bowl crowd. And maybe it won't happen, but it's worth thinking about.)

We have Nick Saban on our side. Saban vs. Miles ought to be a strategic mismatch. Les Miles, frankly, is the Forrest Gump of college football coaches: a doofus who somehow keeps stumbling into big situations. In a game where the talent is basically the same, where a few plays and strategic coaching decisions matter, having the better coach — and better coaching staff — should make a huge, huge difference. Plus, given his history with rematches and what happened to us last year, Saban, et al, should be prepared psychologically for this one. Which should mean a victory ... shouldn't it?
Unless ... Look, there's no nice way to say this: Miles outcoached Saban last year in Tiger Stadium. LSU was more prepared, hit harder and made plays in crunch time. Worse, LSU outplayed Alabama in the fourth quarter, the place where Bama prides itself on making its hay.
Further, for all the talk about coordinators, LSU's John Chavous is as good as anybody calling defense for Alabama, and it shows. And, as we've noted already, LSU has already beaten two opponents better than anyone we've faced, and they've beaten them both away from home, by making better plays in the fourth quarter.

The most explosive player in the game and one true difference maker wears crimson. Maybe LSU has a wide assortment of great talent on its sideline. It does not, however, have Trent Richardson. He's the best individual player on either team, and in a game where the talent on either side is basically equal, the best player should make the difference. Right?
Unless ... Well, unless LSU's Tyrone Mathieu is the best individual player. And since the game may ultimately be decided by a turnover, it's probably nice to have the DB most likely to cause that turnover on your side.

So there you have it. I think we're better. Unless we're not.
(I'm gonna be sick again.)