Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday tube: some classic opening acts

Continuing with our theme of great openers in Alabama history, here are a few classics from the Bryant era. The most obvious: the 1971 game against Southern Cal, which actually signaled the beginning of a brand new era for Bryant and Alabama.
The second: a 1978 Labor Day night game vs. Nebraska that was made for TV.
 Good to know we'll be playing another of those games this time. Beats the heck out of Kent State, anyway.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

fun with over/unders ... or, Halcombe hijacks the season

So ... it's time we started blogging some actual football around here, no? There have been mitigating factors, obviously — we're in the process of moving to a new house and the Olympics have been on and whatnot. Still, it's August, and football is less than a month away. So it's time we started doing something about it.
Much like Peter King or the staff at Deadspin, I have found that the best entries in the history of this blog came from friends of mine who are way more clever than I am (see, Peter von Herrmann's memorable post from 2008 UGA week, or even the "Gameday Texts" post from the BCS game this past January).
In the past I have attempted to guess the SEC's order of finish, usually based on little aside from intuition. Instead of doing that this time, I went to this SB Nation post regarding win total over/unders, then emailed them to my friend Jason, who serves as Managing Editor of a daily newspaper in Dublin, Ga. Read through any of the "Texts" posts here, and you'll find yourself giggling at his wit. It was a layup, frankly, even if it makes coach Saban mad. In fact, let's ask coach Saban how we should feel about the dawn of football season.

Fair enough.
Ole Miss: 3.5
will: Over. I never saw a college football team that quit on its coach more flagrantly than the Rebels did on poor Houston Nutt in 2011. They lost 30-7 and 27-7 ... to Vanderbilt and La. Tech. Alabama and LSU hung 50 on them apiece; in the Tigers' case, they were deliberately taking knees with 5 minutes still left in the fourth quarter. And Trent Richardson did this to them.
What's really strange about all this is that Ole Miss was considered a fringe SEC title contender as recently as the beginning of 2010, when Jeremiah Masoli chose to enroll at Oxford as a "graduate student" quarterback. Then they lost at home to JSU ... and haven't really been the same since.
I said all that to say, I'm not sure there's THAT huge a talent void for the Rebs. Assuming they don't quit on Hugh Freeze the way they did Nutt, I mean.
(Note on Freeze: He probably doesn't care, but I do wonder if he's angry at all about the way the movie version of "The Blind Side" made him into a clueless oaf who needed help from Sandra Bullock to know which plays to call. The real-life Freeze was considered one of the better coaches in high school football before anyone had ever heard of Michael Oher. Now he's memorialized in cinema as a doofus who took a cell phone call on the sidelines during a game. You're right — he probably doesn't care.)
Their most intriguing game is a Week 3 test at home vs. Texas. I know it's a long shot, but ... I mean, what if, right?
Halcombe: Over. With all these Tigers and Dogs, I'm lost at how a black bear cost the South the Civil War.

Kentucky: 4.5
will: Under. Kentucky had a sneaky terrible season in '11 — they even inspired a meme in their lifeless early-season game vs. Western Kentucky.
Looking at their 2012 schedule, beginning in Week 4 (at Florida), the Cats are likely to be an underdog by at least a touchdown for seven consecutive games. Sorry, UK fans. That NCAA championship was pretty great, though?
Halcombe: Over. Why hasn't Jared Lorenzen been asked to guest host Man v. Food?

Vanderbilt: 5.5
will: Over. Few teams can boast a season as simultaneously exciting and frustrating as Vandy in 2011. The 'Dores went toe-to-toe with every team on their schedule last year, and gave Alabama fits (even though they ultimately lost 30-0). Of course, they also lost three games — to Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee — in classic "Vandy" fashion. The Arkansas loss stands out the most: they were on the verge of putting the thing away and actually gave up a fumble for a scoop-and-score touchdown. Seriously, who else does that happen to?
In Year 2 of the James Franklin Experience, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt with the "over," even if it means they have to win at Northwestern, at Missouri, at Wake and possibly upset someone in the Big 4 of the SEC East.
Halcombe: Par. Seriously. Lorenzen would eat Adam Richman in the dust.

Auburn: 7.5
will: Over. Auburn, to me, is probably the hardest team to predict out of the 14. The Teagles possess an abundance of talent on both sides of the football — they're unusually deep at running back, to name one spot — and most of that talent is bearing scars from last year's campaign. On the other hand, they're breaking in two new coordinators — by the way, if someone can sum up the difference between "spread" and "pro style" for me in a brief essay, I'd probably run that on this blog, also — and they were thumped in their 5 losses last year (all BCS opponents, but still). And they're facing a killer first month: Clemson in Atlanta, at State, then home to LSU. So they could be 1-3 by their open date (note: I'm guessing 2-2 or 3-1 is more likely).
While we're on the subject, I'm waving the white flag on the phrase "All-In." It somehow started in Auburn around 2009-10, and now pretty much everybody uses it. It was on the cover of freaking Sports Illustrated. And you know what? I can't fight it anymore. You win, Auburn family. You're all-in. Great. We're all all-in. All-in all the way. Congratulations.
Halcombe: Over. Now, is this the number of people who still giggle like sixth graders at health class pronouncing Chizik's last name? If not, then under.

Florida: 7.5
will: Over. Some highlights I gleaned from Florida's schedule:
• They have the distinction of being the first SEC home game for Texas A&M (more on them in a bit).
• They'll have an open date to get ready for LSU, a welcome relief after the last 2 seasons of Alabama-LSU in consecutive weeks (which essentially ruined them for the rest of the year in 2010 and 2011).
• They close SEC play on the first Saturday in November, and finish with La.-Lafayette, Jacksonville State, at Florida State. Yeah.
Assuming the natural progression in Year 2 under Muschamp, the fact that they always beat Georgia and get South Carolina in Gainesville ... this has to be a dark-horse contender for the division, right? Right?
Halcombe: Over. My sneak threat to win east. My UGA buddies' rants begin in 3... 2... 1...

Mississippi St: 7.5
will: Under. At some point the shine has to come off Dan Mullen, right? Since he came to State in 2009, the Bullies have a) pulled off a few big upsets (Ole Miss in '09, Georgia and Florida in '10); dominated the state of Mississippi; beaten absolutely no one else in the SEC West; played road games against UAB and La. Tech. And this year they're playing Troy. In Troy. I can't give them more than 7 wins. I can't.
Halcombe: Under. On the bright side, StubHub! has tickets for the South Alabama game for only five smackers!

Missouri: 7.5
will: Under. The Tigers have the most unusual non-conference schedule I can find: Southeast Louisiana, Arizona State, at Central Florida (no gimme), home against Syracuse. Still makes no sense they couldn't find a way to play Kansas. I have nothing else to add, except this:
Halcombe: Under. Especially if the Garmin doesn't locate Camp Wilderness.

Tennessee: 7.5
will: Over, but I'm not happy about it.
Halcombe: Under. Lane Kiff...Oops. Sorry about that. The Vols have the SEC title game on their official 2012 schedule. That is all.

Texas A&M: 7.5
will: Um ... over? I confess to knowing nothing about A&M, except that coach Bryant used to be there and they have dudes who are cheerleaders. In a perfect world, the Aggies' 3 biggest games as an SEC team would be Arkansas, LSU and ... well, still Texas. But the world's not perfect, is it?
Halcombe: Over. Dat Nguyen is still the most unique name for a LB in the history of college football.

Arkansas: 8.5
will: Under. Today I randomly flipped over to Birmingham's other sports talk radio station — not WJOX, the other one ... the one without Finebaum — and heard the hosts having a passionate discussion with Andy Hodges of hogsweekly.com. Hodges was arguing, essentially, that Bobby Petrino had defrauded Hawg fan base and the national media into thinking the squad is much more talented than it is; he even called the last 2 years of recruiting at Arkansas "disastrous." Because I try my damnedest not to pay too much attention to recruiting, I looked it up for myself — Arkansas' last two finishes in the Rivals national rankings: 24th in 2011 (9th in the SEC), and 34th in 2012 (12th in the SEC).
In any case, what I saw with Alabama in 2003 taught me a lesson about a program that suffered a tumultuous offseason: the second things go wrong, watch out. For Arkansas "the second things go wrong" is most likely that Week 3 date with Alabama. They have a back-to-back road stretch vs. Texas A&M and Auburn that might make things turn doubly ugly. And their final 3: at South Carolina, at State, vs. LSU. Not good, particularly since they're likely to have checked out by then.
Halcombe: Under. The Razorbacks won't be able to get past the whole "We so coulda been in the BCS title game if we hadn't been in the same division as the two other really good teams."

South Carolina: 8.5
will: Over. I'll be honest: I haven't quite gotten over Steve Spurrier's bizarre midseason declaration from 2011 that he wasn't conducting any more press conferences with columnist Ron Morris in the room. Really, Steve? It's OK for you to make fun of Peyton Manning's trips to the Citrus Bowl, or Mark Richt's players getting suspended, but Ron Morris isn't allowed in the room because he doesn't write exactly what you want? C'mon, man. You're better than that.
By the way, the Gamecocks' schedule sets up almost perfectly for them: assuming they beat Vandy in Week 1 (not a gimme, but they are favored), they should be undefeated going into a tough October: vs. Georgia, at LSU, at Florida, vs. Tennessee. Even if they go 2-2 in that stretch, it's probably good enough to win the East.
Halcombe: Par. The ole ball coach will, as usual, rip his visor from his hair plugs and stomp on it like a little child.

Georgia: 9.5
will: Under. Much as I like Mark Richt, he got wayyyy too much credit for the "turnaround" in Georgia's 2011 season. The reality: UGA played only one ranked team between its losses to South Carolina and its SECCG loss to LSU, and that was 20th-ranked Auburn. They made it to Atlanta because of the ease of their schedule — no Alabama, Arkansas or LSU — and because South Carolina choked on its own dinner vs. Auburn.
Of course, the '12 schedule doesn't set itself up any worse ... I'm taking the under anyway, because I am tired of them and want them to go away.
Halcombe: Under. We're still a couple more arrests away from knowing who will make the opening day roster.

Alabama: 10.5
will: Under. Annnnd ... here comes the part where I start thinking of reasons to be concerned.
• For all the talent on the field defensively, we have way too many kids out there who will be thrown into the fire immediately vs. a pretty good Michigan team. Al Borges is no stranger to Saban defenses, and he's spent an entire offseason working up a game plan. Gawd.
• Road trips to Fayetteville, Columbia (Mo.), Knoxville and Baton Rouge.
• Supposedly the offense will be "explosive," which would be great, except the most reliable offensive threats from 2011 — specifically Trent Richardson and Marquis Maze — are gone. Not to mention, we're breaking in a new offensive coordinator. Isn't everybody a freshman with a new offensive coordinator? And are any of the backs we have now as good as the ones we just lost?! SOMEBODY GIVE ME AN ANSWER.
(Note: This team has won at least 10 games in each of the last 4 seasons. So maybe I should shut up.)
Halcombe: Over. A possible repeat is in the mix. Sorry in advance for the jinx dbh.

LSU: 10.5
will: Over. Wow. Unlike the 2011 meat grinder of a schedule, this year's Tigers don't get a road test until Week 4 (at Auburn). Their longest road trip is to Florida. And if they handle Alabama Nov. 3, they'll finish with the two Mississippis and Arkansas (who I've already tabbed to check out before then). The Tigers could sleepwalk to 11 wins in 2012.
Halcombe: Under. Even though they, along with 'Bama, would beat out the Browns in the NFL's AP Pro32 poll, Les will sadly not be more in 2012.

a newspaper column about 'community' (no ... not 'Community')

Been in a bit of a quandary recently with my columns for the St. Clair Times: I have ideas in my brain that don't make it to paper, and I can't allocate the proper time to making them coherent. Which is how you get stuff like this. If you care to discuss this further or offer me advice, you can comment here or on Twitter.
More to life than ‘community’

Among us media types, there are a number of overused phrases.

We tend to tack the word “-gate” onto the end of every scandal. We enjoy using the word “gaffe” a lot during political seasons, which is odd because no one uses it in any other setting.

Here’s one you’ll hear way too often: the word is “community.”

In its purest definition — according to dictionary.com, anyway — “community” can refer to a “group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage” or “a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists.”

The word “community” usually comes up on television or in the newspaper as a term to divide people.

“That policy is a slap in the face to my community.”

“What you just said is deeply offensive to the members of this community.”

“We have to create jobs, so our community can be healthy.”

The word has uses beyond simply referring to a city or town; it can refer to a neighborhood, a race or religion or a political movement.

When one of these groups is aligned with us, it’s (obviously) much easier to take pride in representing the interests of our “community.” Usually it’s fighting with the interests of another community; we like to call these “special interest groups,” because we’re pretty sure those types of groups are bad.

(Note: I have a number of special interests, though I’ve not yet found a group that supports them specifically. I guess “football nerds who also enjoy Broadway musicals and think both major political parties are embarrassing themselves daily” is too specific.)

Whether it should or not, the word often has a darker connotation: a certain “community” is a term that divides us, more often than not. Discussing “the importance of (a key issue) to my community” is how a leader sets cities, social groups and neighborhoods against one another.

The worst thing that happens: Too often we’re content to stay only within the boundaries of our “communities,” meaning we never see anyone but people who look like we do, live where we do, believe like we do. When you’ve never met or interacted with anybody from the other side, they become unknowable, so you have to imagine how they must walk, talk and think. And we have great imaginations.

In extreme cases, some of these “communities” wind up fighting, and eventually going to war with one another. And that’s bad for everybody’s community.

Maybe we should just be regular folks.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday tube: Opening with a flourish

I feel like I've discussed this game before, but it's impossible to discuss big opening nights in alabama history without this: Alabama's comeback win over Georgia in 1985.
It was a portent of things to come — Alabama wound up bookending its season with another great drive to beat Auburn, rebounding from a 5-7 season the year before.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

a newspaper column about the long, slow offseason

Pretty sure that this week's column for the St. Clair Times is a repeat of a column I wrote last year or the year before last. But each offseason keeps getting worse, and I can't help it. As always, feel free to respond here or on Twitter.
For football fans, the waiting is the hardest part

It’s probably just because I am older. Check that, it’s definitely because I am older.

Seems like the “offseason” becomes more interminable with each passing year, though.

I will confess at this point that I am something of a football junkie. Other people go crazy about Batman or the royal family; my passion is for football — of the Southern variety, primarily, although other flavors will do in a pinch. I love everything about it: the sights, the sounds, the smells … I even enjoy arguing about the lingering embarrassment of the postseason from time to time.

And that’s also why the offseason seems to last forever. Ever been trapped in a meeting or a classroom on a spring day, when all you can do is stare out the window and count the hours until you’re finally free? That’s how the college football offseason feels.

A typical college football season — for a devoted fan, anyway — works in a cycle that begins around the beginning of August and lasts until the spring game. That cycle encompasses the actual season, the postseason, the “recruiting” bonanza (unavoidable at this point) and the last preparations before the next season.

And then … there’s the offseason. One can fill the offseason with old youtube clips, and conversations about “what we’re gonna have next year,” but it’s not quite the same, really, and your relatives who aren’t football fans might think you’re a lunatic (note: you are probably a lunatic, anyway).

That’s not the worst of the summer, though. Aside from the dearth of activity, a steady succession of scandals and tragedy typically dominate the coverage from April until August.

And it seems to be worsening. Our fears as fans used to be that players would wind up in trouble with the law, or that someone might accept something untoward from an agent — or an agent’s representative — and land the program in hot water with the NCAA.

Today, however, a college football season is dawning under the shroud of the most unspeakable scandal I can imagine, with one of its most legendary coaches buried under a shattered legacy. And that lost legacy isn’t even remotely the worst thing to come out of the whole deal (not compared to the shattered lives of the abused children, anyway).

When the season finally started last September, I remember thinking I honestly wasn’t sure I was ready. We had just spent three months attempting to recover from the storms of April 27, after all; it was impossible to drive around Tuscaloosa last fall and avoid thinking about what had happened there only a few months prior.

I’m not so sure we’re ready to go crazy for football again this fall. I am pretty sure it’s better than the alternative, though.