Archive for November, 2007

Because Real Men Wear Houndstooth, this is a link to the original “Supercoach” article from Time Magazine in 1980 which featured Bear Bryant, the “demigod of the autumn religion,” just two years before his death.

What fascinates Bryant about winning football games is not diagramming plays or deciding when to kick a field goal or gamble for a first down, but the challenge of melding 95 very young men into a whole, making each man’s vision of himself interdependent with those of his teammates. For all its excesses—and football has more than its share of faults—the sport can be, at its best, a social compact of a high order. Creating this bond is what Bear Bryant excels at, and for this he draws on insights and instincts he has developed over 35 years.

The goal is becoming the best at something, even if it is a game. “I’m just a plow-hand from Arkansas,” Bryant insists, “but I have learned over the years how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm down others, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat, together, a team.”

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Has Nick Saban lost this team? The better question might be “Did he ever have them in the first place?” It’s been rumored far and wide that some few of the players hadn’t bought into Saban or his system, and it’s entirely possible that those few scrubs–among them some of the senior leadership of the team–could have infected other players, too, if not the whole team.

This team, recruited by the grandmotherly Mike Shula, has at all reports never had much asked of them. Punishment has been almost unheard of and the players have been pampered and mothered in ways few other teams would allow. Enter Nick Saban, a disciplinarian with a temper and very little patience, and the kettle has gone straight from simmer to boil.

But if Mike Shula was grandmotherly, then Saban must be the warden or the drill sergeant. Saban is demanding. He requires players to conform to his structured methods, using a proven plan that produces winners. We know enough of Nick Saban to believe he will not coddle the players–or coaches, for that matter. We know he strives to cultivate a championship mentality first and foremost. But what can be done if the inherited players find themselves so entrenched in their comfort zone that they refuse to step outside of it? You end up with a 6-6 record, ending a long season with a 4-game losing streak including one loss to the Most Hated Rival, and you see a coach at press conferences who seems at a loss for what to do.

And what can be done? At Alabama, standing in the shadow of Bear Bryant, you might only have to look as high as his statue at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and remember the hard lessons learned when he inherited a similar situation at Texas A&M. Go back to the Junction. Find out who wants to play and who doesn’t.

Bear only won a single game that first season at A&M, but he stated numerous times throughout his life that it was his best team ever. And why? Because the players that were left after the Junction were the ones he knew would never quit. When arriving at Athens for a game against Georgia, Bear Bryant was asked by Atlanta newspaperman Harry Mehre where the rest of his team was.

“This is the rest of my team,” Bryant replied.

“Well, uh, why didn’t you bring more guys?”

“Because these are the only ones who want to play.”

Nick Saban has a tried-and-true method for building a championship team. But in this case, he might do well to follow the example set by Bryant, go back to the Junction, and find out who wants to play football and who doesn’t.

The season was lost after the Mississippi State game anyway. It would have made a profound statement if he had dismissed half the team after that loss. It would have met with some criticism, sure, but it would have left no doubt as to who exactly was in charge of the team, whereas now there’s this lingering speculation that maybe this team is lost to him.

Attrition will take care of him in the long run. He’ll get the players in there who want to play for him and the ones who don’t will move on, but gradually. His recruiting class is looking very good according to Rivals and may well end up the best class in the nation. But those players will take time to develop enough to overtake the upperclassmen in skill. Unless the non-conformists are weeded out in one fell swoop.

It’s time to make a statement.

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Wow, the season’s over. Maybe not for you, but for Alabama fans it is. A more highly anticipated Crimson Tide season there may have never been, and now that it’s over, it seems all the frenzy was hardly worth it at all. Another loss to Auburn gives us a record of 6-6, losing the final 4 games of the season in extremely disappointing fashion. Looking at Nick Saban, you can almost read his thoughts: “How can I win with these players?” You can’t Nick. The cubbard is bare. You’ll have to fill it.

And he is filling it. Rivals has the Tide’s next class ranked #3 in the nation, and if they land Julio Jones, that revered prospect from Mobile, it’ll likely hop up to #1. Everyone says Jones is in the bag, that he’s Bama’s to lose, but we’ll have to wait and see.

There were some positives this year, though the negatives far outweigh them. Bama stomped Tennessee, which almost makes it all worthwhile; if they could’ve managed a win at Auburn… but there’s no need in speculating along that avenue. A win at Auburn would’ve made the season palatable. As it stands, it is considerably less than palatable, however. The offense was supposed to be a strength this year, and it wasn’t. The defense a weakness, but as it turned out our D kept us in a lot of games, if only our offense could have won more of them.

In the end I’m not going to offer, as many will do, to grade the coaches, the play calling, the players or the team. I’ll only say I wish it could have been better, I’m excited to know that it will get better, and that I’m sick of losing. There was a time not so very long ago, when the Tide was in the midst of a near-30 game winning streak, long about 1993, just off a National Championship winning season, and fans were crying about how the team was winning. Fans wanted to see fireworks when the offense hit the field; they didn’t want to see counter left and sweep right. How many of those fans now would take the wins and damn the methods? Yeah–all of ’em.

Bama will return to championship form; they’re in good hands. But the growing pains are, well, painful.

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Watched the Auburn-Georgia game Saturday night at Buffalo Wild Wings in Alabaster, AL, where there were a good many AU fans and a few Georgia fans. Georgia fans who forgot where they were at. It really doesn’t bother me that much, being an Alabama fan, but you’ve got to think of it this way: I live with an Auburn fan (my wife got her Master’s Degree there), and I work with AU fans. They’re all around me, and we rib each other and trade jabs, but the key is that they’re all right here. It’s one of the things that makes the rivalry so great, and it means that, though they are rivals, their fans are my brothers and sisters, and that’s kind of how I think of AU. Like a little brother who I fight with constantly and totally don’t get along with at all. I talk bad about him all the time because we pretty much can’t stand one another, but you know what happens if someone else decides to take liberty with him? Yeah: it’s on. Nobody messes with our own, especially in the South. Auburn is kind of like that little brother. Sure, he’s ugly, slow, fat, and dumb, but he’s my brother, and while it’s perfectly okay for me to knock his lights out every now and then it is in no way cool for anyone else to.

Georgia fans: You’re on notice. I’ve lived in Tuscaloosa and I know how you are. I’ve rarely had a good experience with a Georgia fan, and I can’t think of another school I can say that about. But if you want to start screaming at my little brother and kicking him when he’s down, well, my tolerance level ended Saturday night, and it was close to ending that Saturday in T-Town when a group of GA fans walked through the mall snickering, hooting, and making asses of themselves. And this wasn’t a group of students, no, this was a group of full-grown adults, who should have known better.

If I ever come to your town for a game I’ll probably wear my colors, but I’m not going to go into a public place and show my ass. I wish the Georgia fans I’ve met in the past would give us the same respect. I’m sure there are good Georgia fans. I’m one of those guys who believes, essentially, that every fan base is the same more or less, and that they’ve all got good along with the bad. But it’s personal experience that really counts, right? And the only experience I’ve got with Georgia fans is a handful of buttholes who need to act like grown ups.

If you’re at the game, let her rip. Go to town, scream til you’re heart’s content. But not everybody who lives in Tuscaloosa is a football fan, and a lot of people that go to the mall on a Saturday are just there because they need something. There’s a time and a place for everything. Learn the time, learn the place, and then get back to me.

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Don Shula, Proud and Pathetic

The Don is making news, most notably by announcing that if the Patriots go undefeated the mark should have an asterisk beside it. You know, because of their cheating (now referred to as spygate). Because the Don never cheated, or at least, was never caught cheating. These are the words of a bitter old man, disgruntled again because there’s actually a chance that his beloved precious record might be broken this year. Yes, I said broken, because if the Pats go undefeated they will have won at least 17 games; the 72 Fins were 14-0. 

Truthfully? I think this is just more backlash about son Mikey getting fired from Alabama. Don would have us believe that Saban was waiting in the wings, watching for Mike to get fired so he could swoop in, destroy the Dolphin’s dreams and wreck his son’s life. Anyone who knows anything about the situation knows this is not true. So what’s the relationship to the Patriots? Well, Bill Belichick, the Pat’s head coach, was Saban’s mentor and they are still friends. Bill even wrote the foreward to Nick’s book: “How Good Do You Want To Be?”

So, the distorted triangle comes into view, with hatred spewing from Don Shula to all points except the one he’s standing in. He hates the threat of the Patriot’s potential and he hates Nick for his (imagined) malicious smear campaign against his son Mike. Senility at its finest.

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So Peyton Manning and the Colts blow their lead in the 4th quarter to the indomitable Patriots–should anyone be worried? Not really, in my opinion. Sure, the dreams of an undefeated season are over for Colts fans, players and coaches, but if you’re looking at the big picture, losing to the Pats today might have been the best thing that could have happened to them this season. The Pats are undefeated and have a head full of steam, and they might potentially have some invincibility issues, especially later on, if they keep this streak alive. And why is that important? Because, as per the norm these last few years, the Colts and the Pats will be there in the postseason, and will likely be meeting again. And it’s awfully difficult to beat a team twice in one year. Suppose the Pats do get the big head and continue to win games by such staggering margins as they have this year (until today). Suppose the postseason rolls around and they wind up playing the Colts again and have the “we beat them before” mindset. This could play right into Tony Dungy’s hands.

No team has had a better chance to go undefeated during the regular season since the Dolphins did it back in ’72 (it was ’72, wasn’t it?) than the Pats this year. But what good is an undefeated regular season if you don’t win the Super Bowl? Not much good at all. Rest assured, if there’s any one team in the NFL who matches up well with the Pats this year it’s these Colts, and I’ll bet you anything they’d rather win the Super Bowl than this regular season matchup. Do they wish they’d won this game? Sure they do, but if they meet again and this loss somehow gives them an edge and then they repeat as Super Bowl champs, then it will have been well worth the loss. And frankly, if they’d’ve won today, I’d be writing this post about the Pats increased chances of getting to the Super Bowl rather than the Colts. These two teams are virtually guaranteeing that neither one will go undefeated this year. We’ll see.

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IF the NCAA would adopt the Super Conference format, and IF these teams all were playing an SC schedule in 2007 AND still had the same record against that competition as they do now, this is what the SC poll would look like today:

  1. Ohio State (10-0)
  2. LSU (8-1)
  3. Oregon (8-1)
  4. Oklahoma (8-1)
  5. West Virginia (8-1)
  6. Michigan (8-2)
  7. Texas (8-2)
  8. USC (7-2)
  9. Virginia Tech (7-1)
  10. Georgia (7-2)
  11. Clemson (7-2)
  12. Penn St (7-3)
  13. Auburn (7-3)
  14. Alabama (6-3)
  15. Florida (6-3)
  16. Tennessee (6-3)
  17. Arkansas (6-3)
  18. Cal (6-3)
  19. Florida St (6-3)
  20. South Carolina (6-4)  
  21. UCLA (5-4)
  22. Miami (5-4)
  23. Georgia Tech (5-4)
  24. Nebraska (4-6)
  25. Notre Dame (1-8)

Teams poised to jump into the SC next year (the top 5 of these teams will replace the bottom 5 of the SC poll next year):

  1. Arizona State
  2. Kansas
  3. Hawaii
  4. Cincinatti
  5. Boston College
  6. Missouri
  7. Connecticut
  8. South Florida
  9. Boise State
  10. Wake Forest

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Overall success with my predictions this weekend: I was 5-1 overall and the only game I missed was the one I couldn’t pick any other way: Bama lost to LSU, despite being ahead by 7 with fewer than 3 minutes to go in the 4th qtr. Final score was 41-34, which was the very personification of my fears about this game: I felt very strongly that if 40+ was scored in this game then LSU would be the winner. My hope was that it would be in the 20s or 30s, which it was as time ticked away, but a series of unaccountable errors sunk the ship. Forgive me if my gripping depression over the loss forbids me from discussing it further.

In other games I was perfect, 5-0, predicting FSU to beat BC and KU to beat Nebraska (though I don’t think anyone foresaw KU scoring touchdowns on 10 straight drives and taking Nebraska to the woodshed like they did). So BC and ASU will drop out of the top 5 in the BCS, and they should be replaced by Oklahoma and Kansas–Kansas should vault over West Virginia in my opinion. Why? Neither team has played a particularly challenging schedule, but WVU has a loss and KU doesn’t, which in my mind in this circumstance quantifies the jump. Sorry, WVU, play some quality opponents and this kind of speculation won’t happen. Of course, then you’d be saddled with a trio of losses, so what does it matter? Sit happy at no.6 because the meat of your schedule is still on the horizon.

Top 5 BCS prediction:

  1. Ohio State (LSU should be no.1. They won’t be, but they damned well should be.)
  2. LSU
  3. Oregon
  4. Oklahoma
  5. West Virginia

What the Top 5 would be if I had my say in it:

  1. LSU
  2. Oregon
  3. Ohio State
  4. Kansas
  5. Oklahoma

Am I wrong? Tell me why.

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Oregon vs. Arizona St
Two teams with one loss between them in a game which could be the deciding factor in who plays for the National Championship. If the Buckeyes lose this weekend and Bama beats LSU, look for the winner of this game to vault to at least number two, if not past BC into #1, and line up very nicely to play in the title game. Those are two very big ifs, but this wacky season has the best prognosticators on their heels eating crow, so who’s to say it won’t happen? You want to put the cherry on top? If FSU beats Boston College we could have Oregon or ASU at number one and Kansas at number two. The college football world will be staring slack-jawed at the reports come Sunday if that happens, my friend. Of course, all that won’t happen, will it?

OSU 31, Wisconsin 10
FSU 24, BC 20
Bama 24, LSU 21 (I’ll own it: I’m going with my heart here.)
Oregon 38, ASU 30
Oklahoma 44, Texas A&M 19
Kansas 26, Nebraska 6

IF my impossible set of predictions come true, then next week’s BCS should look something like this (Top 5 only):

  1. Ohio State
  2. Oregon
  3. Oklahoma
  4. West Virginia
  5. Kansas

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Welcome to one of the games which will decide who plays for the SEC west in the championship game: Bama vs. LSU. LSU the powerhouse, beaten only once all season by a team that’s now plummeting out of the rankings. LSU, still number 3 despite the loss, still considered by many to be better than the two teams who are ranked ahead of them, coming to greet destiny at Bryant-Denny stadium where 92,000 ravenous fans showed up to watch their team play a practice game (did you say practice? Yes, I said practice). Why did they come? Well, because they’re excited. They see a bright future, they see promise, they see hope; and what’s the sum of all those hopes? Victory. Wins. Championships. Return to glory. It’s already begun, and Saturday in front of 92k it’s going to be heard far and wide in a way that it rarely ever has before: Get ready for the Earth to shake, Tuscaloosa, get ready to send those aftershocks all the way to Baton Rouge, because win or lose, we want them to know where they were, and that it was no fun coming here.

The Tide will of course have to play lights out to put a W up on Saturday, and will probably have to have some help from Lester. There’s been some speculation that Miles will come into Saturday with a chip on his shoulder, that he’s been suffocating under the shadow of Nick Saban and that he wants to prove on the field that he can out coach Saban. It’s not really so surprising; we’ve heard him say f**k Alabama in a press conference, and it’s probable that he’s been repeating those words to his players, some of which were recruited by his hated nemesis in Tuscaloosa. But if he does come in with that chip on his shoulder, and he feels the pressure mount (and it’s mounting, make no mistake about that–all the pressure this weekend is on Miles), and if he tries to play cute with the Tide… well, things can happen. Turnovers can happen. Losses can happen. Saturday the tale will be told.

Reasons for Bama fans to be excited:

  • The offense has been playing better, gelling, coming to terms with the new system.
  • JP is playing well.
  • DJ Hall is a dynamo.
  • The defense, barring the game against Ole Miss, has played well beyond expectations this season.
  • The O-Line has been giving JP time to work, even against Tennessee, when two starters were suspended.
  • LSU has lost, has proven they can be beaten, and are only three plays away from being a three loss team right now.
  • LSU has rarely played to their potential this season. Barring the games against MSU and VT, they’ve shown undeniably that they are ripe for the plucking.
  • The pressure is all on LSU.

Reasons to be afraid; very, very afraid:

  • Talent. This team is the most talented team in America, whether they’ve gelled or not.
  • Early Doucet is a monster.
  • Matt Flynn is a dual threat, the kind of QB that can give any team fits.
  • The LSU D. If they get it together, we won’t score much.

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