Archive for October, 2008

Shades of 1992

Is it just me, or does this year’s Alabama squad resemble 1992’s team in a lot of ways? Dominating defense, workmanlike offense with a QB who’s not statistically great but is managing the offense brilliantly…but the similarities don’t end there. The scenario in which the team finds itself is also very similar.

  • Alabama has a relatively new coach who is experiencing success at Alabama. In ’92 it was Stallings. Now, it’s Saban.
  • There is a dominant team with a firm hold on the #1 spot in the polls–Texas. In 1992 it was Miami.
  • Texas has won a national championship recently, as had Miami in ’92.
  • Miami had a Heisman candidate at quarterback and a high-powered offense. Texas’ Colt McCoy is also a Heisman candidate, and Texas has one of the most powerful offenses in the nation.
  • Alabama never rose above #2 during the regular season, and likely won’t this year unless Texas somehow manages to lose, which seems increasingly improbable.
  • At the end of October of ’92, it was becoming clear that Alabama was on a course to meet Florida, who had a relatively new coach (Spurrier) who was establishing himself as one of the best coaches in the SEC. This season, the same scenario seems likely, with Meyer as the new Florida coach.
  • The dominant team of ’92 finished the regular season undefeated, and Alabama did, too, even though it was considered highly unlikely that it would. Barring missteps, Texas and Alabama will both finish undefeated, although in Alabama’s case it will seem highly unlikely that they will have done so.
  • No one gave Alabama a chance in ’92 against Miami. Alabama had a blue-collar team that was facing off against a national power. This season, if Alabama and Texas meet in Miami, no one will give the blue-collar Alabama team a chance against Texas, which is considered a national power.

The fates are lining everything up. Will this season be a repeat of 1992? Only time will tell, but one thing’s for certain: Alabama controls its own destiny. Win out and the prize will be yours.

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The spotlight is on, and now it’s time to see how the Tide handles pressure. Because from here on out, every game, every playeven, will be a chance at greatness. One slip and suddenly you’re merely good–not great. But if anyone can prepare a team for this moment, it’s Nick Saban.

It might have been better for them to have climbed the polls more slowly than they did. If they only hadn’t looked so damned dominating against Clemson and at Georgia, maybe right now they’d be number 8, or number 5, instead of 2. Not that it matters that much, as the Head Coach will tell you.

I don’t know what we’re ranked,” Saban said. “But wherever it is, let me ask you this: Who was ranked there on Sept. 29 of last year? Do you remember?””>”I don’t know what we’re ranked,” Saban said. “But wherever it is, let me ask you this: Who was ranked there on Sept. 29 of last year? Do you remember?”

Yes, we understand, and we all chant in unison: Ranking doesn’t matter until the season is over. Watching the rankings is fun business if you’re a fan, but as a fan, wouldn’t you rather your team didn’t even know what they were ranked? Is a team ranked #2 going to play any harder (or softer) than a team ranked #22 or #72? I’m sure if the Head Coach had his way, the team would be incommunicado concerning rankings as a general rule.

But even players are fans. Fans of their own team. They want to see their teammates succeed as badly as they want to succeed themselves. So they know what the rankings are, where they lie, and they know what they have to do to stay there. There is only one rule the players need to abide by in order to remain in the BCS hunt:

  1. Listen to the Head Coach.

Saban has done an amazing job of letting the team know how good they can be (Clemson, Georgia), while mixing in just a bit of letting them know how bad they might be (Kentucky, Tulane), and at the same time, winning every game in the process.

And now the coach has posted two words as reminders all over the football complex: “consistency” and “finish.” If they listen to those valuable lessons, they may–they may–achieve greatness. In a college football world where the talent division between the top and the bottom is as tight as it’s ever been, that’s all one can really hope for–a chance. And if they listen to the Head Coach, if they play with consistency and finish…There’s no team in the country who can line up and win every time they play. 

Every game from here on out represents for the Tide an opportunity to write their names in the annals of college football’s greatest. If they win out, Alabama will hoist their thirteenth championship flag above Bryant-Denny Stadium, and Nick Saban will be enshrined with his own statue on the Walk of Champions. But at the same time, every game represents an opportunity for the team to end the season as a good team, not a great team.

Either way, though, the nation’s face has turned south once again, and one and all know that the Crimson Tide is back in the land of prominence.

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It wasn’t so long ago–right before the ’08 season kicked off–that Auburn fans were praising theiry  head coach and arguing that he was the best coach in the SEC. They even argued that he was one of the top 5 coaches in the country. Better even than Nick Saban, they said, en masse.

Just look at his record, they cried. He’s averaged ten wins a season over the past five seasons, won one SEC championship, and beaten cross-state rival Alabama six consecutive years.

Oh, how times have changed. Now those same fans are calling for a change. It seems Tommy isn’t quite the coach they thought he was. Either that or they’re as fickle as the weather.

But the fact is that Tuberville is the same coach now as he’s always been. He’s good–not great. Tommy took a look at where his program was, what they’d accomplished, and decided it was time to make a change. Ten wins a year wasn’t good enough. One SEC championship in his ten-year tenure wasn’t good enough. And yes, they beat Alabama six straight years, but it was an Alabama team crippled by NCAA sanctions, suffering through a gloomy era.

Along came Nick Saban and suddenly the focus changed. People weren’t talking about Auburn’s dominance any more, they were talking about the return of the Tide to prominence. Suddenly Alabama had a stable of stud recruits, had in fact whipped Auburn on the recruiting front, and the future was looking less bright on the Plains. And, worse, in Auburn’s greatest era ever, the Golden Age on the Plains, LSU was suddenly the perennial favorite to win the West. Another team constructed by Auburn arch-rival Nick Saban. And now Nick was busy building a beast in Tuscaloosa. Things were coming to a head.

So Tuberville opted to make the change, betting in his riverboat gambler style that the spread offense was what they needed to get them over the hump and into contention for the SEC or maybe even the BCS championship. He did it because he wanted to score more points, as he pointed out in this press conference:

If we wanted to win eight, nine games, sometimes maybe win 10, we could have stayed with the two-back offense. But it’s hard to consistently pound and pound the ball. People were ganging up on us with eight, nine, 10 people in the box. Last year I can count on one hand how many big plays we had over 15, 20 yards. It’s tough to win just trying to play smash-mouth. Hopefully this offense is going to help us be able to score from long distance a little more often.

And there’s the dirty truth that, in retrospect, might be the death knell for Tubs. He wasn’t content to be in contention every year. He wanted to stir the pot, change things up, score more points, and…still be in contention every year, but with a different offense.

Enter Tony Franklin, to the ecstasy of the Auburn Nation. They racked up 423 yards in his first game, last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, against Clemson, the Auburn of the ACC. But those yards were gained in the hands of a seasoned senior quarterback, a point that Auburn Nation seemed to fail to realize was relevant, until this season, when that same offense was in the hands of JUCO transfer Chris Todd and limp-armed Kodi Burns.

Suddenly, Franklin’s vaunted offense seems frozen in time, unable to complete a pass, and the only success they enjoy comes when they line up in a two tight end, two tailback set, which is so not the spread offense Auburn Nation was promised.

But at this point, Auburn Nation would embrace a return to the days of bruising power football. They’re ready to chuck the “spread eagle,” and Tony Franklin–and maybe even Tommy Tuberville–off the nearest cliff they can find.

That’s a far cry from where we were just six quick weeks ago, when Auburn Nation was praising their head coach as the best in the SEC and one of the top 5 coaches in the entire country. Now, despite a winning record (4-2), it seems the blinds have suddenly been lifted from the eyes of the Aubies and they see Tuberville for his mistakes rather than for his triumphs, or, another way of saying it would be they they see him for the tattered many rather than for the tainted few.

The tainted few, you say? Well, sure. One SEC championship in ten years is a dubious accomplishment. Beating Bama for six straight years while they didn’t even have a full roster…sure, it’s an accomplishment, but again, tainted. And what else has he accomplished in his Auburn tenure? He’s averaged ten wins the past five seasons, and the scrapped the formula that accomplished that impressive feat. Along the way, Tommy’s had some impressive wins, but for every win in the Swamp or victory against Georgia, there’s been a loss against a team they had no business losing to.

And now coacheshotseat.com lists Tommy as the sixth most-likely coach to be fired.

Curiously, in his most recent press conference, Tuberville noted that they would stick with the spread offense, that they were dedicated to making it work, and that they could “see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The day before that press conference, former AU coach Pat Dye had a similar observation in an interview on the Paul Finebaum Radio Network: “You know what’s goin through the Auburn folks’ mind, they lookin’ down the road… There’s a light down there an it’s a freight train comin.”

That freight train is called the Crimson Tide.

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Wade Wallace famously was invited to take the 9-0 Crimson Tide to California in 1925 to face off against Washington. At game’s end, the Tide was 10-0, declared national champions, and the nation, collectively, turned its head south and recognized that southern football was legitimate. As southerners, of course, we still face the national stigma of being backwards or hillbillies, but from 1925 onward through to today, there is no doubt anywhere in the country that in the South, championship football is played. The achievement of that 1925 squad should never be underestimated; in many ways, that game legitimized the South, as a whole, not just Alabama, in the eyes of the nation.

Following that win, a contest was held by the student newspaper The Rammer-Jammer to compose a fight song. Ethelred “Epp” Lundy Sykes, a student of the music department, won the contest, having written “Yea, Alabama!” It’s hard, even now, to read or sing the words of that song and not feel inspired. If we read the words with the context in mind of when and where it was written, it’s even more meaningful. Georgia Tech was in the same conference as Alabama then, and considered a rival, more so at the time than either Tennessee or Auburn, remarkably. Also remarkable: Georgia Tech has six SEC championships to their credit, even though they withdrew from the SEC in the early sixties. Auburn also has a total of six SEC championships. 

When the author wrote that “if a man starts to weaken, that’s a shame, for Bama’s pluck and grit have writ her name in crimson flame,” he’s referring directly to that Rose Bowl victory that was so monumental that it resounds even to this day. So remember the Rose Bowl, that day when Alabama paved the way for all southern schools to compete in athletics with the rest of the country. You’re Dixie’s football pride, Crimson Tide.

Yea, Alabama! Drown ’em Tide! (-has been replaced with “Yea, Alabama! Crimson Tide!”)
Every ‘Bama man’s behind you; hit your stride!
Go teach the Bulldogs to behave,
Send the Yellow Jackets to a watery grave!

And if a man starts to weaken, that’s a shame!
For ‘Bama’s pluck and grit have writ her name in crimson flame!
Fight on, fight on, fight on, men!
Remember the Rose Bowl, we’ll win, then!

Go, roll to victory,
Hit your stride,
You’re Dixie’s football pride, Crimson Tide!

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