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Mark Ingram should change his name. Not the spelling of his name, but just move the space three letters to the right so it becomes “Marking Ram.” Not that there’s anything wrong with Mark Ingram, but it sounds kind of conventional. But then again, so did Emmitt Smith. Barry Sanders, too.

There’s  been a lot of conjecture that Ingram might not even be the best running back in Alabama’s backfield, which is ludicrous. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slighting Trent Richardson, but those who are making those statements about Trent being better than Ingram are a slight toward the Heisman Trophy winner.

Mark Ingram is a phenomenal talent who runs like a combination of Emmitt and Barry. Trent is a compact rocket and will likely come into his own in this, his sophomore season. It’s entirely possible that Alabama will have two thousand-yard rushers this season, but as far as picking one to be better than the other? It’s just like the old argument of Barry vs. Emmitt, you really can’t say for certain which is the best. Everyone has their opinion, sure, but it all comes down to this: they were both incredible runners.

Ingram runs with a lot of personality whereas Richardson’s style is more understated. Ingram is brash, stomping into the end zone and roaring at the heavens when he scores. Richardson rips of a fifty yarder and he coolly tosses the ball back to the ref. Some analysts like to use the “thunder and lightning” metaphor for running back tandems of bruisers and shifters, but it doesn’t really apply with these two because they can both do either. Although Ingram is much more likely to lower a shoulder and run through a tackle, Richardson has shown that he can run through tackles as well, and both backs can be shifty when they want to.

For my part, I believe Ingram runs more like Smith, and Richardson more like Sanders. In short, as an Alabama fan, it’s comforting to know I have two runners like that in my backfield, runners who can draw comparisons to two of the greatest of all time.

But I still say Marking Ram would be a cool name for a running back…

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Florida has the Gator “Chomp.” Oregon has their “O” hand gesture. Miami has the “U,” Texas has “Hook ’em Horns,” and the Red Raiders point finger pistols at the sky. Hand gestures in college sports are just cool. And nowadays they’re trendy, too.

A new Alabama tradition?

Everyone knows Alabama has a great and rich tradition. They even completed their trophy case last year with Mark Ingram’s Heisman Trophy. Alabama’s got a great fight song, a Million Dollar band, one of the best war cries in football with “Roll Tide Roll!“, and they’re called “the Crimson Tide,” one of the few sports team names that doesn’t end with an “s” and, again, one of the coolest names in sport.

About the only thing Alabama doesn’t have in its portfolio is a symbolic hand gesture. The closest they ever came was the two guys who held up a roll of toilet paper and a box of Tide detergent. But other than that Bama fans just scream and raise up the old number one (something they’ve been able to do a lot). Does Alabama need a symbolic hand gesture? Of course not…but then again, why not? Especially when Mark Ingram has already inadvertently invented one.

Remember Ingram’s first touchdown in the Rose Bowl, when he held up his hands to the camera? He did it to show off his snazzy Nike gloves with the stylized “A,” but it’s possible he also invented Alabama’s symbolic hand gesture.

Notice how his hands and arms form an “A?”

The Big A?

Maybe this was what Nike had in mind when they designed the glove. After all, they posted this picture on their website commentary on Bama’s NC win. One can’t help but notice that with the hands held together like that they form an “A.” And we all know Nike is all about starting trends, especially using teams or players who they think will be exhibiting standards of athletic excellence for years to come.

Alabama doesn’t need a gesture, but it would be cool to see 90k+ fans holding up “the Big A” at Bryant-Denny next year.

Now if we can only think of a nickname for the stadium. Florida has “the Swamp,” LSU has “Death Valley,” Michigan has “the Big House” and OSU has “the Horseshoe.” Would Bama fans turn murderous at the thought of calling their stadium anything but Bryant-Denny?

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There is no Heisman jinx. Sure, Mark Ingram became only the sixth player since 1950 to win the Heisman Trophy and the national championship in the same season, and only the second of the past eight seasons to win both (Matt Leinart ’04). It’s called a jinx, but all it really is is a testament that Heisman voters consistently pick the wrong guy to win.

Heisman winners also historically fail at the NFL level. Why would that be, do you suppose? It’s not because of the pressure of being a Heisman winner, that’s for certain. Elite athletes thrive on pressure. The only rational reasoning for it is, again, that Heisman voters are inherently unqualified to decide who the most outstanding college football player is.

They mitigate these failures by pointing out that Heisman excellence doesn’t necessarily parlay into future success as a football player. They say that it represents only a snapshot of a single season in a player’s career. His college career. Tim Tebow is the poster boy for this line of thinking. Tebow is obviously a great college football player, one of the greatest of all time, and everyone predicts him to fail at the next level. But then they all predicted Eric Crouch to succeed, didn’t they? So what do they know. Fact is, we’ll have to give Tebow the opportunity for failure–or success–to decide if the formula Heisman voters claim they use is what they say it is.

For Heisman voters, nothing could be worse for them than if Tebow failed at the pro level. Their entire system would be debunked.

Whatever formula it is, it’s is so ridiculous and so blatantly political in nature that often the runner-up goes on to have a successful pro career. For instance, Marshall Faulk finished second behind Gino Torretta in 1992. Rashaan Salaam beat out Steve McNair in 1994. See the trend?

The Heisman is a popularity contest first, and second it’s an award designed to reward itself. Meaning, low-profile athletes at schools that are not “elite” programs are not going to win. Only thirdly is the Heisman Trophy awarded for skill or merit.

But as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day.  And sometimes Heisman voters get it right. Like 2009, for instance.

Mark Ingram didn’t have the most yards or touchdowns, but was clearly the most outstanding player in college football in the ’09 season. And he proved it, too. After winning the award he went on to dominate in the BCS National Championship game, proving that he is both an elusive back as well as a bruising runner who simply could not be brought down by the first attempt.

Time will tell, certainly, whether or not Ingram will be successful in the long run, but for the moment it looks as if, finally, Heisman voters are trying to get it right.

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heisman trophy

Mark Ingram Alabama Crimson TideMark Ingram is no longer a Heisman hopeful. He’s the 75th winner of the most hallowed individual trophy in all of sport. Now all there is left to do is to bring home the crystal trophy of the BCS national championship. Some people talk about the “Heisman Slump,” wondering if it’ll affect Mark’s play in the BCS championship game against the Longhorns, but it doesn’t really matter if it does. Trent Richardson guarantees it.

Joe Namath. Kenny Stabler. Cornelius Bennett. Bart Starr. Lee Roy Jordan. Don Hutson. John Hannah. Derrick Thomas. Ozzie Newsome. Shaun Alexander.

Is Mark Ingram, the 19-year old from Flint, Michigan, the greatest football player in the history of Alabama football? Is he even the greatest running back? Well, possibly, but with a tradition as rich as ‘Bama’s it’ll take a bit more time to tell. Regardless, one thing is for certain: he was the most outstanding player in college football in 2009. It is amazing that Alabama, with 12 national championships to their credit and 96 first-team All-Americans, the team that dominated the decade of the 70s, has no Heisman winner in their history before 2009. Now let’s add that thirteenth championship ring and this might be the best year ever.

Now I’ve got to make the trip back down to T-Town so I can visit the Bryant Museum again. I want to see it for myself. Maybe touch it. It’s comforting just to know it’ll soon be there, a mere fifty miles away.

Well done, Mark.

Roll Tide Rollelephant_crimson_bama_logo

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It seems as though everyone is saying, for all intents and purposes, that the SEC Championship game this year is a National Championship semi-final. Alabama is ranked #1, Florida #2, and the winner will undoubtedly advance to play in Miami for the title. They’re also ready to hand Florida the crown before the game is even played.

Florida is the sexy pick
Despite Alabama’s unblemished string of W’s this season, Florida is the near-unanimous pick to win the game, but I’d like to remind everyone of a few things. First: A spread (in which a certain team is favored over another team by a “spread” of points) is dictated by the gambling public. If Vegas sees heavy betting one way or another, they adjust the spread to even out according to what the gambling public believes will happen. So, is it disrespect that Alabama’s a ten point dog? No, they were a 14 point dog last week, and frankly, who cares? The gambling public is not an entirely reliable source. Maybe it is to you, but I still say they fail to consider many key factors when it comes to football.

As it is every year, the gambling public is dazzled by high-powered offenses and for some reason think they’re unbeatable, despite having been proved wrong time and time again since the beginning of football time. Remember what the Bear once said, “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.” So you’ll forgive me if I ignore the gambling public’s opinion and break the game down in a way that a lot of us commoners don’t immediately consider.

The history of the matchup
Alabama leads the all-time series with 21 wins to Florida’s 13. They first played in 1904 (Alabama won 29-0), and last played in ’06 (Florida won 28-13). In their last 20 meetings, Alabama is 13-7 against the Gators, and beat them twice in ’99, once in the regular season and again for the SEC championship. In their last 5 meetings, Alabama still holds the edge, 3-2. That’s the history, of course, and has very little bearing on this weekend’s matchup. Some people might like to predict the outcome based on a trend, but I believe trends are just another record meant to be broken.

The unimportant matchup everyone considers
Both Florida and Alabama have good defenses, and Florida obviously has the more potent offense. With most people, this is as far as a matchup needs to be considered. And this is exactly the reason why everyone under the sun is picking Florida to win.

I hear people asking the question: “How many points will Alabama have to score to keep up with Florida?” or “How many points can Alabama afford to let Florida score in order to have a chance?” The fact is, if the game can be kept close, Alabama can win. If Alabama can score at all, they can win. Alabama’s front seven is as good as any in the country, and their O-line is heralded as the best in the SEC. Games are won in the trenches, folks.

The gambling public, as well as many “experts,” are trying to predict the outcome of this game by looking at unimportant matchups. Florida has the better QB, Florida has the better offense, Alabama gets the slight edge in defense, and look! Florida has slightly better rushing statistics than Alabama. Running the ball is Alabama’s bread and butter, right? So if Florida does that better than Alabama, then it’s a wash, obviously, Florida will win.

They’ll compare defensive secondaries, linebacking corps, running backs and wide receivers. What’s interesting to me is that they rarely compare a receiving corps versus a secondary. I’d rather know how Florida’s O-line will handle Terrence Cody and the Alabama defensive front, than to compare one defensive front to the other, which tells us nothing of how the game will play out.

Matchups–Breaking down the game
The matchups you should be considering are these:

  • Can Florida penetrate Alabama’s defensive line, and if so, can they get past the linebacking corps?
  • Can Alabama’s O-line move Florida’s front 4?

Florida will move the ball, there’s no disputing that. But Alabama will move the ball as well, you can take that to the bank. The big difference here is that Alabama’s middle line will slow down the Florida rushing attack, and with the line clogged Tebow will have to go to the air or run it himself. 

Dictating tempo
Alabama’s main success will be in running the ball behind the best offensive line in the SEC. And what does that mean, really? It means that Florida will have to adjust to Alabama’s style of play, something Alabama has dictated to their opponents all season long. There hasn’t been a single game this season that Alabama hasn’t dictated the tempo and controlled the clock. And when Alabama forces their opponent to adjust, the scales just tipped into Alabama’s favor. That’s a huge advantage, and people who know football will understand that dictating the tempo and controlling the clock will reap dividends in field position and give more opportunities to get turnovers.

Penalties
Another interesting statistic to look at is penalties. Georgia is the most-penalized SEC team with 105 penalties this season for nearly 900 yards. Florida is second with 88 penalties for 713 yards. Alabama is giving away the least free yardage in the SEC, with 48 penalties for 422 yards. So, Florida is giving away 60 yards per game, while Alabama is giving away only 35.

What it boils down to
So the real matchup in this game, the biggest question mark left, is this: Can the Alabama secondary manage Florida’s passing attack. And the answer to that question is, undeniably, yes. Because Alabama will have already dictated what they’ll allow Florida to do by clogging the line and controlling the clock.

And the biggest statistic of all
The statistic everyone sees floating right before their eyes but fails to consider in context is this: Florida has not been challenged by any single team this season except the one that beat them. Sometimes it’s good to have to scrap and fight and claw to win a game. So, while some people compare the margins of victory of both teams against LSU, Kentucky and Georgia and see it as a benefit to Florida, it is actually more of a benefit to Alabama. Having had to scrap out some wins means Alabama knows how to do it. Florida’s breezed through their schedule, scoring at will, and the one time they were faced with an opposition who gave them a fight they lost.  

Why is everyone ignoring Arkansas?
When comparing margins of victory, everyone keeps bringing up Kentucky, Georgia and LSU. No one considers the Arkansas game. A team Alabama beat 49-14 and Florida beat 38-7. They see broader margins of victory over Kentucky and LSU for Florida and try to predict the outcome of the SEC championship based on those scores. Well, if you’re going to consider those games, shouldn’t you consider Arkansas, too? The fact is that none of those margins of victory mean a thing. That’s the way that team played on that day, and the score reflected the matchups on the field.

The Tebow factor
The only real advantage we can give Florida is their quarterback. Tebow is a difference maker, and the outcome of the game could come down to how well he can run his quarterback draw. If Alabama keeps him in the pocket, look for a Crimson Saturday night.

The Scheme
I think I’ll go with Nick Saban here. Saban is a master strategist and if the game comes down to who’s got the better game plan, Alabama will win. Florida hasn’t had to game plan a win this season. They haven’t had to out-scheme an opponent to rise to victory. The one time they were faced with that challenge they failed. Florida will depend on their superior talent to deliver, and if that talent is neutralized by a superior scheme, they’ll fail.  

The end result
The matchups we’ve considered are:

  • Penalties. Advantge-Alabama
  • Ability to win a close game. Advantage-Alabama
  • Florida’s O-line vs Alabama’s defensive front. Advantage-Alabama
  • Dictating tempo. Advantage-Alabama
  • Scheme. Advantage-Alabama

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Sure they can. Remember 1992? Going to play Miami in the Sugar Bowl the media pronounced the game over before it even began. Alabama had a “second rate defense and a one-dimensional offense.” Miami had the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and were the defending national champions. And then Alabama plowed them under, 34-13.

There are plenty of examples of the same type scenario: the nation is mesmerized by the potent offense of a team like Florida (Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, etc. etc.), forgetting that a bruising rushing attack controls the clock, keeps the ball out of that potent offense’s hands, and a stifling defense makes that potent offense look a lot more pedestrian.

The Florida team you will see on Saturday will look a lot different from the one you’re used to seeing pummel their opponents. Alabama is well-equipped to handle the Gators.

Alabama: 34
Florida: 28

Asked how he feels about being an underdog to Florida in the SEC Championship game, Nick Saban said, “That’s a’ight, don’t bother me any.”

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Alabama’s been playing football since 1892. They won their first Rose Bowl and National Championship under Coach Wallace Wade in 1925. Over their 100+ year history, they’ve amassed 12 national championships and have been to more bowls–and won more–than any other team. In the history of college football, only Notre Dame has been nearly as successful. In fact, it’s safe to say that Alabama and Notre Dame are programs 1A and 1B and everyone else is ranked behind them.

Here is a fact: Coming into this season, since 1908, Notre Dame had 1 more win than Alabama for most wins in the past 100 years of college football. We’ve all seen Notre Dame post their 6-6 record this season, and everyone is also well aware that Alabama is 12-0 and ranked #1 in the country. Did you also know that Alabama has now moved into first place in wins over the last 100 years? Does that make Alabama the program of the century? I think so, yes. Over the last 100 years, Alabama is #1, and all other football programs are #2 or lower, including Notre Dame.

Wins, from 1908 – 2008:

  1. Alabama: 754
  2. Notre Dame: 748
  3. Texas: 747
  4. Oklahoma: 743
  5. Tennessee: 731
  6. Southern Cal: 717
  7. Nebraska: 715
  8. Ohio State: 712
  9. Michigan: 710
  10. Penn State: 706

elephant

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