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The arrival of two new coaches into the SEC today has made it official: The Spread Offense has arrived. Everyone’s been enamored with it for a while now, seeing the success of the schools that’ve been confounding opposing defenses with it. It was already here, you say? Yes, you’re correct, but two coaching hires today just ensured it’s here to stay, and that it may ‘spread’ to other teams as well.

The University of Arkansas hired “Power Spread” guru Bobby Petrino away from the Falcons today, and Auburn dumped its old-school OC Al Borges and is reported to be hiring Tony Franklin away from the Men of Troy, also a spread offense guru.

It’s been well documented that Urban Meyer runs the spread offense as well, but little known is the fact that Major Applewhite ran a spread offense at Rice in ’06. Why didn’t they run it at Bama in ’07? Likely because of personnel. It takes a specific brand of QB to run the spread, but when run correctly it can send shivers up a DC’s spine.

Watch out, SEC! There’s a new offense in town, and four teams will likely be running some variation of the spread in ’08. And now, you too can run the spread offense: Amazon lists 270 books about the spread offense, sometimes called the “power spread,” “shotgun spread” or the “spread bone.”

Have I said “spread” enough times in this article?

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Sly Croom is doing good things at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have beaten Alabama twice in consecutive years, and this year added cross-state rival Ole Miss, Kentucky and Auburn to its list of wins, finishing with a satisfying 7-win season plus a bowl trip. Eight wins in Starkville? Yes, and with the QB problems they’re having, that’s quite an accomplishment.

And this upward trend of success the ‘Dogs are enjoying prompts the question: What if Alabama had hired Croom instead of Shula? After the Mike Price fiasco, already late in the year and suffering from the shock and awe penalties of the sanctimonious NCAA, the coaching pickings were slim. A proven head coach was out of the question during that time of year. And what it came down to was a choice between Sly Croom and Mike Shula. Croom was an Alabama product and champion as a player and as a coach, with lessons in coaching from Bear Bryant himself. Shula was a Bama product, son of Don Shula, and had great hair. As coaches, both were in the NFL at the time, Croom coaching the running backs in Chicago and Shula the QB coach for Miami.  

Ultimately the choice came down to who had the best hair. No, I don’t believe it was a black/white thing, but I’ll grant you it would have made vast inroads if Croom had’ve been hired. It’s one thing for MSU to hire a black coach, but for Alabama, with all its pride and tradition, it would have made a statement for the whole south, to the entire country. In the end, though, they hired the prettier Shula, and damn the championship rings on Croom’s fingers. Shula looked more like a head football coach, didn’t he? Surely if he went into a recruit’s home the parents couldn’t resist his boyish charm, those eyes, that smile, that hair! Oh, if only hindsight were 50/50! (in the words of Pat Dye).

In the following years Shula would have some successes as head coach, including a 10-win season and SEC crown, and I’m sure his gentle good looks won him the hearts of many a recruits’ dear mother. But in retrospect, looking at the complete package, who looks the most like a head football coach? Shula, who is now the QB coach for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, or Sly Croom, who has coached up a team of blue-collar no names into a 7-win season. Croom walks the sidelines with a scowl on his face, with a furrowed brow, and points and shouts. While Shula, when he was at Bama, stared with an often-dazed expression, and was routinely slow in making the wrong decision.

Sure, it’s easy to get on the Croom bandwagon when he’s winning, and I do remember last year, when the only thing he had to hang his hat on was a win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa. And I’m grateful for the job Mike Shula did; he took a tough job at a school still reeling, still with red butt cheeks from the NCAA’s almighty whooping stick. But Croom, who may not have boyish good looks, does have the classic coach’s stalk when he’s on the sideline, and he’s got rings, people. Championship rings on his fingers, won at the University of Alabama. Rings that I’ll bet shine brighter than Mike Shula’s baby blues ever did.

So in hindsight, maybe it’s possible Witt chose the pretty boy for the wrong reasons. Maybe he should have opted for the grizzled workhorse who is now building a reputation as a coach who not only demands excellence, but will not accept anything less. If he can win seven games at MSU, how many could he have won at Alabama?

Of course, if Croom had been hired and if had had success then Nick Saban would likely be somewhere else right now and all the excitement surrounding the program would be… what?

Few can match Saban as a recruiter, that much is certain. And as a coach he’s got few peers. But he’s not an Alabama product, and that’s his one big detrimental factor. One which, with Alabama fans, will be very easy to overlook if and when he brings home a championship. And it’s true that ‘hiring inside the family’ has bitten Alabama on the butt more times in recent years than the NCAA has. Saban is a gruff man, not personable at all, they say. The media despises him and most other college football fans in the country do, too. But we adore him, we’ve welcomed him, with all his faults, because he brings a foundation to build upon, he brings success, and he has won championships.

For Coach Croom, if he had been hired and not had success, the firestorm would not have been pretty. There’s certainly a faction of fans who would begrudge the decision of hiring a black man, although I believe it’s a small faction, and dwindling. But if Coach Croom took the podium with those rings on his fingers, few could have kept from being dazzled. He’s a product of Alabama and a Bear Bryant Man, a good man, for all accounts.

What happens if Saban bolts, which is been predicted by virtually everyone who isn’t an Alabama fan? What if Coach Saban sees the looming, potential LSU vacancy as a preferable job and grabs it up? For me, I believe Coach Croom would finally deserve the shot at Alabama. I hope him all the success in the world at MSU, excluding of course the one Saturday every year when they play Alabama. I’m not hoping for Saban to leave–God, no–I’m looking forward to this potential #1 recruiting class and I’m looking forward to everything that I think he can do at Alabama. But if he bolts, there’s a Bryant man waiting in the wing, if he’d still have us.

I believe he would.

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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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These are the top 25 teams of the NCAA (unaffiliated) Super Conference according to wins. Note: The teams in this poll do not adhere to the tenets of the Super Conference scheduling system which ranks teams based on schedule equality and wins alone so therefore these standings are purely speculative based on the inherent inadequacies of their current schedules. For instance, all teams in this poll would have played a few of the other teams on this poll using the SC system but in reality many of them have not.

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

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. Boston College
  3. Kansas
  4. South Florida
  5. Missouri
  6. Kentucky
  7. Virginia
  8. Connecticut
  9. Rutgers
  10. Wake Forest

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As an Alabama fan I use them a lot to make some arguments because they are a traditional power who have gone through very few uniform modifications over the years. Here’s the list:

  1. Alabama’s New Look (for one game)
    Bama played a game in ’06 with an slightly modified jersey which sported a Houndstooth collar to commemorate Bear Bryant’s 315th win. There was some uproar about the sanctity of the crimson jersey, but I for one thought it was a great move, and one that should be made permanent. This is proof positive that it doesn’t take a big change to give an old look a new feel.
  2. Penn State Prison-Issue Uni and USC Playdough Yellow
    Blue doesn’t even look colorful in Penn State’s uniforms; and don’t get me started on the white-on-white-on-white look. They look like a prison team, and not in an intimidating fashion. And as for USC’s yellow, I know it’s supposed to harken to the true Spartans, but wow is that one ugly color. Single ugliest uniform color in NCAA football. There are many other traditional powers that could fit into this spot–Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, etc.–but though these two may or may not be the worst of them all, they both strike me as especially awful.
  3. Logos are updated
    alabama-new.gifAlabama, among many others have updated their logos (see: Penn State, Florida, Boise State, and Oregon State, to mention a few) with great success in my opinion. Desperately needing to update: Florida State and Wake Forest, among many, many others. So if they can update their logos, why not their uniforms?
  4. Nobody can wear throwbacks.
    Because there’s usually nothing to throwback to, because the uni hasn’t changed in FIVE HUNDRED YEARS. If you really want to honor tradition–and you do, I know you do, because college football is all about tradition–you can better honor it by wearing a throwback. Alabama had to update their uniform to commemorate a historical achievement.
  5. Other Teams have done it, and look good.
    The new uniforms sported by progressive teams aren’t as bad as all the uproar. Hawaii and Oregon have great uniforms, and the writers who take jabs at them are stuck in the past. The progressive styles of these uniforms make a good argument for why uniforms SHOULD be upgraded.
  6. The NFL
    In the most popular sport in the most popular league in America, NFL uniforms change almost annually, updating, keeping it fresh. College football should emulate this. Miami seems to be the only traditional power to be updating in a similar fashion. And I like it.
  7. College Football is stuck in the past.
    I love my Tide and I love the rich tradition, but there are ways to honor the past without being stuck in it.  
  8. Michigan
    Michigan has great potential; they’ve got the best helmet design in college football and their colors aren’t bad. With a little design improvement those unis could be sensational.
  9. Stop Knocking Orange!
    People keep knocking Miami, Clemson, Tennessee, Texas, Oregon State and Florida (among others) because of the predominant orange they use. In my opinion orange is an awesome color for uniforms–it’s bright and bold and looks fresh. Not that I want my team to change to orange, I like Crimson just fine, but I do believe the orange looks good.
  10. Design Details
    The metal stamp design on Oregon’s shoulders, the thin line on Boise State’s jersey, the band on Hawaii’s leg–individually you might find these accents hideous, but I don’t. Adding details to a uniform spices it up and makes it fresh and new. A tiny accent–like the Houndstooth collar on Alabama’s one-time jersey in ’06–can make a huge difference in a uniform’s appearance.
     

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“We”
By Matt Mitchell

The team I support is my team. I root for them, cheer for them, I feel pain when they lose, I feel glee when they win. They are my team, I am their fan. They require my support to compete, financially and they need the enthusiasm I provide. They have a home-field advantage because of me, because of what I bring to the table. I hate their opponents more than they do sometimes. I wear my team’s colors. I purchase their memorabilia and authorized merchandise. I study their history. Do I love them? Yes. I do. They are my team. So why is it that some people have a problem with me referring to my team using possessive pronouns? As when, during a game, the team is losing I might be heard to say “We need to score more points!” I’ve heard people say (Doug Gottlieb, who played basketball with Oklahoma State and says that it’s a pet peeve of his to hear fans refer to their team possessively) that I can’t claim the possessive because I’m not on the team, I’m not a coach or a player, so I have no right to the possessive pronoun use, that I should stick with ‘they’ and ‘them.’ But there’s a problem with that thinking: If I stop cheering possessively I’ll lose some of the passion that I have for my team. It’s much more difficult for me to urge ‘them’ to score than it is for me to urge ‘us’ to score. By contrast, I can watch a game that I have no emotional interest in and pick a team and support that team, hoping they win, cheering when/if they do. But it’s a detached enthusiasm; I have nothing vested in a win or a loss. But when it’s my team… by removing my possessive passion you’re removing part of the passion that all fans have for the game and the team, thereby shooting yourself in your own foot.

Now look, I don’t call the head coach “My coach” and I don’t pretend to be a member of the team or coaching staff. But I feel a kinship with the players and coaches of my team. And while they may not be “my” coaches or players they certainly are our coaches and our players. I am a little bit envious of them, a little in awe of them, and when the time comes I do not sit on my hands, I stand up and cheer and I wear my team’s colors with pride. When I use possessive pronouns when I cheer/root/pull for my team, then I am in my own way emotionally involved, and I am actively channeling every bit of emotion I have toward you, to lift you up, to raise you above, to empower you, the team and the players, to succeed. If you don’t think that’s valuable, then I’ll stop, but I warn you, it’s going to be difficult for me to be emotionally supportive of a team who I comment during the game: “Man those guys need to score some points,” because I lose the emotional investment I’ve made for the team. Is that the kind of detachment you want from me as a fan? If it is, then you must be the type of person who wants a cathedral-type setting at football and basketball games, where all the onlookers keep quiet and watch, discussing the play of each team.

Football ain’t tennis, and it ain’t golf. Football is football, and if you want the fans to be detached then you are willing to also say goodbye to that precious commodity known as home field advantage, because the fans, and all their incalculably supportive glee, are ON YOUR SIDE, and they want to win as bad as you do, which is exactly why they cheer for you the way they do.

In closing I’ll just say that I’m not a fair-weather fan. I don’t only support the team during the good seasons. I’m an Alabama fan, I have been since the day I was born, when Paul Bryant was alive and well and still had a few more National Championships to win. But we’ve had plenty of down years lately, and I’ve weathered them all. And after we lose a game, I don’t chastise them then, either, because I win with you and I lose with you. You are my team.

Here’s hoping we beat the hell out of Ole Miss this weekend. ROLL TIDE!!!

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Remaining undefeated teams are:

  • LSU
  • Ohio State
  • Boston College
  • Cincinatti
  • UConn
  • South Florida
  • Missouri
  • Kansas
  • Arizona State
  • Cal
  • Hawaii

Wouldn’t it be great to see an 11-2 team play (and maybe win) the National Championship? I get sick of hearing speculation that a team’s season is over when they lose. Some even use this as an argument for a playoff (which I am totally against, unless it’s done in a simple +1 format). But the fact is that a loss is just what it is, a loss, and in this age of parity in college football losses are going to come more and more frequently. In fact, if people would look at it objectively, sometimes two or even three losses can still leave a team with a chance to play for a conference title, and conference champions are a prestigious lot themselves, unless you’re in the PAC10 or are Notre Dame.

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