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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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Has General Tecumseh Sherman returned to Georgia? No, it’s only Nick Saban, and that dark cloud of smoke hanging over Athens is just the smoke from 90,000 black shirts burning. I think it’s safe to say the Georgia “blackout” is a thing of the past, and Nick Saban has, at least according to Jim Rome, established himself as the greatest college football coach ever.

The architect of two current top-5 teams, Saban is an old school savant with his bruising rushing attack, opening up the play-action pass and involving freshman phenom Julio Jones. But most impressive of all right now is the sheer domination of Terrence “Mt.” Cody, who anchors the line. Georgia’s game plan was supposed to be simple–sweep left, sweep right, tire Mt. Cody out and then chuck it down field to A.J. Green. Er, not so fast. Mt. Cody is not only a mountain of a man, but he’s mobile, too, and Julio Jones outperformed Green in the freshman phenom competition. In fact, if you look closely at the stats, Julio has more touchdowns than Green. Green benefits from the pass-happy Georgia offense, but Julio’s stats are compiled in a run-oriented offense. And Knowshon? Well, he was a no-show, and felt on one play the full impact of a Mt. Cody pancake tackle, when all you could see was no-show’s little feet sticking out from beneath the mountain.

And the best news of all? Auburn, winners of six straight against their cross-state rivals, are now largely irrelevant. In terms of the national championship, as they’ve always been, they are irrelevant. And the road to the SEC west now rolls through either Baton Rouge or Tuscaloosa. And–even better–it doesn’t even matter if Auburn wins against Alabama for a seventh year in a row, that will have been all they’ve accomplished in their greatest decade ever. Auburn’s greatest accomplishment during Alabama’s down years has been to beat Alabama. Sure, they have one SEC championship to their credit, bringing their grand total to six, the same number as Georgia Tech, who isn’t even in the SEC any more. What more have they accomplished in the past ten years? Nothing. And now, all is well, Auburn is back where they belong, the irrelevant auburn-haired step-child of college football. In Alabama’s worst years–and make no mistake, these past ten years have been Alabama’s worst–Auburn took advantage of the situation by accomplishing no grander a feat than to beat a talent-deprived Bama team.

Once again, Alabama’s eyes are on the big prize, and despite having been beaten for six consecutive years by their cross-state rivals, Auburn is literally not even registering on the radar. In Auburn’s best years, their success or rate of failure is measured only by what they accomplish in their final regular season game. Loft aspirations, right? Uh, right. Auburn doesn’t have their eyes on the big prize. They’d like to win the national championship, sure, just like they’d like to win the SEC. But for Auburn, success is still only measured by whether or not they beat Alabama.

In the past ten years, when Alabama has been the most irrelevant team in the state, Auburn gloried in its accomplishments, crowned by the beating of Alabama at the end of the year. And that’s the big difference between these two programs: when Auburn is irrelevant–as they are now–Auburn is just another game on Alabama’s schedule in the way of a much larger prize. Alabama is the bully again, and Auburn is the step child. Alabama wants nothing more than to win the SEC and contend for the National Championship. At this point, Auburn is just another game in the way.

Get out of the way.

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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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“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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