my favorite time of year for running

I love fall for a lot of reasons, but ever since I became a runner, I have one more great reason – it’s the best time for morning runs. The vast majority of my runs are before work in the morning, and once the morning temperature gets below 55, I find motivation that just wasn’t there in the summer. Of course, the change in fall colors gives a new palette to my old familiar routes, which is always a good thing.

There are other great motivators as well – new gear, the prospect of an upcoming race – but for me, nothing beats the change in seasons. Now, I need to cut this short, and get ready for bed – gotta get up early for my run tomorrow!

Ranking the Years of the Saban Dynasty

Now that the season is done, and Alabama has accomplished what no one else in major college football ever has by winning five national titles in under a decade, a thought went through my mind. If I were to rank the seasons of the past decade, how would they come out? I thought it might be an interesting exercise.

This is just one fan’s humble opinion. I’d never deign to say I know enough about the inner workings of the game to call this an “expert” analysis. That being said, I can run the numbers and remember my impressions of the teams, their players, and games they played, and arrive at a reasonable conclusion of where these 10 teams rank.

And yes, I know that Saban just finished his 11th year at Alabama. I’m starting in 2008 because a) 2007 would obviously be last, even with the vacated wins, b) it was 2008 that made the college football world realize Bama was back and thus began the dynasty as we know it, and c) a ranking from 10 to 1 just seems more natural than 11 to 1.

So, here’s some criteria.

  • Championships matter (a lot), but they don’t necessarily have the final say.
  • Teams with more highly-regarded (i.e., award-winning) players are at an advantage.
  • Potential for greatness doesn’t matter in hindsight; you are what your record says you were.

Here we go…

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Morning Coffee – Quantum Blend

This past weekend, I decided to give myself a little coding project. With the release of their Quantum project, Mozilla Firefox has migrated away from its old extension format, and as a result, one of my favorite plugins, Morning Coffee, was broken. I wasn’t the only one sad about this, as the comments on could confim.

Well, I could just be unhappy about it…or I could do something. I am a programmer, after all, if not necessarily a Javascript developer by trade. It’s been a while since I had a non-work coding project, so that would be a fun itch to scratch. And hey, it fills a need that at least a few other people have…so why not, right?

So fast-forward past a lot of time spent reading the Mozilla WebExtension documentation and some remedial Javascript education, and the end result is Morning Coffee Quantum! I’m pretty pleased with it. It does most of what the original plugin did (due to the way the new extensions work, it’s not exactly the same), and I even added a feature that I’d always wanted to have in the original. If no one else ever downloads it and uses it, at least I’ve got a working version again, and that’s good enough for me. But if someone else gets some use out of it, even better!

Here’s the extension’s permanent link on this site, if you’re interested.

the best laid plans…

Tomorrow is the Mercedes Marathon. For the second time, I will be running the full marathon (I have run either the half or the full every year since 2012). The first time, if you may recall, did not go as planned. This time, I have approached the race a little differently. I am going with a modified run-walk plan, where I will break the running into roughly five-mile blocks, with 1/4-mile walk breaks. In this, I hope to avoid the dreaded leg cramps that seem to plague me during long races.

I was going into the race hoping that if conditions were favorable, I could come in somewhere around 3:55 or so. Unfortunately, the weather doesn’t seem like it’s going to cooperate. It’s currently unseasonably warm (the high today was over 70 degrees), and tomorrow it’s supposed to rain almost all day, including during the time of the race, while remaining roughly the same temperature. Needless to say, this isn’t optimal for running a marathon.  So I’ve had to check my expectations a little bit.

Given this, here’s my goal list for the race, in order of easiest to most difficult to accomplish:

  1. Finish; have fun; don’t get hurt. This is always my first goal, but it’s even more appropriate for the marathon. The last time I did this, I was so disappointed by the result that I didn’t even think about doing another one until now. I’m hoping for this to be a much better experience.
  2. PR. My personal record for the race, of course, would be my first marathon’s finish time. I don’t remember it down to the second, but I know that it was 4 hours, 23 minutes, and change. So anything under 4:23 is a PR in my book.
  3. Sub-4:10. Even with the higher temperatures and rain, I think that this is certainly doable, provided I don’t cramp too early in the race. Speaking of which…
  4. Run 25+ miles. An optimal race would be four blocks of five miles, four quarter-mile walks, and the fifth block being mile 21 to the finish. That would put me over 25 miles, and assuming a reasonable pace, within striking distance of my A goal…
  5. Sub-4:00. Yes, I’m still holding out hope. If we don’t get pouring rain, and maybe the wind’s not too bad, and it doesn’t get up to 70 but more like 65 instead, I might just be able to sneak in under four hours. That’s asking an awful lot, though.

We’ll see how it all turns out tomorrow! In the meantime, I’m off to try to get some sleep!

National Championship guess

Once more into the breach.

Clemson comes off of the most eye-opening win of the year: a 31-0 demolition of Ohio State that could have been worse. Clemson absolutely throttled the Buckeye offense, and Watson & co. did their usual thing.

Meanwhile, Alabama looked vulnerable on offense against Washington. Despite a 24-7 win, the defense accounted for one of the touchdowns, and the offense couldn’t take advantage of several short fields. Some of that had to do with the Huskies’ defense; some of it had to do with Lane Kiffin’s seeming inability to multitask. Now everyone’s worried that Jalen Hurts can’t throw and Alabama is limited to a playbook consisting of “give it to Bo Scarborough and hope”.

The win against Ohio State was very good, but let’s not go overboard. This is the same Clemson team that lost to Pittsburgh at home and came within a 33-yard kick of losing to NC State at home as well. Those two games were played after wins in which the aggregate score was Clemson 110, opponents 10 – in other words, supposedly when they were flying high. Clemson didn’t become invincible all of a sudden.  No disrespect to either of these teams, but If the Tigers play on Monday night at the level they did against either Pitt or NC State, Alabama will win the title by three scores.

That being said, if Alabama plays on offense the way that they did against Washington, they might need the defense to score more than once to have a chance. Clemson will dare Alabama to throw the ball, especially downfield. Despite Tide fans’ fond memories of deep shots to Ridley, Stewart, and heck, even OJ Howard in last year’s title game, Alabama just hasn’t done that this year. Instead, they’ve been content to stretch the edges in hopes of catching a corner for a big gain in the short term and setting up to grind opponents into dust in the fourth quarter. I’m not sure if that will work against Clemson. I do know that if Bama gets down a couple of scores, they might be treated to a dose of their own medicine as Clemson pins their ears back and rushes Hurts without impunity – and as Clemson has exactly one fewer sack than Alabama this year, that’s not a good sign. One thing in Alabama’s favor is that Clemson can’t really exploit tendencies due to Sark taking over as OC, but that’s obviously countered by the lack of on-field chemistry between he and the players, particularly Hurts.

On the other side of the ball, it’s a fascinating matchup. Clemson torched the Bama D for 40 last year, and that was without a full complement of skill players. Now they’ve got ’em all: Gallman, Williams, Cain, Leggett, Renfrow – and scariest of all, Watson. Any one of them can be a nightmare for Alabama. However, the Tide D has proven to be the stuff of nightmares for many a team this year, especially as they’ve seen crimson-clad defenders celebrating a touchdown. The front seven for Alabama will again be called upon to neutralize the ability of Watson to get the ball to his playmakers. Thus far, they’ve proven to be up to the challenge, but this will be their biggest test of the year.

Ultimately, I think the Tigers are the more complete team, and they have the better quarterback as well. Usually that’s enough to make the choice obvious. But Alabama has a defense that, when on its game, is one of the best of all time. I think that they also have a advantage in special teams, especially at punter. The question is whether one historically elite defense and one statistically good but struggling offense is enough to beat very good to excellent Clemson units.

I don’t think this will be a runaway for either side. I think that the game will be tight mostly throughout, and it may come down to one play. And this is where two big year-long trends come into focus: Deshaun Watson’s penchant for throwing interceptions, and Alabama’s uncanny ability to score touchdowns on the defensive side of the ball. I’ll go so far as to say that if Bama gets one, they win, and if they don’t, Clemson does. At the beginning of the year, I said that I am generally realistic-to-pessimistic regarding Alabama football. The pessimist in me says, “why should Alabama score a defensive touchdown in this game?” The realist looks at the games this year and says, “why wouldn’t they?” So in the battle between head and heart, I’m going to go with the realist. Alabama 23-20. 15-0.

Peach Bowl guess

Continuing the theme of this season, a quick look at the Peach Bowl against Washington:

I think that this will be a closer game than most think. Chris Petersen with a month to prepare is not to be taken lightly. In addition, Washington is going to play like a team with nothing to lose, as most are expecting them to do so in this game.

To me, the difference is the Bama front 7 against Washington’s offensive line. Washington hasn’t seen a team like Alabama up front, and that consistent pressure will wear on them over time and hopefully take away both the run game and the deep passing attack, as they won’t have time to set up for long throws. This will leave them with the short and intermediate routes, and my guess is that Alabama will be able to hold that in check often enough. I don’t expect Alabama to score a lot on offense; I think Washington’s defense is underrated. But Bama might get one on defense or create short fields for the offense if they can pressure Browning into making mistakes. Ultimately, I think it ends up looking a lot like the Washington-USC game from earlier. Bama 24-13. 14-0.

2016 Alabama football season recap and SECC guess

I told you I didn’t tend to overestimate what Alabama teams do. I predicted 10-2 with no SEC Championship berth; the Tide went 12-0 and will obviously be in Atlanta.

The big difference maker was Jalen Hurts stepping in and solidifying the quarterback position as well as he has. There are moments (especially when turnovers happen) when you have to shake your head and say, “he’s still a freshman”, and the downfield passing game isn’t as dangerous as it has been in years past, but he adds a dimension that Alabama opponents have never truly had to face. Combine that with a defense that is outstanding even by Nick Saban-coached teams’ standards, and you have the makings of a perfect regular season. It didn’t hurt that the SEC seems down this year. There aren’t any teams other than Alabama in the conference with less than three losses. While that makes the “anyone can beat anyone” argument hold some water, it damages the conference’s credentials as a whole. Nevertheless, here we are, and most people seem to believe that Alabama, flawed though it still may be, is the best team in the country. Are they? That remains to be seen. First, a date with the Gators.

Florida, as many readers know, is my second team. My wife is a graduate, I met her there, and I got a grad degree there. So this is my favorite pairing possible in the conference title game. Technically, I can’t lose. Of course, I’d prefer Alabama win. And I think that they will. Why? I could probably list many reasons, but I think two will suffice.

One: Alabama is simply the better, more complete team. There are very few weaknesses Alabama has, and those that are there tend not to be very big and are covered over well by the play of the defense as a whole. Florida has a very good defense as well, but the Gators just don’t have the offense to match. Special teams are a slight advantage to Alabama because of JK Scott. If he has a “normal” game, I just don’t see Florida making a lot of long drives for scores against the Tide defense.

Two: Alabama has the better injury situation. Yes, Tide fans would love to have Eddie Jackson in the defensive backfield, and we don’t know the extent of Marlon Humphrey’s leg injury, but Florida may have as many as nine starters out for this game.  Florida State showed what can happen when the Gator backups start wearing down in the late stages of the game, down a couple of scores. Combine that with an Alabama offense that closed out the Iron Bowl by killing nine minutes off the clock in just that situation, and I think it’s heavy advantage Alabama there.

You can’t finish 15-0 unless you get to 13-0. And I think that Alabama will do just that. They may start slowly; Hurts will probably be good for at least one freshman turnover, and the defense might finally let an opponent in their end zone. But in the end, I just don’t think Florida can hang with an Alabama team that is more talented, healthier, and deeper without playing the collective game of their lives. Alabama wins 27-7. 13-0.