Category Archives: sports

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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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.

2016 Alabama football season guess

I would say “prognostication” or something more grandiose, but let’s face it.  My thoughts are really nothing more than a wet finger in the air based on a certain amount of knowledge, but quite a bit of luck as well.  It probably should be said that when it comes to Alabama football, I generally fall somewhere between realist and pessimist.  I don’t tend to overestimate what Tide teams do.  In fact, I wouldn’t have picked three of our teams to win the national title in the last seven years (the exception was 2012, if you’re interested; I, like almost seemingly everyone else, thought Ohio State would win it last year).  But I thought it might be interesting to have this post for posterity once the season concludes and to see how close I came.  So here’s a quick game-by-game breakdown of the season.

USC (at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas): since 2008, in season openers on neutral sites, Alabama has played Clemson, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Virginia Tech again, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.  None of them have come within single digits of beating Alabama. Nick Saban is one of the absolute best in the business at preparing his team for the first game.  USC has a lot of talent – they are finally back to a full complement of scholarships, and they get top-flight athletes – but they also have a first-year head coach, and Alabama still wins on depth and overall talent.  I think this one will be close for a while, but Alabama pulls away a little in the fourth. 1-0.

Western Kentucky: trap game.  An opportunity for revenge against the Rebels is next, and it would be easy to overlook this team.  I’m not saying Alabama will lose.  I’m saying it will be closer than you think for a while. The Hilltoppers are a really good team, and it might be here that we start seeing some of the cracks that concern me for Alabama’s long-term prospects this year. Nevertheless, the Tide gets it done here. 2-0.

@ Ole Miss: here’s the thing. Alabama lost a lot of talent last year.  That happens every year; Saban has shown that he can reload. Ole Miss lost a lot of top-tier talent last year. They haven’t shown that they can reload yet. They have the better quarterback and the game is in Oxford; those are the only reasons that this one worries me. Alabama will be out for blood in this one, and I think they finally figure out the Rebels. 3-0.

Kent State: no discussion necessary, right? 4-0.

Kentucky: Kentucky is improving, but they’re not they’re yet. They’ll keep it close for a little while, but I’m thinking it’ll be a happy homecoming. 5-0.

@ Arkansas: this game scares the stew out of me. Arkansas has found its identity under Bielema. The game is in Fayetteville, and the Razorbacks gave Alabama everything they wanted and then some two years ago at Razorback Stadium. I was at that game, and I remember asking as we left the stadium, “how did Alabama win that game?” Arkansas didn’t know how to finish then. They do now. If this game stays close, Arkansas has shown they can find a way to win late. I’ll pick Alabama here, but if the quarterback situation hasn’t gelled by now, this game might very well be a loss. 6-0.

@ Tennessee: here it is: the game Butch Jones has worked up to since he arrived in Knoxville. The Volunteers have improved every year since he arrived, their recruiting has stepped up, their confidence is higher than it’s been in years. This is the time. If they don’t make the leap, it might not happen. I think they’ll have gotten the Florida monkey off of their back already. This is the last game of a really tough stretch, but if they’re undefeated going into this game, they’ll be playing for Atlanta.  There’s no one else on the schedule that can touch them.  And I hate to say it, but I think this is the year they get the Alabama monkey off of their back as well. A close, close, close game, but I think the Vols win it. 6-1.

Texas A&M: Trevor Knight is a familiar name to Bama fans, and he can put up points. If the Tennessee game goes as I expect it, the Tide will be down. But I am not picking against Alabama at home against a team that hasn’t yet proven it can consistently stop opposing offenses. 7-1.

@ LSU: the Tigers will be the toughest team Bama’s faced yet. Leonard Fournette might have a passing offense to go with him this year, and their defense will be salty as ever. I think LSU will be undefeated going into this game, and sadly, I think they’ll be undefeated coming out of it as well.  It’ll be close, but I think Fournette is the difference this year. 7-2.

Mississippi State: State could barely score against Alabama at home with the best quarterback in their history. They won’t beat them on the road with a first-year starter. 8-2.

Chattanooga: best case scenario – starters out by halftime, no injuries. Worst-case scenario: still a win. 9-2.

Auburn: always a difficult game to predict for me (pessimism, remember); I’ll attempt to be realistic. Alabama should be the better team, and the better team generally wins this game. The game is at Bryant-Denny, which means no weird Jordan-Hare zaniness that always seems to benefit the Tigers. In the past two years, Alabama has shown they can both beat Auburn in a shootout and simply overpower them. I’m not sure which one this will be, but I think Bama gets it done for a third Iron Bowl win in a row. 10-2.

SEC Championship: sadly, Alabama won’t make it. LSU will be the Western Division champ.

Bowl Game: either the Outback Bowl or the Texas Bowl.

So there you go; my best guess at how it all turns out. 10-2 is a great season most places, but Alabama isn’t most places. The scary thing to me is the parallels I’m already starting to see to 2010, a season that saw a Bama team loaded with talent underachieve in a season after winning a national title.  There are definitely a couple more loseable games in this schedule, so if the wheels fall off, the final record could be worse. Here’s hoping it’s a season more like 2012, where an Alabama team coming off of a national championship established its own identity and did it all over again.

Tennessee’s not on my side

In honor of today’s “Third Saturday in October” game with the Vols, and (admittedly) one of my favorite current commercials starring their most famous football player, a set of jingles. Bet you he wouldn’t sing these!

  • Tennessee can’t play football
  • Throw-up-in-a-pumpkin orange
  • Neyland is a sardine can
  • Get another fight song, please
  • Smokey is an ugly hound
  • I hate Rocky Top so much
  • Bama’s beat ’em seven straight
  • Soon enough it will be eight

post-sbxlii notes

One of the better Super Bowls I’ve seen. Much more of a defensive struggle than most. But it had some great plays, too (Eli Manning’s Houdini act and Tyree’s circus catch has to go down as one of the greatest plays in the history of the Super Bowl). Pretty entertaining to watch.

I felt a little bad for the Patriots. We might never see an NFL team go undefeated again. This was about as close to that as we might ever get. It’s a shame they couldn’t complete the journey tonight, but give the Giants (especially their defense) credit. I know Manning got MVP, but I would have given it to one of the Giants’ DL. Just about any of them deserved it. They made the Patriot OL look ridiculous, and this was a unit that had performed, as a group, about as flawlessly as could be asked.

It was a lot of fun to watch in glorious HD. Makes me look forward to being able to do it on our own set one of these days.

Oh, and my favorite commercial? Probably the two E-Trade baby ones. But on the whole I was pretty disappointed by the commercials.

a shock coming from me

With everything else that’s going on in my life right now, I just can’t find the desire to watch tonight’s championship game.

Or maybe that’s because a team that I support isn’t in it this time. It’s been so long since that was the case… 😉

out of adjectives

Well, I’m not sure what to say. I don’t even know where to start. How do you comment on the one of the greatest streaks in college sports history?

In January 1993, Alabama won the national title in football. I was only 15, and I thought the Tide would be great for years to come. We see where that’s gone. The lesson learned was that you have to enjoy the moments when they come…you never know if you’ll experience them again.

Now, I’m enjoying a third national title in one year. If you’re a Gator fan (or any other college’s fan), you just couldn’t ask for anything more…can you? And you certainly can’t expect it to keep going on like this. So I’ll enjoy it, again knowing that the 2nd-best result I could have hoped for happened.

Now if we can just get Alabama back into the national picture…