Five Plays That Launched Bama’s Dominance and Destroyed the SEC

Take a trip back in time to Monday night, January 9, 2012. The BCS National Championship featured two teams from the same conference for the first time ever. Amid chaos and controversy and cries of injustice from millions of people from at least 39 states, undefeated LSU and only-defeated-by-LSU Alabama went head to head for Part II of the Battle of the FGs.

The issue of Bama playing in the game instead of Oklahoma St. or Stanford may have been worthy of debate but one thing was not: The SEC was King of College Football. There was even a commercial during the BCS Championship that year proclaiming, “You are watching #6,” a reference to this matchup guaranteeing a sixth consecutive national championship for the conference. Alabama would defeat Notre Dame the following year for #7 before the streak ended.

And back then it was not just one team carrying the others:

  • From 2006 to 2012, four different SEC schools won the national championship.
  • From 2011 to 2013, the SEC had three of the Top 5 teams in a final poll every year and at least four of the Top 10 every year, with the conference claiming five of the Top 10 in 2012.
  • In recent history the SEC has had the Top 2 final teams in the Final polls twice (2007, 2011) and two of the Top 3 on two other occasions (2006, 2009).
  • Half the teams in the conference finished in the Top 5 from 2011 to 2013.

But then it all changed. One team stayed atop the college football world. But for the other 13, in the words of Newman, it all came crashing down. Consider the following:

  • SEC teams not named Alabama had ten Top 10 finishes from 2011 to 2013 but had only two from 2014 to 2016.
  • Teams not named Alabama had six Top 5 finishes from 2011 to 2013. From 2014 to 2016 they had zero.
  • No SEC team repeated as Conference Champ from 1998 to 2014. From 2014 to 2016, Alabama won three in a row, by an average of 28 points per game.
  • After eight years of several teams winning the championship, zero teams other than Bama even made it to the playoffs from 2014 to 2016.

Georgia finally ended some of that this year but guess who is right there with them?

How did it happen? The reasons are legion, from recruiting failures to coaching hires. But today I want to laser focus on a handful of plays in actual games. Not just any plays. These plays were plays that were bad breaks for the other team or plays that could have and should have been made that were crucial to changing the result. Understand this is not an article to proclaim that Bama is lucky. Breaks and missed chances are a huge part of sports.  New England in the NFL is one play in each of their seven Super Bowls away from being 1-6 or 7-0. This is an article about how fascinating that line is. Yet for each play where Bama was fortunate, there are surely some where they were not.

But here are 5 that facilitated their dominance and simultaneously killed the rest of the SEC:

 

The Game: 2011 #2 Oklahoma St. vs. Iowa St.

The Play: Oklahoma St. misses a 37 yard FG that would have given them the lead with a minute to go.

The Factual Aftermath: OSU lost in Overtime and didn’t finish in the Top 2 in the BCS at the end of the regular season. Alabama played LSU instead in the National Championship and manhandled them, 21-0.

The Alternate Reality: LSU destroys the Cowboys, giving them two championships in five years. Bama is left with one National Championship in Saban’s first five seasons. Recruiting changes. Les Miles doesn’t get fired. LSU is much more competitive six years later instead of losing seven straight to Bama and at home to Troy in 2017.

 

The Game: 2012 Alabama vs. LSU

The Play: With 8:41 left in the 4th, Spencer Ware of LSU is stuffed on a 4th and 1 from Alabama’s 24-yard line.

The Factual Aftermath: I could take any one of about five 50/50 risks by Les Miles in this game that backfired, and spin them on a wheel to pick the one for this article. The Mad Hatter had built a reputation for outrageous gambits and eating grass, but on this night he just ended up looking like a doofus. LSU won the yardage battle easily, the time of possession AND won the turnover battle. And still lost. Because of a slew of missed FGs and 4th downs. A conversion here could have scored a TD for LSU and put Bama in a hole that they may not have escaped. As it was, the Tide scored at the end and Death Valley was a place where LSU’s dreams came to die. Alabama won the SEC and steamrolled Notre Dame for back-to-back championships and three in four years.

The Alternate Reality: LSU wins the West and plays Georgia for the SEC championship. One of those two teams goes on to curb stomp Notre Dame. The SEC streak extends with no team winning more than 2 championships during the run and Saban has two National Championships in 6 years, but only one SEC. Recruiting changes. Les Miles doesn’t get fired and moves on to trying to eat field marking paint.

 

The Game: 2012 Alabama vs. Georgia (SEC Championship Game) 

The Play: With 9 seconds left and Georgia eight yards from scoring to win as the time ran out, Aaron Murray’s end zone pass was deflected into Chris Conley’s arms, who was tackled instead. 

The Factual Aftermath: Alabama won the SEC, National Championship, etc. Georgia missed its best chance in 32 years to win the whole thing and continued to be mired as a good-but-not-great team until Mark Ritch was fired in 2015.

The Alternate Reality: Georgia annihilates Notre Dame. The SEC championships are spread out over five teams in the run, Georgia takes a step up in recruiting, and keeps winning at a higher level than before 2012. Mark Ritch is still employed by Georgia. The Gamecocks get Kirby Smart in 2015 and eventually win nine National Championships before I die.

 

The Game: 2014 Alabama vs. Mississippi State

The Play: Down 19-0 late in the first half with the ball first and goal at the Alabama half-yard line, #1 MSU suffers a false start to move it back to the 5. 

The Factual Aftermath: They settled for a FG. The Bulldogs eventually lost 25-20 as Dak Prescott threw three interceptions, all inside Alabama’s 25-yard line. Alabama won the SEC again, their 3rd in six years and Mississippi St missed the SEC Championship, the playoffs and lost their bowl game in embarrassing fashion to Georgia Tech.

The Alternate Reality: Mississippi State scores a TD on the play. They don’t settle for a FG their next drive either and pull the game out in the fourth. They go on to play for the SEC, defeat Missouri and become the first SEC team in the four-team playoff. They still lose to Ohio St but they build on this with better recruiting and do not fall immediately back to the middle of the SEC. Dan Mullen doesn’t leave for Florida in 2017. Instead of dropping to the 4th round in the 2016 NFL Draft, Prescott is drafted by the Jets in the 2nd round and no one still has any idea how good he is because the Jets are a dumpster fire.

 

The Game: 2015 Arkansas vs. Ole Miss

The Play: In Overtime, on 4th and 25 from Ole Miss’s 40-yard line, down 52-45, Arkansas receiver Hunter Henry catches a simple pass and while being tackled laterals it over his head 15 yards backward. Arkansas RB Alex Collins retrieves it and navigates substantial traffic 31 yards to miraculously get the first down and keep the game alive.

The Factual Aftermath: Arkansas scored, went for two and got it and won the game. Ole Miss lost its shot at the SEC West title, having owned the tie-breaker over Alabama from their head-to-head victory in September. Alabama won the SEC and yet another National Championship under Saban, their fourth in 7 years.

The Alternate Reality: Alabama doesn’t win the West or SEC. The committee makes one of their most controversial decisions ever, taking Iowa as the fourth playoff team over Alabama. They cite a better loss (to playoff bound Michigan St instead of to Ole Miss who also lost to Memphis) and general strength of schedule (the SEC was terrible pre-bowls). Alabama still has zero national championships since 2012 and dynasty talk and “Saban as GOAT” talk are diminished. Ole Miss wins the SEC over Florida, but still gets manhandled by the NCAA for grotesque cheating that elicits comparisons to Sammy Sosa before Congress. Shea Pattersons still leaves for Michigan. Mississippi State fans still laugh hysterically at them burning a redshirt to play him three games in 2016.

 

The success of Auburn and Georgia this year may mean things are beginning to change for the SEC and Alabama, but if Georgia is one-and-done and Alabama wins it all, then the conference actual reality continues and the fact Georgia won the SEC while Alabama didn’t will matter about as much as it did for LSU in 2011. Which is very little.

Comment are welcomed below!

 

 

 




It’s Past Time to Pay College Athletes

No intro today. Let’s get right to this. Here are five reasons why it is ludicrous that we are not paying college athletes in 2017.

 

1. Three Words: Fair Market Value

This idea was presented to me by friend and professional financial advisor, Chris Wright, when I used to argue against college athletes being paid. The concept is simple: Fair market value says a seller and a buyer come to an agreement on price based on what is reasonable in an open market. There is a reason that the NBA will always bring in tons of more money than soccer or the WNBA in the US: People are willing to pay more to watch it.

The NCAA has a $10 billion TV contract for the basketball tournament and $500 million for the football playoffs. Many athletic departments in the NCAA bring in nine digits a year. People are getting rich off of this. Very rich. But not the players. In 2013, when my dad bought tickets to take my three brothers and me to Florida for the Outback Bowl, we paid a lot of money to watch Jadeaveon Clowney knock a guy’s heltmet off and Steve Spurrier go for the TD bomb with 30 seconds left. Yet one man got a big check for that game while the other got no compensation from our expenses.

 

2. Scholarships are not the same thing as salary

The obvious retort is that they get scholarships: an average of $100,000 over four years at a D1 school, I have read. Yet this rejoinder is faulty for at least two reasons. First, because fair market value says some players in the big money sports deserve much more than that. At least one source says that the projected fair market value of the average college football player was $178,000 per year from 2011 to 2015, while the average college basketball player for the same time was $375,000. That is the average. A quarterback like Johnny Manziel would have been worth much more, with Texas A&M being a huge revenue school.

Secondly, the scholarships cover things like tuition, books and fees. They are not truly paid to play. And at times, the scholarships aren’t enough to live reasonably. At the end of the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game, UConn’s Shabazz Napier took advantage of being in front of a microphone on CBS to tell the world, “We go to bed hungry at night.” I was so unaware of what he really meant that at first I thought he was speaking figuratively, as in, “We go to bed hungry for a championship every night.” No, he was being literal. How fair is it that a player who brings in far more money for his school than an average student on academic scholarship, should ever have too little money to eat because of NCAA rules?

Like it or not, capitalism rules the US. It’s time to pay these athletes what they are worth.

 

3. The NCAA is a complete and utter dumpster fire

You may remember a few years ago when six Ohio St. football players were caught selling athletic equipment, rings and similar things for cash and tattoos (which was illegal but were things they owned…think about that for a second), and the NCAA banned them for five games the next year. But they let them play in the bowl game vs. Arkansas. The reason they were allowed to play the bowl was because they didn’t fully understand what they were doing was wrong. What?

Then you have the incredible story of Charleston Southern having to suspend 32 players for a game vs. Florida State in 2016 because they used extra money from their book allowance to buy school supplies.

Or how about the story of how Lane Kiffen at Tennessee allegedly sent attractive hostesses to high school games in South Carolina to get recruits to come? Marcus Lattimore, one of the finest young men of Christian integrity to ever play football in the state of SC said, “I haven’t seen (any) other schools do that. It’s crazy.” And did the NCAA ever find anything of substance to pin on UT? Nope.

Welcome to the NCAA, the worst run, most corrupt and hypocritical sports organization in America.

The NCAA once made Todd Gurley do community service for selling his autograph in addition to suspending him, as though he were some kind of criminal in need of rehabilitation. The NCAA suspended Enes Kanter for life for money he made as a professional overseas that he never touched and was willing to give back. The NCAA sometimes suspends people 5 games for selling things and sometimes 0.5. There is no rhyme, reason or consistency to most of it.

There really is a simple way to stop the madness. Pay the players. Let the people give them however much money they want to.

 

4. Even if the NCAA were virtuous, they could never fairly monitor recruiting.

Did you hear former Texas Longhorns QB Chris Simms mention recently that he used to get “$100 handshakes” from boosters? Who out there doesn’t think this happens all the time? Who out there doesn’t think every major program is cheating in ways that will always be ahead of the NCAA?

If you pay the players there is no need for any tables to hand money under.

 

5. It’s time to abandon the pretense of the ideal student-athlete 

Some sports will never have a minor leagues and that is essentially what college becomes. That could be a good thing. Pay them to play and if they want to get an education because they cannot go to the next level, they still can. The “one and done” culture of college basketball is a travesty and an overreach by the NBA. Many freshmen know they don’t have to go to class in the spring if they are leaving. Paying them gives them purpose and could even convince some athletes to stay in school longer and make college sports even better.

I don’t buy that it is a bad idea to give new adults money because they cannot handle it. We do it in so many sports anyway: Tennis, minor league baseball, one and done basketball, etc. Money could mess up some 18 and 19-year olds, but it stands to do far more good than harm.

 

I don’t have a great plan for how to make paying athletes work as far as specifics, but some people do. I do not think it will ever happen because the NCAA is so powerful. But it should happen. Otherwise the NCAA will continue to deal with injustice and corruption on a massive scale. As long as they hold the power and wealth, I do not think they care. And that is a shame. The players and the fans deserve better.

 

 

 

 

 

 




Championship Game Preview: Can ’16 Alabama be the Greatest Team of The Modern Era?

In a mirror image of last year’s epic championship game, undefeated and #1 Alabama takes on #2 and one-loss Clemson tonight.  Several people, among them REO Contributor Mike Lytle, have confessed to me they are pulling for Clemson because Alabama has won far too much.  This has been my reaction (minus the commandment breaking):

 

 

It’s Like Goliath vs. Jezebel 

I confess I have Bama fatigue due to their success and they are among the last teams I’d like to see win it.  But if Alabama induces weariness in my sports fandom, Clemson winning would induce war crime-level torture.  

Yet I cannot deny that Clemson likely stands a better chance this year than last, in which they were a play or two away.  They have everything Alabama does: 3-deep roster talent, exceptional coordinator coaching, unshakeable confidence.  If quarterback is the most important position in football, and it is, then they have a decided advantage over the Tide. If D-line is the second most important position in college football, and it is, then Clemson isn’t losing ground there either (as I wrote last year, and it’s still true). They won’t get intimidated or pushed around and the Tiger offense likely will not get rattled into a turnover that leads to a TD the other way, as other teams have 11 times this year vs. Bama[1. Someone may point out that Watson threw 15 picks this year but they were not really the kind Bama is used to getting.  Only 1 was returned for a TD and there was no pressure on that play.  The vast majority of his ints were bad reads or tipped balls, not throws made because he was pressured.].  

As a Gamecock, I’m terrified.  

I wasn’t too worried before the Ohio St. game.  Clemson blew out several teams this year, including mine, but had so many close calls that I figured they were just a step behind last year.  They gave up 43 to Pitt, 36 to Louisville, 34 to FSU, 35 to Va Tech and needed N.C. St to miss a short FG to pull that one out in overtime.

 

The Opposite of a Late Season Collapse 

How did this team not only dismantle Ohio St. but also shut them out?  I could discuss Xs and Os all day (Ohio St. could not throw it downfield as well as the teams that put 34+ on Clemson, which is also not what Bama does well) but sometimes sports that involve 18 to 21 year olds are more complex than typical analysis.

Personally, I believe Clemson is better than last year and suffered a tad from last year’s hangover and did just well enough to get back to the playoff and now they are turning it on.  They beat us about as badly as you can beat a team, they raced out to a huge lead the following week vs. VT and swatted them away when they needed to at the end (just as they did with Louisville and Florida St.) And most impressive of all they then rolled one of the most consistent teams in college football in the semifinal.  

It’s scary.

Clemson has a lot to play for…their first championship since 1981 and second ever, a chance to truly join college football royalty, and a chance for their end of year result to match the swagger that Dabo has modeled and instilled over 8 years now.  And for everyone else…a chance to at least put a dent in the Bama dominance.  They have the tools for sure.

 

If Bama wins, can we complain about UConn Women’s Basketball? 

On the other side, Bama has nearly as much to play for: 5 undisputed championships in 8 years which hasn’t been done in the poll era, and (in my humble opinion) a chance for the 2016 version to enter the argument for greatest college team of my lifetime, the modern era[1. I do not think it’s fair for me to try to compare modern teams to teams I never saw play.  Facts and stats are great, but the eye test is something. So I’m talking about since I began watching college football and the first championship I remember is Oklahoma winning in 1985.].  They had two close games this year: one vs. Ole Miss which was not as close as the final indicated.  They got down 24-3 and then destroyed the Rebels for the next two and a half quarters 45-6 before Ole Miss tagged on a couple of meaningless TDs.  They also beat LSU in Baton Rouge by “only” 10 points.  And I watched that game start to finish and doubt LSU could have scored if they played 8 quarters so that game never really felt like Alabama was going to lose.

Other than that, they really weren’t even threatened slightly.  They are as imposing a defense, I think, since their 1992 version which may be the greatest ever. I don’t trust Hurts, Scarborough and Harris like I trusted Coker and Derrick Henry.  Hurts is not a substandard passer by any means (22 TDs and 2600+ yards), though, and considering how Coker got batted around like a pin ball last year it may be better to have a better running QB vs. a team that gets pressure like Clemson’s.  Plus, Bama always seems to just find a way to score, to win.  It’s an intangible for sure and it goes team wide.  Some Bama fans were sweating when they got down three TDs to Ole Miss.  I turned to my wife and said, “I bet they win by 14”.  

And in my opinion, should they win tonight becoming the first ever 15-0 team at this level of football and winning every game but one by 10+ (tonight’s result pending), they would be one of the ten best teams ever.  

I will wait to see if they win before ranking them but as of right now I would say the following ten teams are the best of this era, in no particular order:

1995 Nebraska

2001 Miami

2004 Southern Cal

1992 Alabama

2010 Auburn

2005 Texas

1996 Florida

1991 Washington

2013 Florida St.

1988 Notre Dame

 

So if Alabama wins I will add them where I think they belong on the list, and produce a new article later this week with the Top 10 ranked in order (including 2016 Bama) and comments about each one.

If Clemson wins, I will jerk my TV from the wall, throw it out the window, rend my garments, pull out my beard, fast and weep violently into my wife’s arms and probably disappear for 6 months.

 

So this is how it’s going to go…

So how will it go tonight?  I will give some random predictions for the game and a prediction for the final score:

  • Alabama will NOT score on special teams or defense tonight.
  • If Clemson turns it over once or less, they win; twice or more and they lose
  • Watson runs for more yards than Hurts
  • Hurts throws for more yards than his season aveage because they are behind in the second half.
  • Watson has less total yards but less turnovers than last year, plays an overall better game and wins MVP
  • Dabo wears a K-Mart sweatshirt.  

 

I’m guessing it won’t be as fun as last year, it will be more low scoring but it will be a cleaner, more professional looking game.  Clemson will be by far the most explosive team Bama has faced this year.  The SEC is down.  Taking out defense and special teams TDs, Bama only averaged 28 PPG game this year, which feels low.  So I’ll go out on a limb and say Clemson doesn’t turn it over and pulls the (sort of) upset: 

CLEMSON 27, ALABAMA 17

 

See y’all in six months.

 

 

 




College Football is Back! And Even Gamecocks Are Excited…

I do love the NFL.  I really do.  It’s the 1B to College Football’s 1A in my favorite sports.

But I bleed college football.  It’s part of growing up in a state where all you have are two extremely large universities with abnormally rabid fan bases.  In South Carolina, you are USC or CU.  You’re a Tiger or you’re a Gamecock.  You’re Carolina or Clemson and if you claim to be both, you’re irrelevant.  In 1998, the teams were 1-9 and 2-8 going into the game against each other.  And 82,000 people packed a sold out stadium.  I’m pretty sure both schools were in the Top 5 that year in revenue generated also.  It’s larger than life.

My Gamecocks went 3-9 last year and lost to the Citadel.  Yet, hope springs eternal.  It’s because college football is special from an eternal hope standpoint.  Here’s why:

1. In college football, you can turn it around super quickly.

In 2012, Auburn went 3-9 and didn’t win an SEC game.  In 2013, they won the SEC and came within 30 seconds of winning it all.  In 2013, Florida lost to Georgia Southern.  Two years later, they won the SEC East.

Look, I get it that USC isn’t Auburn or Florida.  But these turnarounds give me hope that I don’t have to settle for another 3 or 4-win season (which was our first losing season since 2003).  In very recent SEC history, Vanderbilt–Vanderbilt!!!!–won 9 games in back-to-back seasons. And we are way above them.  Even my own program less than 20 years ago went from 0-11 to 8-4 in one season.  I believe this year will be special until the results prove otherwise.

2. Because College football is outrageously wild and unpredictable. 

Last year in week 7, this happened:

 

The following week, this happened[1. “What a time to be alive!”]:

 

The very next week, in Week 9, this happened (which the ACC says should not have counted):

 

And then, the very next week, as if they knew they had to top them all to be the mother of all crazy finishes, Arkansas pulled a lateral on a 4th and 25 to keep the game vs. Ole Miss alive, a play you have to see to believe:[2. Unseen on this video is that Arkansas also got a break when Ole Miss seemingly ended the threat and the game but did so by pulling the Arkansas QB’s face mask, giving Arkansas another chance.  And with apologies to my Razorback fan friends, I hate it that a win that really didn’t help their season in any meaningful way helped Bama win back to back SEC Championships.  The world needed Ole Miss to win.  Yet, the play is everything great about College Football.]

 

And that result ended up being crucial, since it knocked Ole Miss out of the SEC Championship and let Alabama go instead.  Would Alabama have made the playoff without an SEC Championship?  I don’t know.

Of course, maybe that isn’t the mother of all crazy finishes, since Auburn had two in 2013 that topped it, at least for significance, the first one being this…[3. The best part of this video is the reaction of Georgia QB Aaron Murray.  I hated that guy.]:

 

…one week before beating Alabama on this play (in case you have not see it a a gajillion times)[4. The Auburn radio edit is the best version of this, but please forgive the multiple uses of God’s name in vain.]:

 

But beyond the crazy plays, you never know what will happen in college football week to week.  This is the sport that gave us Appalachian St over Michigan in 2007.  And James Madison over ACC Champ Virginia Tech in 2010.  The sport that gave us #2 Southern Cal losing the last weekend in 2006 to UCLA (a team it beat 50-0 the year prior) to knock them from the National title chase and give Florida a chance, kicking off the SEC reign of terror.  This sport gave us the #1 and #2 teams both losing the last weekend in 2007, shaking up the title picture so badly we got a 2-loss champion.  That sport that gave us #2 Oklahoma St., #4 Oregon and #5 Oklahoma all losing in Week 12 in 2011, opening the door for an all-SEC Championship game[4. This is why we have a playoff now.  There is zero doubt in my mind.].  It gave us #1 Kansas St. and #2 Oregon both losing in Week 12 in 2012, opening the door for Alabama to sneak into the National Championship, violate Notre Dame and give the SEC 7 in a row.  Keep in mind this is all from the last ten seasons of College Football and going back further in history would give us even more chill bumps.

We needed a playoff for justice, but not for excitement.

3. Because the rivalries make it fun just about every week. 

Even though we were terrible last year, our season was nearly saved by upsetting eventual championship contender and undefeated hated rival Clemson in the last game.  And even without a National Championship in the last 10 years, beating Clemson 5 times in a row from 09-13 brought all Gamecocks joy that may not even be matched by a championship.

But even beyond our fiercest rival, college football regularly gives rivarlies and moments that live on in infamy.  Most sports fans know that Jadaveon Clowney knocked this guy’s head off three years ago…

 

…but true Gamecocks will remember with more fondness Clowney doing this as a freshman in his second game…[5.  Aaron Murray!  HA HA HA HA!!!!!  You see Clowny in your nightmares to this day!!  You and Tajh Boyd!!!  YOU KNOW IT!  ADMIT IT!!!! ]:

 

…because it clinched a huge road win vs. the Bulldogs in 2011.  And make no mistake, after Clemson, we HATE Georgia.  Older Gamecocks like me will remember beating Georgia on the road in 1993 when legend Steve Taneyhill called “Same play! Same play!” after Brandon Bennett got stuffed at the goal line with 20 seconds left and no time outs, leading to this:

 

Another classic 23-21 road victory over our SEC East rival. These games matter because beating Georgia matters.  Every year.  No matter how the rest of the year goes.

If you want to know who will contend for the National Championship (outside of the obvious repeat picks of Clemson and Alabama), there are reams of internet sites and magazines.  If you want a Top 10 list, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  I stink at predicting and no one really knows.  I am sure tons had Bama pegged as Champion last year, but who foresaw a loss to Ole Miss, then Ole Miss losing to Arkansas on a fluke for it to happen?[7. Alabama fans may want me to point out that, while not the end of the game, Ole Miss had a huge luck play work out for them on a ricocheted pass in their win vs. Alabama.  And that mattered in a 43-37 final.  That play wasn’t nearly as lucky as Arkansas’ 4th and 25 though.]   I can’t tell you what’s going to happen.  But I can tell you why it matters.  And why it’s fun.  And why people like me get super giddy for college football.   It’s the perfect storm of craziness, hype, rivalry hatred and unpredictabitly. And in places like South Carolina, it’s all they have for most of the sports calendar.  On Saturdays in the Fall, nothing else is needed.