Friday, March 2, 2007

A little optimistic, aren't we?

The Tuscaloosa News ran a poll on Thursday asking, "How long will it take Nick Saban to win a national championship at Alabama?" 4.7% of respondents said "Next year". Almost 60% answered either "Next year", "Two Years", or "Three years".

I generally like Bama fans, and I will say that Bama looks like they are going to be better next year than they were this year (which is a post for another day). I think Bama fans are, in general, pretty knowledgeable about football and usually have pretty realistic expectations of their team's abilities. I tend to think that Bama fans have a bit of an inflated sense of where they SHOULD be in the football world, but I find that typical Bama fans are usually quite reasonable and articulate about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the team they are currently putting on the field.

That said, I think this whole Nick Saban thing has everybody going a little crazy (including LSU fans, but that's a post for another day too). This poll is Exhibit A. I will admit that it is certainly POSSIBLE that Bama will win a National Championship in the next few years. I think you have to be wearing crimson-colored glasses to think it is LIKELY, though.

I don't think people realize how HARD it is to win a National Championship. As Auburn found out in 2004, you can sometimes do everything right, take care of all your business on the field, and still not even be given a chance. LSU's 2003 year was another case in point. We had a suffocating, smothering defense and an offense that put up 30 points per game. We lost to Florida at home (only game I attended that year) and ended up as one of 3 one-loss teams. We had a terrific team, with talent at every position. Almost every starter on the defense ended up in the NFL, as did most of the starters on offense. We ended the Heisman-hopes of at least two players (David Greene and Eli Manning) that year with suffocating press coverage and crazy blitzing.

Even so, if one or two plays had gone differently, we would not have been among the one-loss teams. I'm thinking in particular about the 4th and 10 play against Ole Miss where Eli Manning
tripped over his lineman's foot. If Manning kept his feet, we might have lost that game. Another play like that was where Skyler Green, having missed an audible, noticed his quarterback under pressure and simply improvised a streak to the end zone, catching a huge touchdown pass. The play was at least as lucky as it was good, and if we hadn't gotten it, we probably would have lost.

Not only could one or two plays have kept us out of the ranks of the once-beatens that year, any number of scenarios could have put USC in the championship game and left LSU out. I think I read that it came down to a game between Hawaii and some other weak team. If Hawaii won, USC would have went to the championship game. Because Hawaii lost, we went to it and USC went to the Rose Bowl. We had a great team. We needed luck to get a shot.

USC also had a great team. They had Reggie bush as a freshman, and sophomore Matt Leinart. They had bad luck, and they missed out.

If the question is when will Bama most likely win a National Championship, I think the answer has to be "not for a long time, if ever." I think that has to be the answer for all or almost all SEC teams, including LSU. Too much luck is involved in determining a National Championship. If the question is, "When will Bama be good enough to have a chance of winning the National Championship?" that becomes a much more interesting question, much more amenable to actual analysis. I think it's safe to say that next year is not the year, but beyond? Well, I'll go out on a limb and say that it probably won't be the 2008 season either, but it could happen beyond that, if Saban is able to accomplish certain things.

First things first, he has to not just close the recruiting gap with Auburn; he has to open up his own gap on them. I don't think it's certain that will ever happen, but it remains to be seen. No one wins consistently without recruiting "lights-out". Right now, Alabama isn't doing that. Keep an eye on Bama's recruiting for next year and see what happens.

Saban is a good coach, but more than once I have seen talk in the local media here about the talent Saban is inheriting here, and how it is better than the talent Saban inherited in Baton Rouge. Not so. Here is a brief and incomplete list of the players on LSU's 2000 roster, the team Nick Saban inherited, who went on the play in the NFL: Josh Booty, Rohan Davey, Craig Nall, Dominick Davis, Josh Reed, Devery Henderson, LeBrandon Toefield, Robert Royal, Fred Booker, Ryan Clark, Bradie James, Howard Green, Jarvis Green, Kenderick Allen, Chad Lavalais (OK, Saban recruited him), Eric Alexander, and Randall Gay. That doesn't include the offensive linemen, whose names wouldn't show up on the stat sheet I looked at to compile this list.

That gives you a flavor of what Saban had to build on. I don't think he's there at Bama yet. Not all of those guys spent a lot of time in the NFL, but some of them have been very successful there. The list included three quarterbacks, two running backs, two wide receivers, and a lot of defensive players as well. What did Saban do with that roster? He went 8-4 and won the Peach Bowl. He also lost to UAB.

1 comment:


Very rarely does a team win a NC without good luck. But players expecting to win one very much helps. Fans can influence that.