Last Saturday, I was watching the most epic collapse of the college football world in recent history with my pal @RBRTodd, the incredibly famous writer from our friends (yes, I said friends) at Roll 'Bama Roll. And we went real talk, gang. And I think the 30 seconds of real talk we shared pretty much sums up everything you need to know about why we all do the things we do in autumn. "Real talk, Toddster, after seeing what happened tonight, surely you realize why everyone in America that is not an Alabama fan hates Alabama, right?" I inquired. "Yes. Real talk: do you see why we don't care?" he replied.
Since taking over as athletic director of the University of Alabama in 1999, Mal Moore has grown accustomed watching the Crimson Tide pile up the national championships. In all his time around Alabama football, Moore has been a part of nine national championships as a player, coach and athletic director, but he’s also watched the school’s entire athletics program join in on the trend including the recent national titles in women’s golf, softball, gymnastics and football. “Last year, we won four national championships, and that’s the first time in the history at Alabama that we did that,” Moore said. “No question, it’s a very exciting and a very proud time for all of us. And I think we were the only Division I university to do that and that’s quite an accomplishment.”
Welcome to one of the great mismatches in Iron Bowl history. In the modern era, the gap between Alabama and Auburn has never been as wide as it is this year. "This year?" former Auburn coach Pat Dye shot back. "It was a pretty big gap last year (when Alabama beat Auburn 42-14). It is what it is. Their team has continued to be what it is. Ours has gone backward."
SPECIAL TEAMS For Auburn to have any chance to pull the biggest upset in Iron Bowl history, this is where it has to happen. Onterio McCalebb may be limited as an offensive threat, but he may be the best open-field runner in the country. If he played for Oregon, he would be in the Heisman Trophy discussion. Alabama has shown some weakness in covering kicks and punts. Both teams have solid kickers and punters. Advantage: Auburn
Saturday is Senior Day. Saban was asked to talk about this group of seniors: He noted how many first-round draft picks there already have been from this group and how many more there could be. "This has been a phenomenal class that has contributed in a really, really positive way to the success of the program. These guys came to Alabama ... when we weren't any good. We went 7-6 our first year, barely won a bowl game over Colorado, and these guys made a commitment to come to school here when they didn't know what the future was going to be. And that first full recruiting class (2008) that included some of these players is probably the best recruiting class that I've ever been a part of. It was a great year in the state."
Ben Howell is thankful for every bruise. He is grateful for every thudding tackle that has taken him to the turf in practice. He is appreciative for the jersey that got shredded in a game last weekend. Most of all, Howell is thankful for football. The University of Alabama's walk-on running back from Gordo didn't have any options to continue playing after his high school career until he got the offer to walk on at Alabama without a scholarship. He knew he was signing up to be a practice player - in truth, a live practice dummy - for one of the nation's top defenses to tee off on, to help them prepare for games on Saturday. For four years, the 5-foot-9, 200-pound senior has gladly suffered for the privilege of wearing the crimson jersey. This season, he dressed out for every game and has even been able to get on the field in six contests, rushing 15 times for 47 yards. When he gives thanks today, it will be for family and support from his hometown and for having the chance to play at Alabama. "Football is definitely on the list," Howell said. "I'm thankful for the opportunity Coach (Nick) Saban and the other coaches have given me to come here and be on the team for four years and contribute. I'm thankful for the opportunity God gave me to come here."
Alabama coach Nick Saban said that even if a receiver doesn't miss a lot of game time, it hurts if he can't go through practice or is limited. "I think it's really important for guys to be able to go out and work together, and have an anticipation and an expectation when you've got to make quick decisions, process information quickly, people have to be where you expect them to be," he said. When the season began, Alabama anticipated using White and Cooper at the X receiver position. Norwood and Bell worked at the Z position, and Christion Jones and Cyrus Jones in the slot position. With White out, Shinn has filled in at X, but in reality, everybody essentially can play every position now. "Everyone learns those different spots so that we won't have to slow down and we can move on to what we're trying to do in the game," Christion Jones said.
It came against an FCS opponent, but it's worth noting that the Crimson Tide ground game hit the 300-yard rushing mark for the second time this season in last week's 49-0 win over Western Carolina. The performance ended a three-game stretch that saw Alabama fall short of the 200-yard mark. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised that it's been the veteran Lacy who has stepped forward in recent weeks, rushing for 191 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games. While it's his first season as a primary option in the backfield, he's accustomed to the week-to-week grind that comes with life in the SEC. Yeldon's status will be worth monitoring as the week moves along. The true freshman sustained a foot sprain against WCU and was limited earlier in the week. Depending on his availability, Kenyan Drake, fresh off a one-game suspension, and Brent Calloway could factor into the plan this week.
The Alabama men's basketball team, fresh off winning the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project last week, will return to the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum to take on Charleston Southern on Friday night. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. CT. "First off, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving," head coach Anthony Grant said. "We are excited about getting the chance to get back on the court. Charleston Southern is a team that we have great respect for. They are coming off a good season last year and are picked to win their league this year. They have had some highly-contested games so far this year and they have been very impressive on film. We are looking forward to the challenge on Friday night."
Recruits that visit Alabama for practice sessions often come away impressed with how "business-like" the Tide is in its approach to the game. Saban's infamous "Process" may be little more than a talking point to fans but to recruits who see it in action, it's a very real and very believable path to improving and developing into NFL-ready players over the course of their college careers.
But yes, when BCS defenders talk about protecting the regular season, it's nights like last Saturday they have in mind. Proponents of a full-fledged playoff love mocking that talking point, but you can't tell me you would have been on the edge of your seat flipping between those two brewing upsets if the stakes were along the lines of, "Uh oh, Oregon may lose home-field advantage in the first round." The fact that nothing short of the national championship was at stake is what made those games so riveting. A playoff will be far more exciting than the current postseason, but the regular season is going to lose those peaks in drama. That's just reality.