Get Off My Back: What Is It Going to Take to Shake the Gorilla?
Every team starts every season with a goal in mind. For many it's just getting to a bowl game, for others it's running the table and winning the National Championship.
As with any goal, the first step is knowing what it takes to achieve it. We go through it seemingly every season, certain teams revert back to form while others break through and the monkey comes off the back.
I like this topic and may have to do a few more of these as every team has its own set of issues.
Let's start by looking at some prominent teams and some goals they have in mind for 2009.
Goals: Winning a BCS game and a National Title
The Sooners seem to have become an "opponent" when it comes to bowl season these days. The Sooners play well enough just about every season to get to a BCS Bowl but when the game starts they seem to not be able to get back to the right side of the scoreboard.
The answer to this one is simple. Let's look back at the Sooners last title game win back in that Orange Bowl against a favored Florida State team.
The Sooners played defense and held their opponent to fewer than 10 points; it really is that simple. We've all heard the saying defense wins championships, maybe someone should remind Bob Stoops.
Last year Oklahoma was competitive in the BCS Title Game and they achieved that by keeping the Gators off of the scoreboard.
Sure, scoring 50-60 points a week will get you plenty of air time on the highlight shows, which will get you public support, but once you get to the game, you want to win.
The Sooner D has been beaten every way possible as of late in the big games, so it's tough to single out just one area they need to firm up.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Goal: To prove they belong with the National elite
The Buckeyes have been crazy successful in the Jim Tressel era. They have a National Title and have been almost a lock for 10 wins and a BCS Bowl Game.
One of the problems of over achieving is eventually you get matched up in a game where you may be a little over your head, such has been the case with OSU.
While we can call the loss to Florida a few years back a little surprising, it's pretty easy to see how the Bucks were unprepared for what they saw that night.
I believe this one comes down to out of conference scheduling. Sure the Buckeyes had home-and-home series against Texas and USC and have Miami and others coming up, maybe the Buckeyes need to add one more at least respectable out of conference game and maybe play them on the road once in a while?
When adding a home game against Navy makes the OOC schedule more interesting, it pretty much says it all. I understand the economics of another road game as well.
I don't really want to hear about how Indiana, Northwestern, Purdue, and Minnesota make the schedule tough enough already, so I'm going to end this pretty quickly, but I think OSU's scheduling of cream puffs at home year after year could have something to do with their recent bowl record.
I'm sure most Buckeye fans would wish that 70-1 against OOC opponents could be translated to a solid OOC record against big-time teams.
Goal: A National Title
It's hard to believe USC has only won one National Title this decade. I'm sure most casual fans are already counting back to check if this is correct.
Well it's true, and the reason is pretty easy to find: the Trojans have lost to a team they were a huge favorite to beat and it gets a ton of ink every time.
If there were a playoff, I honestly believe USC would have won at least three National Titles this decade. Unfortunately for them, there isn't, and losses to Stanford and Oregon State have had crushing effects on their dreams.
The fact the Trojans weren't even in the debate last season was almost silly. Everyone was talking Texas and Oklahoma but really, the team the Trojans lost to ended up being pretty good and made a New Year's Day Bowl themselves.
If Penn State had beaten Iowa and made it to the championship, no one would have had an argument, USC made the Nittany Lions look inferior from the opening gun. The Trojans do this just about every year in the Rose Bowl.
USC needs to run the table to go to the title game, it's that simple. Their schedule and geography don't lend themselves to be a mainstream team and are one of the farthest teams from Bristol, Conn., where championships are made.
Goal: A return to the national stage
For nearly 25 years, Florida State found themselves in at least the top 5 in the polls by season's end. For the past few years, it seems the Noles are less than just another program.
FSU's has a few things they need to clear up but they are things that should be no problem for a program who can recruit talent and speed with the best of them, if not better than the best of them.
FSU went through a bad run of recruiting players who had incredible skills on the field. Unfortunately those skills didn't translate to the classroom, and many of those top level players had big trouble qualifying.
In a day and age where players enroll in the Spring, so they can contribute immediately in the Fall, the Noles have players coming in a year or two late. They also end up with very small recruiting classes when all is said and done.
Florida State also took a huge hit when Offensive Coordinator Mark Richt took the Georgia job and never gained any kind of offensive footing when Jeff Bowden was running the offense.
Look for the last year's young FSU team to start to look like polished vets by the Florida game this season.
Goal: Beat Ohio State
While as we mentioned earlier the Buckeyes haven't been getting it done too often against big time out of conference teams, they own Michigan in the Tressel era.
What used to be the big game in the Big Ten is now a forgone conclusion and a marked as "a game we should win" by OSU fans before the season even starts.
While people blame Rich Rodriguez for Michigan's troubles last year, I always believe the house was out of order when the new guy got there if things fall apart so quickly.
Does anyone remember the Butch Davis era in Miami? 5-6 and a beat down by Florida State wasn't pretty but the turnaround came and came decisively.
On the subject of Davis, a banner was flown over the Orange Bowl during a home game that read "FIRE BUTCH NOW." I'm sure some Michigan alum felt like hiring the same airplane last season.
Remember, Rodriguez was left with the leftovers of a team that lost to Appalachian State and got blown out of the building at home by Oregon, hardly the makings of a champion. While it's tough to think about, give the guy some time and have some patience.
People were talking National Title for a few years at West Virginia, imagine what this guy will do over the long haul in Ann Arbor. It may not happen tomorrow, but a strong return will happen for Michigan.
Goal: A return to glory
Mediocrity isn't something Miami fans have had to deal with much in the past 25 years or so. While the Canes have had a few dry spells, they easily have had the most success of anyone over that time period.
When the expectation isn't just winning and playing in a bowl game, the task at hand is a tough one.
When even other programs think that your team not making it to the National Title game in six years means your team is hurting, you know you are an elite program.
The challenge at Miami is huge as National Titles, first-round NFL talent, and running the table are the expectation. Can the Canes do it and are they headed in the right direction?
Miami emerged on the scene in the early 80's as an Independent and gained National prominence by playing anyone, anywhere, anytime. By the late 90's, no one wanted to play them anytime or anywhere.
With some of the tougher times has come more teams willing to take an out-of-conference shot at the Canes and I think this is part of where it all begins. When Miami gets those big TV games against Ohio State and Oklahoma, people take notice.
When they notice that all of the players on the field are several year starters and all run in the 4.4 range the cycle begins again.
Of course the Canes dealt with early NFL draft entry more than most and that hurt things as well, a problem they have dealt with by starting and playing lots of freshmen.
Goal: To win the SEC
The last time the Tide were really good they had a coach, Gene Stallings who was comfortable with who he was. I remember hearing Stallings at a press conference answering a question as to why he made a decision in a game and he responded "because it was my decision to make."
Bear Bryant will always be a part of Alabama football and really all of College Football. He is arguably the greatest football coach at any level of all time.
There will never be another Bear. Alabama seems to have a coach now who is comfortable being who he is and is not trying to be the next Bear.
When you have a coach who has his own identity, you'll more than likely get a team with their own identity. These aren't Bear's Bama teams, these are Saban's teams.
I've been tough on the Tide and in a lot of cases they deserved it. I can also say that the way they have been unheard from this off season in the trouble department and the seemingly lack of concern for losing the best offensive lineman in College Football last year is almost scary.
Whether you like him or not, Nick Saban can coach winning football, especially at the college level. He's done it every where he has been.
Winning the SEC takes mare than being good. It takes an almost machine-like effort to overcome the obstacles unique to each of the stadiums and cultures encountered on a weekly basis.
Saban seems to be able to tune it all out just enough to stay focused on the important thing: winning football games.
Visit Mitch anytime at The Sports Chat Place
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