Contrary to popular belief, we actually have four different seasons here in the Heart of Dixie. We have football season, recruiting season, spring football season, and “waitin’ on football season” season.
So, it came as no surprise to receive a text message from my cousin around the first of June asking me to give my SEC predictions for the upcoming 2008 football season.
However, he was a bit surprised to read my pick for the winner of the SEC West: Alabama.
Being a true Auburn fan, he accused me of being another unabashed Bama homer with a loose grip on reality. I think they like to call us “Bammers.”
Okay, I will never deny that I sometimes look at the world through crimson-colored glasses. But this time, I’m truly just an impartial prognosticator looking at past numbers and trends while trying to make an educated guess…through somewhat crimson-colored glasses.
Here are some interesting trends to help make my case.
The three-year trend
In the ever-evolving world of college football, there are few constants. Here are some that do exist.
A) Notre Dame will be overrated, and then consequently embarrass themselves by suffering a brutal beat-down in a bowl game. It’s almost as if they get off on the humiliation. The package of schwag they receive from bowl reps should include a gag ball and a safe word.
B) I will be extremely disappointed in the latest edition of the NCAA Football video game. I will curse EA as the “evil, soulless empire” all year, but buy the next edition the day it comes out. Thus, the cycle continues.
C) Once every three years, Alabama will win at least 10 games—1996: 10-3, 1999: 10-3, 2002: 10-3, 2005: 10-2, 2008...you get the picture.
The senior QB trend
The starting QBs during Alabama’s last two 10-win seasons have been seniors. Tyler Watts was a senior in 2002, and Brodie Croyle was a senior in 2005.
John Parker Wilson will be a senior this year. Though he’s broken every single-season passing record two years in a row, most Bama fans wouldn’t trust him to park their car in an empty lot.
Wilson doesn’t need to be especially great this year for Alabama to be successful. He just needs to stop showing up as the opposing QB on some other team’s “Pontiac Game Changing Moment.”
The second-year head coach trend
It’s widely believed that the biggest improvement a team makes under a new head coach is from year one to year two. This has been proven true with almost every coach Alabama has had A.B. (After Bear).
Ray Perkins was the only one to take a step back in 1984, going 5-6. However, he beat Auburn that year, so most Bama folks will forgive him.
More interestingly, some of the biggest jumps have come under coaches who actually had head coaching experience before taking over the helm at Alabama. Dennis Franchione improved from 7-5 to 10-3 in 2002, and would have won the West had the team not been on probation.
Gene Stallings improved from 7-5 to 11-1 in 1991. However, Bill Curry’s progress went backward, finishing with a 10-2 record and a share of the SEC title in his third year.
Nick Saban is entering his second year as the most decorated head coach to come to Alabama in many years. It will be intriguing to see if this trend holds true.
Now, detractors will point out that the schedule is too tough and that the Tide are too young in crucial areas. Both are valid points to a degree. Alabama must make road trips to Fayetteville, Athens, Knoxville, and Baton Rouge. They must also play Auburn in Tuscaloosa, where Alabama has never beaten them.
As for the youth, the starting linebackers may include names like “Higgenbotham” and “Reamer,” which only excite Bama fans named "Mr. and Mrs. Higgenbotham" and "Mr. and Mrs. Reamer."
To both of these points, I retort a thoughtful and introspective, “So what?”
This is the SEC. Every game is a killer. LSU won the National Championship last year after losing to Kentucky and Arkansas, two teams everybody chalked up as a “W” before the season started. It’s likely that one or both division winners will have two losses.
Among the tough games mentioned above, only Georgia returns a QB with adequate starting experience. Experience at that position means something in this league. The last five conference winners prominently featured senior QBs (Mauck, Campbell, Greene, Leak, and Flynn). Bama fans are hoping that JP Wilson’s career follows a similar track.
Alabama’s youth is somewhat exaggerated. The defensive line returns seven guys with at least some playing experience.
Rashad Johnson is an all-conference safety and is the quarterback of the unit. Linebacker seems to be the hardest hit, but there is talk that Prince Hall will be back with the team by fall. Hope is still alive that Zeke Knight can return to the fold after battling a medical ailment.
Worst case scenario, the Tide leans on experienced, but less than blue-chip talented LBs until the highly touted freshman LBs can be brought up to speed. Rolando McClain followed this path last year and was one of the top players on the entire team by year's end.
Again, to say that Alabama will win the SEC West is a highly optimistic view to say the least. However, based on recent trends it is not out of the realm of possibility.
Now all we've got to do is finish this current “waitin’ season.” Thankfully, that gives me enough time to have everyone forget this possibly inane prediction by the time we tee it the last weekend in August.
And if I’m right, just remember—you read it here first.