Alabama Shakes: Auburn Ready to Rock Saban
So again, as if the other 49 states don't exist, Alabama becomes the fulcrum and rumbling epicenter of college football. Drawls and RVs are encouraged, but all Northerners and West Coast freaks are banned from the proceedings Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which is pronounced ``Jer-den'' for reasons I can't explain.
``I hope Urban Meyer will remember,'' a paraphrased song lyric goes, ``a Southern man don't need him around anyhow.''
Indeed, Alabama Shakes this week, another musical reference. For a place otherwise ignored by America, Sweet Home has managed to produce the last four national champions and very possibly will produce a fifth in January. Leave it to the Iron Bowl to straighten out the wrinkles of the Bowl Championship Series swan song. If Alabama upholds its No. 1 ranking against Auburn, it becomes almost a foregone conclusion that the Crimson Tide will plow through Atlanta -- Missouri or South Carolina in the SEC title game -- and advance to the BCS title game in Pasadena, with Nick Saban positioned for a historic fourth national championship in five years and the first college football three-peat since Minnesota in the 1930s.
If Auburn wins? That would seem to be the elusive key for third-ranked Ohio State, currently poised for shriek-and-cry disappointment as the final unbeaten victim of a long-dubious system, to leap into the national title game. Now that Baylor is out of the picture, its video-game offense slowed by an Oklahoma State team scandalized this season by a Sports Illustrated expose, it seems the Buckeyes would capitalize only days after Meyer referred to the BCS as a broken system.
Emphasis on ``seems.''
Given the wretched state of the Big Ten, which has slipped to fifth in the national power structure as the Midwest becomes the sport's unattractive outback for teenaged talent, it's not entirely certain that a 13-0 Ohio State would be worthier for Pasadena than a once-beaten Auburn. Hear me out, Urban. Assuming Ohio State gets past mediocre Michigan -- Rich Rodriguez is faring better at Arizona, which smoked Oregon, than overrated Michigan successor Brady Hoke is in Ann Arbor -- and then Michigan State in the league title game, the Buckeyes will be 25-0 in Meyer's two seasons. But only two of their victories this year would have been against foes currently ranked: Michigan State and Wisconsin. Otherwise, there's a lot of dreck on the schedule: Buffalo, San Diego State, California, Florida A&M, free-falling Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and Indiana.
Auburn? Now ranked No. 4, its one loss was on the road against a highly regarded LSU team that just ended Johnny Manziel's Heisman Trophy candidacy. Consider the Tigers' resume if they beat Alabama, win the SEC championship game and add those monster feats to victories over Texas A&M, Georgia and Ole Miss, along with competitive SEC foes Tennessee, Mississippi State and Arkansas. They also beat Washington State, which beat 9-3 USC, which will help in a computer-crunching process that doesn't factor in that Lane Kiffin still was coaching the Trojans.
I'd vote for Auburn over Ohio State. Hang yourself, Sloopy. With Gus Malzahn working wonders in his first season at ``Jerden-Hare,'' including a miracle Hail Mary that beat Georgia and set the stage for one of the biggest Iron Bowls ever, we'd be crazy to dismiss Auburn as a special team with destiny in its cleats. The RVs arrived over the weekend, meaning these people will spend Thanksgiving in the shadow of the stadium. Yes, the state of Alabama relies too much on college football for its self-esteem, but we knew that when the nutball Tide fan poisoned the oaks at Toomer's Corner two years ago, another burning emotional factor in this meeting. Last week, Sabam threw a hissy fit when someone asked about the Sports Illustrated cover featuring Alabam's golden-boy quarterback, AJ McCarron.
``Do you think I sit around all day looking at magazines or what? I don?t even know what you?re talking about,'' growled Saban.
``You ask a question every week that I don?t know anything about. You need to come here and walk around and follow me around for like a week. I haven?t seen a newspaper today, I don?t know what?s happening in the world.
``I watch the Weather Channel for 10 minutes in the morning while I have a cup of coffee so I know what the weather?s going to be so we can practice inside or outside.''
Translation: Nick wasn't mad at the question. Nick is nervous about Auburn. Very nervous.
Because if he loses to Auburn, it suddenly doesn't matter that much down yonder that he has won three national titles in four years. It will allow him a much easier exit to Texas, and it will put a damper on the most successful short-term run in college football history.
Yeah, nothing much is at stake in this game. ``We're playing the best team in the country, there's no doubt," Malzahn told CBS. ``The good thing is we're playing good football, we've improved each week, we're playing at home. If it's a close game, I like our chances."
Dynasty vs. Destiny, analyst Tim Brando calls it. He's right. And his network actually gets to televise the game, not ESPN/ABC.
Malzahn is the antithesis of Saban's old-man-football, grunt-and-scratch process. He is among the foremost modern practitioners of the hurry-up, no-huddle offense, though this year, Auburn is about running the football behind a running quarterback named Nick Marshall. With Chip Kelly and Art Briles receiving kudos for developing fast-paced spread offenses that have become all the football rage, Malzahn has applied for a trademark of the phrase ``hurry-up no-huddle.'' To his credit, he did write a 2003 book as an Arkansas high-school coach called, ``The Hurry-Up, No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy." It took much too long for Malzahn to arrive on an elite stage. Saturday, he can show his stuff, shut down a dynasty and take over a state in one War Eagle swoop.
Actually, the SI cover and story -- it extols McCarron as virtuous and humble amid the rock-star pressures of being the Alabama quarterback -- helps his Heisman campaign. While Tallahassee prosecutor Willie Meggs decides Jameis Winston's future in what has become a disturbing example of swaying the public against Winston through media leaks and press releases -- my God, he hasn't even been charged -- McCarron is poised to win the Heisman if Winston is charged with sexual assault. Who else is in the realistic hunt after Manziel, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Baylor's Bryce Petty all flopped in losses Saturday? Wait, did Meyer just say Braxton Miller? Meggs says he won't have a decision on whether to charge the Florida State quarterback before Thanksgiving, so we'll assume the news is coming next week.
What an insane week it will be. If Winston is not charged, I personally will demand that Meggs be investigated for reopening an almost-year-old case that was closed last February because the alleged accuser didn't want to pursue it. Why put the kid through hell when you didn't have the goods on him? Was Meggs seeking attention? Covering his rear end?
If Winston is charged with a felony, Florida State will suspend him immediately if it sticks to language in its Intercollegiate Athletics Policies and Procedures handbook: A student-athlete ``will not be permitted to represent FSU Athletics in game competition until such time as the charge is resolved and all court, university and athletics department conditions for reinstatement have been met."
That is, unless the university decides to use -- ah, yes -- a loophole, which doesn't require a suspension for ``extraordinary circumstances as determined by the administration." Would a No. 2-ranked team headed to a national championship game, with a quarterback headed to a Heisman Trophy, constitute ``extraordinary circumstances'' in the eyes of the administration? Could be, which would spark a firestorm about protecting the football monster and a prominent athlete charged with a serious crime. Then you would have Heisman voters debating whether to shun Winston and vote for McCarron. On the other hand, just because Winston had been charged doesn't make him guilty of the crime. What if he is suspended and loses the Heisman to McCarron because of it? Say the Seminoles -- who still would play in Pasadena barring an unforeseen loss to wickedly bad Florida (how does Will Muschamp survive this?) or in the ACC title game (Duke? Really?) -- lost the national title game while using a backup QB. That most likely would be freshman Sean Maguire, who got work Saturday versus Idaho but has thrown only 21 career passes.
Would all of that be horribly unfair if Winston isn't convicted in the end?
They will have ruined a kid's dreams, without reason.
``The football field is a sanctuary to me," said Winston, who continued to smile amid another blowout while FSU fans gave him a standing ovation at Doak Campbell Stadium. ``And it's like that for all of our teammates. When all of us are out on the field, everything is just zoned out, clear the mechanism. We focus, and we're out there to get a victory.''
So college football history awaits two decisions -- one on an Alabama field, the other in a state attorney's office across the border in the Florida panhandle.
Southern man better keep your head.
Neil Young, of course.