Media hero-worship shifts to Nick Saban and Alabama

Now that the media has fed on the Penn State scandal for the past year after building up Joe Paterno as a saint on the sidelines for the past 40 years, some are naturally moving on to other subjects to deify.

With Alabama coming off of two National Championships in the past three years, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Nick Saban is the next coach to get glowing coverage from many in the media. Rachel Bachman and Ben Cohen have just written a profile of Saban in the Wall Street Journal where they take great pains to explain Saban’s greatness. Here’s an example of some of the gushing “analysis.”

The stunning volume of victories and championships and NFL draft picks has Alabama redefining college-football success as we know it. How, exactly, does the Tide do it?

Really? Redefining success? This sort of dominance over several years hasn’t been seen before in college football? Didn’t Alabama lose a game last season?

The writers go on to explain Saban meticulous attention to detail in the recruiting process, and I guess there’s some insightful reporting into Saban’s methods. But is there anything really new here? Saban is at one of the top football factories in the country and he’s grabbing the best recruits. It’s no different than what other successful coaches have done, and probably less impressive than what Urban Meyer achieved several years earlier at a school that doesn’t have Alabama’s tradition.

More notable, however, is that they also don’t dig into some of the less noble tactics used by Saban and others in the SEC like oversigning which is mentioned in passing near the end of the article after they’ve nestled Saban comfortably on his pedestal.

Here’s another nugget from the article.

“He’s incredibly honest in the recruiting process,” said former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, the starter on the 2009 national-title team who now plays for the New York Jets. “He tells kids, ‘Hey, you’re going to come in and redshirt. Look, you’re going to do this. You’re going to do that.’ He tells them exactly what he thinks. I think a lot of people respect that because so much of the recruiting process is an unknown.”

Wow. Saban sounds great. I guess it’s nice to hear this from Saban’s starting quarterback, but wouldn’t we learn a little more about what really goes on in college recruiting and at Alabama in particular by talking to some of the kids who lost their scholarship after one year because they weren’t quite as “special” as Saban thought when he recruited them? Of course we would, but that wouldn’t fit the happy storyline being promoted here. This isn’t about reporting; it’s PR fluff.

If the writers or the Wall Street Journal wanted to do some reporting, they might have considered looking into the random nature of NCAA enforcement and sanctions, and how many schools are learning to dodge the NCAA by just refusing to self-report problems. That’s why a tattoos for memorabilia scandal brings down a coach at Ohio State, while an alleged suits for memorabilia scheme reported in detail by SPORTSbyBROOKS gets ignored by the national media, Alabama and the NCAA. If a story doesn’t make it to ESPN or SI, it just didn’t happen. Right? Perhaps if publications like the Wall Street Journal would do some real investigating relating to this topic, they might have a real story about Alabama, or on the other hand they could say with confidence that Alabama student-athletes were avoiding the pitfalls encountered by players at Ohio State and North Carolina.

Some might argue that this was a simple football story, and there’s no need to bring in the ugly side of college football every time we discuss a top program. I get that, and it’s a fair point. Sometimes we all just want to enjoy the games. But when we get a profile exalting the recruiting “genius” of millionaire coaches like Saban, it’s journalistic malpractice to settle for token mentions of issues like oversigning and ignore well-documented allegations of misconduct.

Rick Reilly recently wrote a column where he admitted to “engaging in hagiography” as one of the many journalists who turned Joe Paterno into a saint. Of course Reilly had no idea of how that image would ultimately be destroyed, but he regretted focusing only on the positive spin surrounding Paterno’s success. A professor had called him and warned him that Paterno wasn’t a saint as everyone assumed, so there was a real story there had Reilly decided to actually do his job. Just like there’s a real story around all of today’s best coaches as well. Some are better than others, and many of them try to run clean programs. But it’s hard to take profiles like this one about Saban at face value if the issues bubbling under the surface are ignored.

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Alabama gets back to its roots in comeback victory

Alabama Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram smiles on the sideline during the second half of their NCAA football game with the Duke Blue Devils in Durham, North Carolina September 18, 2010. REUTERS/Jim R. Bounds (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

While the face of college football is constantly changing, one thing seems to remain a constant: If you can play good defense and run the ball, you’re going to win a lot of football games.

Alabama has those qualities, which is why its the reigning national champion, and the current No. 1 team in the country.

The Tide fell behind today, but on the back of its defense and run game clawed back into its game with Arkansas and eventually picked up a 24-20 win in front of a raucous crowd in Fayetteville.

Mark Ingram ran for 157 yards, many of which came with one or more Razorback on his back. His counterpart Trent Richardson added 85 more yards, and the team finished with 228 on the ground. It was punctuated with a 2-yard run by Greg McElroy on fourth-and-inches from midfield with under a minute to play. I’d say Nick Saban made a gutty call going for it in that situation, but I don’t know if anyone had any doubt the Tide was going to convert at that point.

The defense gave up some yards to Ryan Mallett, who threw for 357, but they also forced a career-high three interceptions from the highly-touted quarterback. Two of those came in the final 5 minutes, one setting up the go-ahead score. Arkansas isn’t much of a running team, but it was held to 64 yards on 20 carries.

This was just the first game in a really tough three-game stretch for Alabama, but it’s arguably the toughest of the three. Florida is next, but that’s at home, and the Gators’ offense doesn’t seem like it will pose much of a threat. That’s followed by a trip to South Carolina, and while the Gamecocks look much improved this year, I don’t think they’re ready for the Crimson Tide.

I had my doubts early in the year about Alabama’s chances to repeat, but Ingram and Richardson can run on anyone, and that defense — which just passed what will be its toughest test of the season — is only going to continue to get better. At this point, I don’t know who can beat the Tide.

2010 College Football Predictions

Jan 1, 2010; Pasadena, CA, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes players huddle before the 2010 Rose Bowl against the Oregon Ducks. Photo via Newscom

Conference winners, sleepers, power rankings and one big, fat national championship prediction.

Enjoy.

Big Ten

Champion: Ohio State
Yes, it’s true – the Buckeyes need Terrelle Pryor to be more consistent in the passing game this year if they expect to win a national championship. But stop acting like that’s the difference between OSU winning the Big Ten and them turning into Vanderbilt. Choke on this for a second: The Buckeyes return all three leading rushers from 2009 in Pryor, Brandon Saine and Dan Herron, the secondary features three senior NFL prospects, and they own the best defensive end in the nation in Cameron Heyward. Pryor is also coming off a dominating performance against Oregon in the Rose Bowl and reports state that he has committed himself this offseason to being a better teammate. Sorry Buckeye-haters, but the gap between them and Alabama is closer than you think.

Conference Champion Sleeper: Michigan Slate
My biggest concern with the Spartans is that despite pulling off an upset nearly every year, they also manage to lose a game they shouldn’t. But they have a slew of playmakers and plenty of depth on both sides of the ball, plus feature a ton of offensive firepower in Larry Caper, Edwin Baker, Keith Nicol and Mark Dell. Oh, and linebacker Greg Jones is the best defender in the nation. If this team can avoid being tripped up by an inferior opponent, they could easily surprise this season.

Conference Power Ranking: #1 Ohio State, #2 Iowa, #3 Wisconsin, # 4 Penn State, #5 Michigan State, #6 Northwestern, #7 Michigan, #8 Purdue, #9 Illinois, #10 Indiana, #11 Minnesota.

I admit that I had Michigan rated too high when I did my Big Ten preview last week. Having any sort of trust in Rich Rodriguez right now is a dangerous proposition for obvious reasons. Just when you think he’s going to figure things out in Ann Arbor, he makes a decision to muck everything up. Penn State might be ranked a little high given their quarterback concerns. Wisconsin is going to give teams trouble this year and Northwestern is going to be a tough opponent every week as well.

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2010 BCS Bowl Preview: 5 Things to Watch for in the National Championship Game

For the first time since the 2006 Rose Bowl, two undefeated teams will square off in the BCS national championship game when No. 1 Alabama takes on No. 2 Texas on January 7. To conclude our 2010 BCS Bowl Preview, here are five things to watch for in the 2010 title game.

1. Can McCoy rebound?
Senior quarterback Colt McCoy hasn’t had many bad outings throughout his collegiate career, but Nebraska’s defense dominated him in the Big 12 title game. He completed 20 of his 36 pass attempts but it went for only 184 yards and zero touchdowns. He also threw three interceptions as he struggled with his decision-making and his pre-snap reads. It’s not a total shock that McCoy had problems moving the ball on the ninth best defense in the nation, but how will he fair against an Alabama D that ranks second in the country? The Crimson Tide have allowed just 11 points per game this season (best in the NCAA) and just 163.77 passing yards per game. There’s no doubt ‘Bama will study what Nebraska did against McCoy and employ similar tactics to slow him and Texas’ offense down. Can the senior QB overcome his poor outing in the Big 12 championship and lead his team to victory or will the Tide defense abuse him just like the Cornhuskers did?

2. The Heisman winner vs. the No. 1 run defense in the nation
One of the marquee matchups of the bowl season will pit Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram against the Longhorns’ No. 1 run defense. Texas has allowed just 62.15 rushing yards per game this season, while Ingram has averaged 118.62 YPG. At times, Ingram has been the Tide’s only offense this season. But what happens if the Longhorns limit Ingram’s effectiveness and force quarterback Greg McElroy to beat them through the air? More on that question…

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2010 BCS National Championship Official Smack Talk Thread: Texas vs. Alabama

The 2010 BCS National Championship Game pits No. 1 vs. No. 2, as the Alabama Crimson Tide will take on the Texas Longhorns on January 7. To get you primed for the game, here’s a snapshot look at the title match.

2010 BCS National Championship Game Information:
Matchup: Alabama (13-0) vs. Texas (13-0)
Venue: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA
Kickoff: 8:00PM ET
TV: ABC
Odds: Alabama –5

Key Stats:
Led by quarterback Colt McCoy and receiver Jordan Shipley, the Longhorns have the third best scoring offense in the nation, the 14th best passing attack and are ranked 19th in total offense. McCoy is 10th in total offense with 296.92 passing yards per game and 26.77 rushing YPG. Defensively, the Longhorns boast the No. 1 rush defense in the country and are ranked No. 3 in total defense. Texas also ranks ninth in turnover margin and fourth in kickoff returns.

Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide have the second best defense in the nation and the second best run defense. Junior linebacker Rolando McClain has been the soul of Alabama’s defense, racking up over 100 tackles (51 solo), 10 tackles for loss and four sacks. Offensively, Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram heads a rushing offense that ranks 12th in the country and is 26th in scoring. Ingram is averaging close to 120 yards per game and has racked up 1,542 total yards of offense and 18 total touchdowns.

The Bottom Line:
After struggling with consistency for much of the season, quarterback Greg McElroy looks to build off a solid performance in the SEC title game and carry it into the national championship. While Ingram remains the backbone of the offense, McElroy might be the key to whether or not ‘Bama is victorious on January 7. He, and the Crimson Tide defense of course. And much like McElroy, fellow signal caller Colt McCoy will have to perform much better than he did against Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship for Texas to be successful. This will be the first time since time since the 2005 thriller between Texas and USC that two unbeaten teams square off in the title game. Who will come out on top?

Who will win the 2010 National Championship?
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Photo from fOTOGLIF

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