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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Buzz building for Courtney Upshaw

University of Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw speaks to reporters during Media Day before his team take on Louisiana State University in the NCAA BCS National Championship, scheduled for January 9, in New Orleans, Louisiana January 6, 2012. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

This kid is a beast and he’s likely moving up on many draft boards.

Will Courtney Upshaw be a defensive end or an outside linebacker in the NFL? The Alabama star and surefire first-round pick has insisted throughout Senior Bowl week that he has no preference.

But this much seems assured: The preference of opposing offensive tackles would be that he take up another line of work.

One of the standouts of a dominating Crimson Tide defense, Upshaw has had a fine week of practice at the Senior Bowl. He has worked with the defensive ends throughout the week, though he plans to do OLB drills at the Combine and at Alabama’s pro day. However, Upshaw did get some work standing up in a 3-4 look this week, noted Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, a member of the South coaching staff this week.

Haslett is among those who have been impressed by the first-team All-American, who garnered BCS championship game MVP honors with seven tackles and a sack in Alabama’s shutout of LSU.

“He’s a tightly built guy that’s powerful, extremely fast,” Haslett said. “… I think he’s got so much upside. I think he’s a heck of a football player.”

Power is the 6-1½, 273-pound Upshaw’s game, whether he’s playing the run or getting after the quarterback. The opposition knows this. What follows is a lot of pushing — and pulling, as Upshaw noted.

It’s early in the process, but draft mania is already catching fire. With Twitter we now have an outlet where more and more people can discuss topics like the draft. Upshaw will get a ton of attention throughout this process.

Oklahoma State should get a shot at the BCS title

Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden throws the football in the first quarter against the Missouri Tigers at Faurot Field in Columbia, Missouri on October 22, 2011. Oklahoma State won the game 45-24. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Oklahoma State proved Saturday night that it, not Alabama, should be playing for the BCS national title against LSU.

The Cowboys thoroughly dominated their rival Oklahoma, which just so happened to be a top 10 team. Offense, defense, you name it, OSU dominated it. The win was the kind of performance we needed to see from a team in the one-loss pack, as someone needed to distance themselves from the others.

Well, it should be that way, anyway. I’m doubtful it will, however.

It was decided when Oklahoma State lost to Iowa State that Alabama and LSU would be playing each other again in the BCS title game, and nothing was going to change the voters minds to change that. Not even this blowout victory. It was well before the Iowa State/OSU game, however, that folks decided Alabama and LSU were the two best teams in the country, and many said it wasn’t even close.

That very well may be true. LSU’s schedule, which includes a neutral site win against Oregon and a road win against West Virginia, helps prove that it is undoubtedly the top team in the country this year. The Tigers are also the country’s only unbeaten team, which helps make things easy.

But Alabama’s best win is an overtime loss to LSU. Seriously. The Tide beat Arkansas, and did so handily, which was also a big win. Outside of that, the Tide have two wins against teams with winning records (Auburn and Penn State). Oklahoma State, meanwhile, has six wins against teams with winning records. Sure the Iowa State loss was bad, but it also came on the road and the day after Oklahoma State lost two women’s basketball coaches in a plane crash. It’s awful to use that as an excuse, but it’s certainly something to think about.

Beyond that, however, there’s also the fact that the BCS’ goal is to crown a national champion. They say the goal is to find the top two teams, but in reality, it’s to find the top one, and we already know that’s not Alabama. The Tide had their chance to knock off LSU, and had it at home, but couldn’t do it. In a college football world where big-time nonconference games are a rarity, we’ll never know who the best team is if we allow divisional rematches in the BCS title game. Especially when there are deserving teams, capable of beating other top 10 teams by more than 30, sitting out there, waiting for their opportunity.

LSU survives in overtime, has inside track to national title game

Louisiana State University quarterback Jordan Jefferson (L) crack up with teammate center back Tyrann Mathieu after beating the University of Kentucky at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana October 1, 2011. Jefferson was just released from suspension by LSU this week. REUTERS/Dan Anderson (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Defense and kickers, that’s what might have just decided the national championship. LSU survived a 9-6 overtime slugfest tonight against Alabama in a matchup of the top two teams in the country.

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but that doesn’t mean it was bad football. Quite the contrary, actually. These are two defenses unlike many we’ve seen in college football, and that’s fun to watch. They’re big, they’re fast and they’re physical. And let’s remember, when these two teams aren’t playing each other, the offenses do just fine.

The key in this one wound up being Alabama’s ineptitude in overtime, as the Tide went backwards and were forced to try a 52-yard field goal, which missed, um, poorly. LSU merely had to run the ball and set up a field goal on its possession, and it did, kicking a 25-yard game winner from the center of the field.

But A.J. McCarron struggled all game long, and Nick Saban showed late the lack of confidence he had in his quarterback by not calling a timeout with a little less than 2 minutes left and LSU set to punt it away. A coach that’s confident in his quarterback and offense calls that timeout and gives them a chance to drive for a game-winning field goal. Saban sat on his timeout and played for overtime.

Now, unless there aren’t any unbeaten teams remaining, there’s no chance we get a rematch here, nor should we. While I feel these are the country’s two top teams, they’re certainly not unbeatable, not with those quarterbacks. If either team runs into a situation where its defense is struggling against a good team, it’s in a lot of trouble. Do you trust McCarron, Jarrett Lee or Jordan Jefferson to bring a team back at the end of a game? I don’t.

That said, would you bet on either defense failing? I wouldn’t.

Fade Material: College Football Week 10 Predictions

University of Alabama running back Trent Richardson (3) is stripped of the ball by Louisiana State University safeties Brandon Taylor (15) and Karnell Hatcher during the first quarter of their NCAA football game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana November 6, 2010. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

If you can figure out which two of my picks below will win and which two will lose, you’ll be in great shape for Week 10. Because .500 seems to be the number that suits me best these days.

Oklahoma State and Arizona State covered for me last Saturday, while Kansas State and Clemson did not. Everyone knew Clemson was going to fall at some point and leave it to ride the Tigers when they did. A-holes.

My 2-2 effort last week puts me at 21-13-2 ATS for the season. Again, chances are two of these four picks will be winners while two will be losers. Soooo, have fun with that.

Michigan @ Iowa, 12:00PM ET
I love me some Hawkeyes this week, even though they’re coming off an embarrassing loss to Minnesota last Saturday. Iowa has rarely been good as a heavy favorite under conservative coach Kirk Ferentz but as a home dog? Love ‘em. Michigan has only gone on the road twice this year, producing a 42-24 win over Northwestern and a 28-14 loss to Michigan State. The Wolverines aren’t road tested and the four points seems like a gift.
THE PICK: IOWA HAWKEYES +4

Texas A&M @ Oklahoma, 3:30PM ET
If you rode the Aggies when they blew up against Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Missouri, I feel for you. I haven’t picked for or against them all season, but I feel for you. That said, don’t be shy about taking A&M this Saturday. The Aggies have proven they can score on anyone and while they’re just 2-6 against the spread this season, that’s because they’ve been favored in every single game. I like them as a 14-point underdog, even on the road against an Oklahoma squad that got back on track last Saturday against Kansas State. Without leading rusher Dominique Whaley, I like A&M to keep things close this weekend in Norman. And hey, they’re not favored so you don’t have to worry about them choking away a lead. (As long as they stay within the 14, that is.)
THE PICK: TEXAS A&M +14

Arizona State @ UCLA, 7:30PM ET
At first glance I was all over the Sun Devils but the Bruins’ effort last week in a 31-14 beat down of Cal gave me pause, then inspired me to pick them this Saturday. When you get into November, college football becomes incredibly hard to predict. The lines are tighter, teams are trying to make one last push at a conference title or a bowl game, and it’s the squads that haven’t given up yet that are the most attractive. UCLA hasn’t given up and I think the Bruins will give ASU all it can handle this Saturday on their home turf.
THE PICK: UCLA BRUINS +8.5

LSU @ Alabama, 8:00PM ET
Honestly, I wouldn’t touch this game with your money. It could go either way and I’m not just talking about the side. The total seems ultra-low at 41 and too high at that same number considering both of these teams have excellent defenses. I just don’t know what to make of this battle royale. But this is arguably the biggest regular season game in the past decade so I couldn’t not give a prediction for it. While it’s awfully tempting to take the points with LSU, ‘Bama is on its home turf, has revenge on its mind after the Tigers beat them last season, and will have the best player on the field in Trent Richardson. Therefore, Roll Tide.
THE PICK: ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE –4.5

Last Week: 2-2
Season Record: 21-13-2

Check out College Football Point Spreads at Bullz-Eye.com.

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