I had a feeling no matter what I wrote about the NCAA's penalty against Alabama for Textbookgate, a ton of mail would follow. Crimson Tide fans didn't disappoint. As we try to slog through the longest months of the year for college football fans, let's tackle their concerns, your reactions to my suggestions for conference realignment and the lengthy rap sheet of Urban Meyer's Florida Gators.
Barring an appeal, the NCAA will put Alabama on single-secret probation for three years and force the Crimson Tide to vacate 21 football wins from the 2005-07 seasons because several players used their textbook money to obtain free books for other students. Wow. Nothing strikes a blow for truth and justice like an all-out assault on Mike Shula's career won-loss record.
D.J. Fluker stuck out his right hand and smiled. I reached to shake it, and as his palm swallowed mine, I felt something on my forearm. His index finger, with no more opposing hand around which to close, tapped just an inch or two below my elbow.
The common perception is that the Big 12 has stolen the SEC's spotlight as the premier conference this season, what with its bevy of top-10 showdowns and collection of Heisman candidate quarterbacks. But it's the SEC that has the two top teams facing off in Atlanta for a spot in the national title game. This may be the Big 12's season, but all eyes will be on the Georgia Dome Saturday afternoon, when new school and old school clash for the SEC title.
This was precisely the moment Nick Saban was hired to achieve, the reason Alabama gave him a $32 million contract. But when Alabama clinched its first SEC championship game berth in nine years here Saturday on a 1-yard John Parker Wilson sneak in overtime, there were no celebrations for college football's master rebuilder.
A boy, no older than 5 or 6, stood close to his father and gawked at the floppy-haired young man towering over him in an elevator in a suburban Atlanta hotel on the morning of Sept. 27. After a few seconds of awed silence, the boy's father spoke to the young man.
Around this time a year ago, with LSU about to face former coach Nick Saban's Alabama team for the first time, I put on a psychologist's cap to answer a question from a reader who wondered why Tigers fans held such disdain toward a man who had done so much good for their program.
At Alabama, even the architecture applies pressure to the head football coach. In the plaza outside the north end zone at Bryant-Denny Stadium, there are four bronze statues. One is a 150 percent-scale replica of Wallace Wade wearing a three-piece suit. Another is of Frank Thomas in a warm-up jacket. Then there's Paul Bryant -- only out-of-towners call him Bear -- wearing his iconic hat and squeezing a play sheet in his right hand. Finally, there's Gene Stallings wearing his wing-tips. Around each coach is a concrete ring detailing each year he led the Crimson Tide to a national title. Now look past Stallings. There's another ring, bare but for a fuse box buried in the ground.
With national Signing Day on Wednesday and 24 states holding presidential primaries on Super Tuesday, mudslinging could reach an all-time high this weekend. Some coaches will trash rival schools as part of their final recruiting pushes, while candidates certainly will trash one another to win delegates. What's amazing is how the negative campaigning seems to parallel negative recruiting.
In last week's episode of The Office, we learned that Dunder Mifflin paper salesman Jim Halpert harbors fantasies of a more glamorous life where he's a "Philly sportswriter" (one who also apparently carries around a guitar). The fact that he gets to go home each night with last year's Mailbag Crush is apparently not enough; inside, Jim dreams of a more fulfilling career.
If you watch enough football on television, you wind up seeing the same commercials over and over. One of the most ubiquitous spots last season was an AllState insurance ad featuring an overzealous fan sitting in a parked car with his buddies who, in his excitement at seeing someone he thinks is Florida State coach Bobby Bowden ("I'm going to touch him"), gets his car door plowed off by a passing vehicle.
The barbecue at Bottom Feeders was tasty and ample, but Bobbie Bower hadn't quite had her fill, not once she overheard the conversation at a nearby table. So she paused on her way out, smiled and turned back time and Tide.
They say college football is religion in the Deep South, but it's not. Only religion is religion. Anyone who has seen an old man rise from his baptism, his soul all on fire, knows as much, though it is easy to see how people might get confused. But if football were a faith anywhere, it would be here on the Black Warrior River in Tuscaloosa, Ala. And now has come a great revival.
Cheating in college football is a tradition as old as the sport itself. In fact, it's hard to imagine one without the other. Scandal is almost as much a part of the sport's culture as tailgating and fight songs.
Last Monday, I published a column about new Alabama coach Nick Saban that mentioned how he abruptly skipped out on our scheduled interview during my recent visit there. That little nugget was never intended to be the centerpiece of the column. It was part of a larger description of what I observed there -- all of which illustrated a larger point that Saban's "jerkish" ways would ultimately be good for Alabama's long-struggling (and often loosely run) program.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- New Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn't have time for you. Or me. Or anyone that's not one of the 85 or so football players he's trying to turn into champions (or the prospective recruits he'd like to add to those 85). Thus, he treats the rest of his world -- assistants, support staff, the media -- accordingly.
Tubby Smith left the University of Kentucky basketball coaching job the same way he came in -- with class and dignity, on his own terms. He knew the time had come. He knew it was in the best interests of both himself and the program. He had lost the confidence and goodwill of fans and donors, but he wasn't going to compromise his principles just to keep the job. So he took, of all things, the Minnesota job recently vacated by Don Monson.
ATLANTA -- They came within one basket of the Sweet 16 last year, returned four starters, and were ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation in December. And now the Alabama Crimson Tide will wait for a call from the NIT.
Anyone who's seen one of his legendary Internet highlight reels knows well Noel Devine's exploits as a high-school football player. Anyone who saw his 88-yard kick return in last month's U.S. Army All-America Bowl knows of his off-the-charts speed and explosiveness. And the people who evaluate such things for a living speak of Devine with idol-like adulation.
1. Sweat shirt size of the week: The XXXXXXL sported by 7-foot-9, 370-pound Chinese center Sun Ming Ming for the Maryland Nighthawks of the ABA. Naturally, Sun (or is it Ming Ming?) complains that the garment is too small. Indeed, it's so hard to find a good tailor (or schneider, for you Yiddish-speaking readers) these days.
SI.com: Mixed 'Bagupdated: Wed Jan 31 2007 09:33:00
Don't worry, 'Bag readers: I'll get to plenty of your questions below. But the topic of this week's 'Bag-Bilastrator Challenge was compelling enough that we're leading off with it.
At first glance, the MySpace page of Alabama forward Jermareo Davidson looks a lot like that of any other college student. There are loads of photographs, a song playing in the background and goofy, half-intelligible messages from friends. But take a closer look. Read the preamble across the top of Davidson's page: "November has been a rough month for me...." Listen to the song, Ky-Mani Marley's mournful I Pray. And watch the continuously looping photo montages, digital elegies to two fallen pillors of Davidson's life.
It's the first Friday of the month and thus time for the latest all-reader-submission edition. Thanks as always for the entries. Please check back with the 10 Spot next week when we will be on location in Glendale, Ariz., for the BCS Championship Game, including a live running diary posted throughout Monday night's game.
For the 20 teams not in the midst of game-planning for the NFL playoffs, the offseason officially commenced on New Year's Day. Here's an early team-by-team look at the most pressing issues facing the clubs who have already packed it in: