January 12th, the day of the first College Football Playoff Championship broke. For the first time in what seems like eons there’s nothing at stake for the SEC; nothing on the line for either Alabama or Auburn. Instead it’s a showdown between Bucks and Ducks.
Leading up to the title game the proud SEC West was eviscerated in various bowls, losing on last second field goals, falling in overtime, getting run over by third string quarterbacks and suffering annihilation. Four teams that were at one time or another part of the fabled Final Four projections were humbled.
In a bit of a departure for the Never to Yield Foundation, we take a farcical look at slices of life around the college football world on January 12, the day without the SEC.
On January 12 across the SEC landscape
SEC football fans turned on their televisions and were surprised to see a football game being played on ESPN. Jimmy Roy Nabob of Boar Tush Alabama was confused since his beloved Crimson Tide had already completed its season. “College football’s over,” Nabob asserted. “I took the flags off my truck last week. I wasn’t sure if ESPN was showing some kind of Canadian game or what, but after I seen the crazy uniforms that one team was wearing, I figgered it out. Arena football. That’s all it coulda been.” Nabob took a swig out of a mason jar with ’16′ written on the side in red sharpie. “Yep. That arena stuff is just goofy. Look at that. All that runnin’ up and down the field will never catch on in real football. Real teams play defense.”
On January 12 in Tuscaloosa Alabama
Kirby Smart awoke to the smell of singed cotton. The Alabama defensive coordinator was unable to locate the source of the offending odor until he passed by a mirror and noticed burn marks on the back of his khakis. After his Alabama defense surrendered 428 yards to Mississippi State in a narrow victory, 630 yards and 44 points in a win over Auburn that could have easily gone the other way and 537 yards and 35 offensive points in a humiliating loss to Ohio State, even the official publicity department of the Crimson Tide, al.com, wondered if the presumed future king might be coaching for his job in 2015. While the article on al.com grudgingly allowed that the actual Tide defense belonged to Saban making Smart essentially a puppet, it stopped short of blaming Saban for any defensive woes because that would be unseemly and unfathomable. If the defense continues to struggle, Smart would be smart to recognize that he will be the fall guy.
On January 12 in Auburn Alabama
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn puzzled until his puzzler was sore. His Tigers had most of the ingredients to return to the championship stage in 2014, but self destructed more than once. The defense faltered failing to make 44, 38, 31 and 23-point efforts stand up. The defense gave up fewer yards overall, but surrendered more points. When bending turned to breaking, something had to change. He’d already brought back Will Muschamp to lead the Tiger stopping corps and crossed that off the list. So he puzzled over his offense. Curiously enough in terms of production (both yards and points) there were no real problems statistically. Oh sure there were some miscues in execution, but the Auburn offense remained a frighteningly effective machine in 2014. It’s a measure of just how jaw-droppingly productive an offense is when it averages 485 yards (255 on the ground) and 35 points per game and some consider it an “off” year. Auburn was a fumbled exchange, a defensive stop or two and a made field goal away from an 11-win season. By the same token, the Tigers were a play or two away from dropping seven games. So Malzahn puzzled.
On January 12 also in Auburn Alabama
Will Muschamp returned home from his morning jog, headbutted the paperboy, snarled at the neighbor’s dog which was befouling his lawn and flung his headphones at an ant hill that had the temerity to poke its way out of his flowerbeds. Then he stretched and thanked his lucky stars again that he consulted with Nick Saban before taking the job as Auburn’s defensive coordinator. As fans of college football and seekers of wisdom we are all even more fortunate that Auburn beat writer Brandon Marcello of the official Crimson Tide press agency, al.com, was there to record the sage advice that Saban gave his former associate.
According to Marcello’s uplifting report, Saban told Muschamp “Good luck at what you’re trying to do and where you’re going to end up landing.” Pause for a moment and soak that in. Good luck at whatever and where ever. What inspiration. Without Saban’s brilliant guidance, Muschamp considered that he might otherwise have sought bad luck. Had Saban not spoken, Muschamp mused that he might have opted not to even try. He might have chosen not to land. He shuddered to think of just how lost he might be without having ever heard those words.
On January 12 in Oxford and Starkville Mississippi
On the strength of two unprecedented and record setting seasons, the likes of which have never been seen in Magnolia State history Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, whose Bulldogs were number one for a blip, and Hugh Freeze of Ole Miss, who famously cried when his Rebels took down the Crimson Tide, arose from their respective beds, looked out the window at the breaking dawn and realized that neither had anything to show for it. No titles. No banners. No boxes, packages or bags. No bowl wins. Just a pile of fading photographs and a morass of unrealistic expectations for the future. As that sad truth sunk slowly in, both were jolted to realize that not only did they remain empty handed, both were still in the state of Mississippi. Looks like Jack Daniels and cornflakes for breakfast again in the Freeze and Mullen households.
On January 12 in al.com headquarters
Auburn beat writer Marcello remained unconvinced Malzahn wasn’t headed to the NFL. After first stirring the ‘would Malzahn leave for the NFL’ embers in November with a nebulous report that offered nothing beyond the fact that Malzahn was a Cowboys fan growing up, Marcello then jumped on an unsourced (and immediately refuted) report by former Alabama beat writer Ian Rappoport that the Miami Dolphins had interest in Malzahn.
On the morning of January 12, Joel Erickson of the official University of Alabama press agency, al.com, picked up Marcello’s standard and ran with it again, regurgitating the same phantoms of nothing.
Would Malzahn leave? Who knows? It’s akin to us asking Nick Saban if he’d fly to Jupiter on a frisbee. Maybe he would. Maybe Saban always wanted to be an astronaut. Who cares? It’s not relevant. Could it be that the puppet masters at al.com wanted to make sure these seeds were freshly planted in the minds of recruits making their final decisions and heading to all star games?
On January 12 in Baton Rouge Louisiana
Everett Golson, Braxton Miller, Cody Kessler, Jacob Coker, Nathan Peterman, Max Browne, Ryan Burns, Cooper Bateman, Kenny Hill, Conner Brewer, Zeke Pike and Jamarcus Russell all contacted LSU head coach Les Miles about transferring into the Bengal program to play quarterback. Miles, who was suffering from food poisoning after accidentally ingesting a handful of artificial turf, imagined that the calls were from the boy band One Direction. He awoke humming “The Story of My Life.” Meanwhile Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris snuck the remaining artificial turf out of Miles’ lunch bag, replaced it with real Bengal grass, shook hands and solemnly agreed never again to speak of what they’d done.
On January 12 across the State of Florida
Florida fans pulled on their jorts and finally came to the realization that the Gators had hired Jim Somebody to lead their program. They returned to their regularly scheduled sobbing while they clutched pictures of Tim Tebow.
On January 12 in Columbia South Carolina
Steve Spurrier didn’t too much give a rip. He got his golf clubs out, stroked a few drives, had a cup of coffee, parked himself on the veranda of the clubhouse and started reading Fifty Shades Darker. He’d gotten through the first book without ever figuring out how to get his hair color just right and figured maybe the secret was in the second book. When a Gamecock booster walked by and interrupted his reading by asking how South Carolina was going to bounce back next season, Spurrier sighed. “Son, you’re at South Carolina. The heck you expect? National championships? This is what you get. It’s as good as it’s ever gonna be. You don’t like it? Fine. I hear Derek Dooley is available. Say, you got any idea what all this frolicking in this here book has to do with coloring your hair?”
On January 12 in Mobile Alabama
Alabama color commentator and Senior Bowl Executive director Phil Savage put on his Crimson Tide slippers, his AJ McCarron tattoo t-shirt, his white boxers with Roll Tide across the butt, his houndstooth pants, his Big Al watch and his Bear Bryant hat. He sat down at his desk, opened his laptop adorned with a white script A, cleared his “Alabama Glories” screensaver and opened a browser. He found several articles online concerning the Senior Bowl’s decision to exclude record-setting quarterback Nick Marshall from the roster after extending its first invitation to flash-in-the pan, half-my-yards-to-Amari-Cooper Blake Sims of Alabama based on nothing more than his personal affection for a player who has little to no chance to make an NFL roster. Savage knew he needed to reply, but he had to choose his words carefully. He sat back and looked up at the framed photographs of Bryant, Johnny Musso, Steadman Shealy, Joe Namath, Kenny Stabler, Cornelius Bennett, Lee Roy Jordan and Jay Barker that surrounded his workspace. He tapped the Coach Fran bobblehead that Arbys produced in 2002 and watched the head rock up and down. When no justifiable answer came, Savage decided to baffle the masses with bull. ‘Marshall isn’t highly rated, scouts aren’t sure if he’ll play quarterback or defensive back in the NFL and there’s still a chance he might get an invitation if nobody else wants to play,’ Savage danced. That should do it, Savage thought. Then he remembered he had to send out a memo to all 32 NFL teams explaining exactly who Jalston Fowler was since none of them had ever heard that name. Typically players with 69 yards and two touchdowns on the season don’t make All Star rosters so Savage had some explaining to do.
On January 12 in Chapel Hill North Carolina
Gene Chizik walked into the North Carolina Tarheel locker room. On his left hand he wore a national championship ring from his time in Texas. On his right he wore a SEC championship ring from 2004 and a national title ring from 2010 from his time with Auburn. He breathed in the stale locker room smell with a smile, glad to be back in the game. Then he noticed the helmets were not lined up correctly. This bothered him immensely.
On January 12 in Tuscaloosa Alabama
Defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor, dismissed from the University of Georgia for choking and beating a woman, expressed his sincere gratitude to the University of Alabama for giving him a third chance to make it. “I know that if I wasn’t enormous and really good at football, I’d still have this opportunity, but it’s nice that I can give something back to the school that believes in me by playing this game.” Later that afternoon the phone system at the University of Alabama went down. Officials determined that the sheer volume of calls fielded by the answering system overwhelmed the network. Willie Williams, Terrell Clinkscales, Jhalil Crowley, Davonte Spruill, Beau Smith, Janoris Jenkins, Maurice Clarett, Jamarcus Russell, Mike Dyer, Dakota Moseley, Ray Rice, Chris Brown, Lawrence Phillips, Eddie Williams, Brent Calloway, Tyler Hayes, Alonzo Lawrence, and Karlos Williams were among the thousands of callers either seeking a new and forgiving home or expressing support.
On January 12 in Northport Alabama, near North River Yacht Club
Nick Saban discovered that he was out of oatmeal creme pies. With a disgusted sigh he put on a fake nose, fake beard, sunglasses and a cowboy hat hoping to be able to make a quick trip to the convenience store without alerting the masses, He knew if the horde found him he’d be tied up for hours, forced to sign people’s babies, bellies, bras, and other assorted items and places. In disguise, he slid behind the wheel of his Mercedes, opened the garage door and slipped the car into reverse. The backup proximity alarm began blaring immediately and Saban slammed the vehicle into park. Exiting angrily, Saban spotted beatwriter Michael Casagrande lying across his driveway with a walkie talkie pressed to his face. “Baby Bear on the move, repeat Baby Bear on the move,” Casagrande whispered urgently into the device. A burst of static and then the reply “10-4, Crimson Disciple One. Do not engage. Maintain reasonable distance, report Baby Bear activity at two minute intervals. Mamaship out.” Casagrande rolled out of Saban’s driveway, clearing a path for the disguised Bama head coach to exit.
Back at the Mamaship, aka al.com, alarms blared. Moving to Defcon 15, Baby Bear has exited the den. Peering intently at a white board on the wall, Mamaship employees performed a quick assessment. Nearly ten days had passed since Saban’s Crimson Tide lost to Ohio State. Had Mamaship done enough to fluff up Bama’s bruised egos? There was a story about how Nick Saban’s father was a really mean and brutal old school type taskmaster, which had been glossed into something supposedly inspiring but which was ultimately frightening. There was a story about a backup quarterback talking about how great it was to sit the bench due to the fantastic culture. There was a story about a five star recruit who couldn’t crack Alabama’s starting lineup, but readily accepted his lack of playing time because just being at Alabama was enough. That piece included a groveling snippet that referenced how top recruits were frequently frustrated because there was just so much talent everywhere. There was a praise article illustrating yet again the sheer awesomeness of Lane Kiffin and what a brilliant move his hire turned out to be. There was a story about how losing to Ohio State was actually a positive. There was one talking about how unsigned recruits were already bonding to build championships. Assuming they could ever make the roster There was another piece about how a five-star freshman Rashaan Evans (who just can’t quit whining) about bogus ‘backlash’ couldn’t break in because at Alabama’s so good that most freshmen happily spend their first year learning. There was also an entry about the backlog of highly rated quarterbacks who stay at Alabama despite not playing (even though four of the first five Saban-signed quarterbacks left the program).
Was that enough? It was less than one per day.
The Mamaship captain keyed the mike. “Crimson Disciple One, come in. We need another ego fluffing piece stat.”
“10-4,” Casagrande responded.
Six minutes later a ding announced an incoming missive. Casagrande had hurriedly authored a piece on Saban’s efforts to boost the national economy and support the small businessman by shopping at a local convenience store and leaving three pennies in the “take one/leave one” tray. He expanded that theme, crediting Saban with keeping people employed and lowering the national jobless rate. His 1000 word ode hit the al.com front page 28 seconds after receipt. No editing needed. It was picked up by the Wall Street Journal and reported by ESPN within two hours.
Saban had yet to leave the convenience store with his oatmeal creme pies when Casagrande’s report burst onto the Internet. By the time Saban turned from the counter the parking lot had begun to fill. Grown men were running at full speed holding babies out in front of them. Saban sighed deeply, thought fondly of the coal mine his father had dragged him into when he was a child, and waded into the sweaty throng.
On January 12 in Tallahassee Florida
Jameis Winston leaped out of bed, tucked his Hello Kitty doll in beside his Sponge Bob pillow, put on his caped Ninja Turtle onesie and skipped over to Coach Jimbo’s house where he had gotten pancakes, bacon, toast, eggs and a big bowl of Trix cereal every morning for as long as he could remember. ‘Silly rabbit,’ Winston giggled to himself as he shot a stop sign with the BB gun he’d tucked into his pocket. When he arrived at Coach Jimbo’s house, Winston was perplexed to find the door locked. He rang the doorbell and when that got no response he knocked loudly. After a few seconds he heard a voice say ‘Nobody’s home.’ Winston pondered that for a bit, wondering where Coach Jimbo and his family might have gone. What was he going to do about breakfast? Then he brightened, remembering that he’d seen boxes of Trix in this big building a few streets over. He was pretty sure there was milk in there too. In fact there was all kinds of food in that place. They probably had bowls in there, too. Surely they’d let him have some.
From inside the house, Coach Jimbo watched Winston leap from the porch and dance down the sidewalk. ‘Not my problem any more,’ he reminded himself as Winston darted into traffic, waving the BB gun and shouting ‘Trix is for KIDS, I’m Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!’ Coach Jimbo turned away and let the curtains drop. ‘Nope. Not my problem any more,’ he affirmed. ‘He belongs to the world now.’
On January 12 in Ann Arbor Michigan
New Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh stepped out into the crisp, frigid morning air. ‘This is so much better than the damp fogginess of San Francisco,’ he thought contentedly. He fished his cell phone out of the pocket of his robe and dialed up interim Michigan athletic director James Hackett. “Jimmy, Jimster, Jimma Jim Jam,’ Harbaugh barked in greeting when Hackett answered. ‘Gonna need to set up a meeting today. Probably should get the player personnel director involved. Gonna need to go over the current roster, take a look at the contracts, check the free agent market and see if there’s anybody out there we could bring in. Set up a conference call with Miles down at LSU. They need a quarterback. I’d like to see if we could trade that Shane Morris kid for Jennings and one of their running backs. They got a ton and Fournette’s gonna get most of the carries. Say what Jimbardo? No personnel director? What do you mean ‘recruiting?’ I’ve got to do what? Are you kidding? Okay, Jimbabwe. I hear ya.” Harbaugh clicked the phone off, thought for a moment and punched in a number. “Ian? Ian Rappoport? What’s up Rappy? Rappscallion! Say, what do you know about that Dolphins job?”