What Do You Call It
When SEC Teams Can’t Beat Alabama?
A Job For The ACC!
The game is over and the result is clear. Clemson is the National Champion and by a large margin. If you compare stats, you could argue the teams were well matched but according to the scoreboard – the only stat that counts – it was a blowout.
Despite Alabama running more plays, completing more passes and possessing the ball more, the game wasn’t close.
Obviously, we can’t take anything away from Alabama. They have history. Very long history. The words “Winning” and “Alabama” may soon be registered as synonyms, and that is great if you’re focused on the past, but it was a problem in this year’s FBS.
History doesn’t win football. Coaches and players do, so the first and most telling takeaway from this contest is:
Hype Doesn’t Win Games
There is a lot of hype surrounding SEC football in general and Alabama in particular. The Tide are perennially top spotters. I can’t remember a season when they weren’t in contention for first place regionally and nationally and the hype is more intense with each new year.
This snippet from The State online provides a good example of the hype:
There was talk going into Monday night’s national championship game that Alabama had the greatest team in college football history.
The Crimson Tide were 14-0 and had dominated their opponents for most of the 2018-19 season. No major college football team had gone 15-0 in the modern college football era, and Alabama entered Monday night’s championship with an average margin of victory of more than 31 points.
‘It would be right up there in the greatest seasons we’ve ever seen,’ Chris Fowler said leading up to the national title game. ‘Certainly a contender for the No. 1 spot in my view.’
The inference being, if Alabama was considered the best ever before the game, then the team that crushed them should be too. Sounds logical to me but let’s not get carried away.
The SEC and Alabama do have very strong football traditions but the hype is overkill.
Hype never caught a pass, kicked an extra point, made a block or scored a touchdown. The only advantage it provides is psychological.
Psychology does play a big part in sports so it’s best not to minimize hype but it’s also best not to embrace it. If you believe it, it will influence the outcome.
The truth is a player’s performance is inversely proportional to the amount of hype he absorbs. The more he believes it, the more likely he is to act accordingly. Hype-saturated thinking is not the best strategy when beating the best team in history.
The Tide-Sooner matchup illustrates the point. Kyler’s performance in the first quarter was not Murrayesque at all. Not even close. He seemed flustered, confused, uncertain and a bit lost.
He believed the hype for at least one quarter. Unfortunately, that’s all Alabama needed. Once he settled down, he played like the Murray we’ve all come to love and expect, but by then the Tide had fully risen. Not even Murray could pull out a win.
Hype, of course, can work as much against you as it does for you.
In Clemson-Bama IV there were two people who didn’t believe the hype. Swinney was one. He knew what his players could do and his belief and expectations never wavered. And his players were fully persuaded.
Saban also didn’t believe the hype and to his credit, he never has. The proof is he complains loudly about the press’s overstated write-ups of his team. They don’t listen. They keep writing articles full of praise, adoration and wonder.
The SEC regularly absorbs it all. The press sculpts the hype god and SEC teams repeatedly make sacrifices. It is shockingly predictable.
Unfortunately for Nick, his players were hype-notized.
Hype is why LSU fired Les Myles. I think Les’ performance was more influenced by the school’s badgering than his fear of Alabama. He was surrounded but not by football opponents. It must have been difficult to perform knowing he wasn’t who they really wanted, which was Saban.
Fortunately for the fans, in this year’s FBS, the players didn’t drink the kool-aid (at least on the Tigers side of the ball) and they gave us a real test of football at its best.
Coaching Style Does Matter
Hype wasn’t the only factor. Coaching effected the outcome too.
Arguably, at this level, coaches are all good and Saban and Swinney are examples. Winning consistently at the top level puts them both squarely in that category, but the two are very different.
Not to be unkind, but Saban, though seemingly a very decent person, leans a little toward the commanding General type. I say “seemingly” because I could be wrong. He does have a very endearing manner in the public eye, I’m sure unaffected.
Swinney, on the other hand, is more like your favorite uncle and the difference is huge. Generals are obeyed because they are feared. Uncles are obeyed because they’re loved.
In fairness to Nick, Commanders are what school regimes and fan bases expect. They want coaches to be large and in charge and, in Saban, that’s what they get. His genteel manner aside, wouldn’t it be great to be a fly on the wall? Just once. With maybe a compact recording device.
Nick does the job well. He has the ability to command. His players do what is expected on the field and they do it well. Bama is, as they say, a well oiled machine but what kind of oil is it? It might be the kind that breaks down under pressure. It sure did in the championship.
This game wasn’t about X’s and O’s or Jimmy’s and Joe’s. Neither team has an edge on game planning and both are laden with talent. This game was about heart and focus and belief.
When the game plan dissipates, you need camaraderie and that’s exactly what Swinney cultivates at Clemson.
The outcome of this championship was good for football. No team is absolutely the best, not even Clemson. Outcomes are not automatic. Any team can win and every coach and player should keep that in mind. In football, every team is just one broken play away from losing.
Hope you enjoyed the game! I sure did!