Archive for Saturday, January 9, 2010

Give Saban credit for Tide’s title

January 9, 2010


Hold off on the houndstooth hat. Put the genius label on another coach.

But pay Nick Saban his $200,000 bonus so he can buy a whole truckload of his favorite Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies.

Alabama is, after all, the new BCS national champion. How the Crimson Tide accomplished that really doesn’t matter.

If this title game was judged by pollsters the way the regular-season standings are, Texas might have won. There’s nothing better than the heartwarming story of a freshman quarterback, suddenly thrown into service, who endures a miserable half before finally rallying his team to within one good drive of winning the game.

But the score is all that counts in the end, and the decidedly low-tech scoreboard at the Rose Bowl showed Alabama winning, 37-21, when the final seconds ticked off the clock. Bear Bryant would have gladly accepted this victory, and even the normally dour Saban couldn’t help but crack what suspiciously looked like a smile when the No. 1 team in the nation prevailed.

To be sure, Saban had a lot to smile about. The Tide finished undefeated, he had his second BCS title, and in just three years he did exactly what he was expected to do when Alabama lured him back to the college ranks with a contract that now pays him $4.7 million a year.

Yes, it should have been easier. Most of the 40,000 or so Tide fans jammed into one half of the Rose Bowl were probably saying that to each other as they nervously watched Texas rally behind the suddenly hot arm of a true freshman who had attempted 26 passes all season long.

With Colt McCoy gone, it should have been a cakewalk. With a 24-6 halftime lead and Texas in disarray, it should have been a sure thing.

But Saban — who attempted a fake punt that went awry on Alabama’s first possession — turned conservative, which probably seemed like the right thing to do since the Tide had Mark Ingram running through holes in the Texas defense. The plan was simple enough: hand the ball off to the Heisman winner, then get handed the BCS trophy.

Texas wasn’t going to come back. Not behind Garret Gilbert, who completed more passes to guys in red in the first half than to his own teammates.

Just to cover his bases, though, Saban warned his team at halftime not to start celebrating.

“Our message at halftime was we got to play for 60 minutes,” Saban said. “Championship teams and teams that get to this point are going to be able to come back.”

Not since Bryant prowled the sidelines had a game meant so much to such a storied program.

That Bama was back under Saban already seemed clear. But there are good years and there are national championship years, and this was a game the Tide couldn’t afford to give away.

They tried anyway, with Ingram seeing only limited third-quarter action after cramping up. Gilbert began connecting deep and suddenly Texas had the ball, trailing only 24-21 before linebacker Eryk Anders forced a fumble with a blindside sack to set off a wild Tide celebration.

This was what Alabama boosters expected all along when they emptied their wallets for Saban, who won a BCS title at LSU before departing for the tougher climes of the NFL.


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