Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 6, 2013

Column: Championship comes down to old-school football

By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Call it old-school football. Some like it, many more don’t.

Fans of Alabama and Notre Dame football probably do, while the rest of the college football world would probably rather see anything else.

All those high-octane offenses, with spread, pistol, shotgun and other clever terms are all the rage in college football now, except where it counts most.

The national championship still comes down to the fundamentals, which includes maintaining control of the ball with a strong running game, stingy defense with proper tackling techniques and field position through special teams.  

Ask most coaches and they will tell you the same thing, but for many non-coaches especially, that just isn’t exciting enough. Tickets must be sold, and scoring points and lots of them is supposed to help make it more fun.

There are many West Virginia fans reading this right now who couldn’t wait to get rid of old-school Bill Stewart and replace him with Dana Holgorsen whose offense is potent, but whose defense is apparently to simply try to outscore the other team.

Five weeks into this season, the Mountaineers were fourth in the nation, and a co-worker talked of West Virginia playing Alabama for the national championship. I laughed, knowing that eventually that strategy would catch with them, and it did.  

All that offense is fun to watch, but if you want to win championships, it’s all about the short game, stopping the other team, running the football a few yards at a time behind an offensive line that imposes its will on the other team, a precision passing attack, and special teams that really are special.

Tonight’s game won’t be a point-a-minute display of offense that so many seem to favor. It will be the type of football that might be hard for those wanting points and lots of them to watch at times, but it will be football the way it was meant to be played.

It works, at least at the college level. It is much the same in high school and even in the NFL. The fundamentals are all still the same.

Tonight’s game will feature two talented offensive lines, a very good defensive front seven for both teams, and one veteran quarterback, A.J. McCarron, against a capable, but young, Everett Golson.

Alabama is the favorite, even though Notre Dame enters at No. 1, but who really knows until they play the game. We have had more than a month to hear about it, now they will finally take the field and decide a national champion on the field.

The matchup has been called the Christians vs. the Catholics, and could be deemed the SEC against everyone else.  

I know the country has grown weary of the SEC. Six national championships in a row, with a seventh possibly on the horizon is enough to drive anyone from any other league to the brink of not watching at all.

Of course, those fans who don’t want the SEC to succeed again face the alternative of cheering for … Notre Dame.

With apologies to John Crist and Fighting Irish fans I have met over the last 37 days while finally waiting for this day to get here, pulling for the Fighting Irish is like cheering for the Cowboys or Yankees.

I just can’t do it. There is no middle ground with those teams. You either like them or you hate them. Alabama might be approaching the same status.

Who are those folks who don’t care for either team — and there are lots of them out there — going to pick?

College football is far from perfect, but it is my favorite football. I am not a fan of how a national champion is picked, but this is the system we have until a four-team playoff that finally begins in 2014.

Some will say that neither Notre Dame (12-0) or Alabama (12-1) deserves to be playing tonight. The Fighting Irish had to beat Pittsburgh in three overtimes, survive a controversial call to escape with an overtime over Stanford, and eked out close wins against Michigan, Purdue and Brigham Young.

With Ohio State not eligible to play in the postseason, that meant the best one-loss team would play Notre Dame. That wound being Alabama, after the Crimson Tide rebounded from a loss to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, and eventually squeaked past Georgia to win the SEC championship.

Alabama’s schedule has also been ridiculed, but they started the season with what was supposed to be two top 10 teams, but neither Michigan or Arkansas were what we thought they were. The SEC was also strong at the top, but weak everywhere else, and it has shown with a few losses in the bowl season.

There were other one-loss teams heading into the bowl season, including Oregon, Florida and Kansas State, but Alabama was the choice.

The Ducks, which lost just once in overtime to Stanford, will finish the season with one loss after beating the Wildcats in the Fiesta Bowl. The Gators didn’t help the SEC’s reputation any by losing big in the Sugar Bowl to Louisville.

The game most media folks seemed to want was Oregon and Alabama, and they nearly got it, but Notre Dame didn’t allow that one to happen.

Alabama’s lone loss in the regular season was to Texas A&M. Oregon lost to Stanford, Georgia fell to South Carolina, Florida was beaten by Georgia and Kansas State lost to Baylor.

The BCS computers and coaches concluded that Alabama was the better team, so here is the Crimson Tide, seeking its third national championship in the last four years.

How close were we to someone else playing the Irish? The pollsters liked Alabama, with the Crimson Tide ranked second in the Harris, AP and USA Today polls, while the computers liked Florida after Notre Dame, except for one of the seven that had the Gators ranked sixth.

All the rest of the computers had Florida second, but the polls had the Gators fourth. That allowed SEC champion to climb into this game, and the Bulldogs beat out Florida for the SEC East crown and then fell about six yards short of a rematch of the 1980 national title game won by Georgia over Notre Dame.

What we have to me is a dream game. Some will argue, but these are the two most storied programs in college football, a game that media folks have said might be the most watched college football game in history.

Even if it wasn’t Alabama playing in the game, I would be watching.

College football is my kind of football.

I know it is un-American or un-sports editor-like, but the NFL has grown stale to me. Honestly, in recent years, I have had the same issue each season with the Super Bowl. I really don’t care who wins.

That even shocks me because I used to be an NFL fanatic, but something changed over the years. Perhaps I am just busier and don’t have time to play fantasy football or sit at home on Sunday and watch every game, but my interest has waned.

In fact, I have even worked on Super Bowl Sunday so other folks can watch the game. I saw about six plays of last year’s game, just enough to see Ahmad Bradshaw ‘accidently’ score the winning touchdown.

Some readers like to ridicule me for my interest in Alabama, and I have cut back on writing about the Crimson Tide, other than to pick them to play in this game. Of course, I had them playing Southern Cal, but at least I got the Tide right.

Well, when your NFL team never gets to this point and the Chargers have been there once way back in 1994, there has to be an outlet and for me that is the Crimson Tide.

This run of success is fun for an Alabama fan, and not so much for everyone else. If Alabama loses tonight, I am sure there will be folks letting me know about it.

That’s just part of being a fan. This can’t last forever, why not enjoy it while I can.

Fans of the Steelers and Patriots and Giants just don’t understand. Your NFL team is there practically every year; my team always manages to break my heart.

Millions will watch the Super Bowl every year, but the game that matters most to me happens tonight.

Enjoy old-school. May the best team win.

Roll Tide.

*****

Brian Woodson is the sports editor at the Daily Telegraph. He is an Alabama fan and can be contacted at bwoodson@bdtonline.com