By Stewart Mandel
January 09, 2013

Well, we might as well get this part out of the way.

So Stewart, at what point did you start feeling very foolish about your "Don't Anoint Alabama Just Yet" column?-- George, Montgomery, Ala.

Right after Eddie Lacy scored the first touchdown

How much of a fool do you feel like today after that idiotic prediction that Notre Dame would upset Alabama?  Do you guys make these predictions to hype the game and add some interest to the uneducated sports fan?  In Alabama we saw this coming.  Y'all just don't understand.-- Gary, Mobile, Ala.

Y'all were right.

I could fill the whole column with these types of e-mails, but it would quickly get more redundant than the past seven BCS championship games. So, let's dig into a juicier Alabama-related submission.

After the BCS Championship outcome it is clearly time for another inane comparison question: Alabama 2009-12 vs. Nebraska 1994-97. Which is more dominant and why?-- Shane Johnston, Raleigh, N.C.

Inane? On the contrary, this sounds like fun.

My first thought would be to answer Nebraska for the simple reason that the Huskers went undefeated in all three of their title seasons (1994, '95 and '97) while the Tide only did so in 2009. In their respective "down" years, Nebraska in '96 came within a phenomenal Texas fourth down call of playing for a fourth title, whereas Alabama in 2010 was eliminated even before the Cam Newton Iron Bowl comeback. During their respective four-year dynasty runs, Nebraska went 49-2, Alabama 49-5. Case closed, right?

Not necessarily. For one thing, Nebraska's run came before there was an official national championship game. Only one of its three title-clinching wins came in an actual 1 vs. 2 game (the infamous 62-24 beatdown of Florida in '95). In both '94 (Penn State) and '97 (Michigan) the Cornhuskers avoided facing undefeated Big Ten teams that were ranked No. 1 or 2, instead beating No. 3 Miami (10-1) in the Orange Bowl in '94 and No. 3 Tennessee (11-1) in that same bowl in '97. Some may also contend the Big 8/Big 12 of the mid-'90s was not the SEC of today, but that's hard to quantify. Alabama has defeated a combined nine ranked teams in conference play during its three championship seasons, while Nebraska beat seven. And then there are the actual scores of the games. There's no agreed-upon demarcation of what margin constitutes a blowout, but I'm going with 20 points. Nebraska had 27 such victories during its three championship seasons game-by-game scores from its famous '95 season are absolutely absurd), while Alabama had 25. There's not as much difference as I would have thought.

It's easy to glamorize eras the more distance we get from them. I know when I think of the Tommie Frazier-era Huskers I think of nothing short of utter dominance. In researching this answer, I'm now realizing those memories are primarily due to the '95 team, arguably the most dominant in the sport's history. The truth is we're not even certain the '94 or '97 teams were the best in the country. Thanks to the BCS, Alabama had the opportunity to prove so more definitively, and when it did, dominated all three of its championship games. To me that somewhat negates the fact that the Tide, unlike Nebraska, had those one-loss championship seasons. The fact is, they were both incredibly dominant, but I give a slight edge to the Crimson Tide due to the three 1 vs. 2 blowouts.

If parity is supposed to be increasing across college football, why for the love of humanity can't anybody beat the SEC in the title game? This is getting out of hand.-- Hayden Murphy, Waco, Texas

Is there any hope left for the rest of the non-SEC country? As a Midwesterner, I dug my heels in when it came to recognizing SEC dominance. College sports are cyclical, but I don't see this cycle ending anytime soon.-- Mike, Avon, Ohio 

Right now it's more an Alabama cycle than an SEC cycle, but even the idiot that talked himself into Notre Dame can tell you there's no sign of the SEC falling off the mountain anytime soon. The best recruits are in the South. The best coaches are in the South, in part because the schools spend the money to get them. To me, the difference between the Big Ten and SEC right now was illustrated vividly during the coaching carousel. How can the Big Ten reasonably expect to keep pace with the SEC when a mid-level SEC program (Arkansas) is capable of luring away its own reigning three-time champion coach (Bret Bielema)?

At this point, the best hope for the rest of the country is the coming change in the postseason format. On the one hand, the new system may be even more favorable for the SEC, what with the opportunity for it to qualify multiple teams. However, the collective rest of the field also gets to qualify more challengers. Notre Dame absolutely deserved its spot in the title game under the current system. Monday's result did not invalidate an undefeated season against an admirable schedule. But it may be that Oregon, for one, was more suited to take on Alabama, and if so, in a playoff, the Ducks would have had the opportunity to take out Notre Dame and take its own shot at Alabama. Also, the earlier semifinal game might eliminate some of the rust that annually affects at least one title-game team (see all those missed tackles by the Irish, which hadn't played in 44 days), and the ensuing title game should see both teams at full strength.

The SEC is on top, but it's not invincible, and the best example of that is sitting right there in its own conference. Texas A&M, which beat Alabama and finished the year a Top 5 team, was still a Big 12 team this time last year. It was still in the Big 12 when it recruited Johnny Manziel and it was still in the Big 12 when it hired Kevin Sumlin. The Aggies as constituted now could conceivably have gone 11-1 or 12-0 in the Big 12, and you better believe neither Alabama nor anyone else would have wanted to face them in a playoff.

I couldn't help but laugh Monday night when Brent and Herbie were talking about WHY the SEC has dominated these last seven years.  Have they heard of the following word: oversigning? To me, that's the biggest reason the SEC has been so good. What's your opinion on this issue and will it be curtailed in the future?-- Brian, Chicago

Why hasn't anyone in the mainstream media mentioned the why behind the SEC dominance of the BCS era?  One word for you (or two depending on proper english): OVERSIGNING. The depth of SEC teams has everything to do with their continued oversigning practices in recruiting. Until the other conferences latch on to ruining kids lives, we'll never compete with the SEC in football.-- Jason Sesco, Columbus, Ohio

You know the only thing more insufferable than the "Notre Dame would be the eight-best team in the SEC" crowd? Their "let's use oversigning as an excuse for everything" counterparts.

First of all, the media has hardly ignored oversigning. In fact, we wrote about it ad nauseam a couple years back. See this. Or this story. Or this piece. And do you know what happened as a result? The SEC adopted more stringent limits on the number of signees per class. While certainly not a cure-all, as far as I'm concerned it stripped other conferences' fans the luxury of using it as an excuse. The Big Ten adheres to its own stricter rules, and good for that league. Notre Dame literally can't oversign because it graduates virtually all its players. I commend both parties. But don't voluntarily subject yourself to a possible disadvantage, then complain that you're at a disadvantage. You look like a sore loser.

No question, crafty and sometimes dubious roster management played a factor in Nick Saban's quick turnaround at Alabama. (He doesn't really need it now.) It plays a part in LSU's seemingly endless depth, too (which will be severely tested now what with its 37 underclassmen turning pro). But Florida, not an oversigner, won two of the league's seven straight titles. Georgia, also not an oversigner, came within a tipped pass of playing Notre Dame instead of Alabama. And by the way, the practice is hardly limited to the SEC. Plenty of other programs -- particularly in the Big 12 -- do the same thing. It hasn't magically produced national titles. So can we give it a rest already? It's a legitimate issue to be sure, but it's hardly the reason Notre Dame couldn't tackle Eddie Lacy.

If the reports are to be believed, the Rose and Sugar Bowl will keep their Jan. 1 spots, even when not hosting a semifinal. That means for eight of the 12 years of the new playoff agreement, the semifinals would be held on Dec. 31, instead of Jan. 1. This can't be true, can it?-- Jerry Franklin, Cleveland

It is 100 percent true. The BCS made it official Tuesday.

The new system is different from the BCS in that the conferences with contract bowls (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) negotiated their deals directly with the games and with ESPN rather than part of a collective umbrella. There was never a question the Rose Bowl and its partners would claim their traditional Jan. 1, 5 p.m. EST time slot. And the SEC and Big 12 preemptively locked down the primetime slot before they even knew which bowl would be hosting their new matchup. Meanwhile, the commissioners want the two semifinals to always be played on the same day so neither team has a one-day advantage or disadvantage in rest/preparation heading into the championship, and television wants those games in the later time slots. So, since the Rose's and Sugar's time slots are intractable, the only way to accomplish that is to pair them together in the semifinal rotation, and in other years to play the semis in the two later Dec. 31 time slots. The third contract bowl, the Orange, will be played in the early Jan. 1 slot in regular years but likely move to Dec. 31 when it hosts a semifinal.

Few fans seem to be aware of this development yet, but those I've heard from are a mix of excited and mystified. While many workplaces give employees Dec. 31 off or let people leave early, it's not an official holiday, and in some years, that first semifinal could be starting at 2 p.m. PST on a Tuesday. (Note there will be three years when those games fall on a Saturday, and two of those will be on Dec. 30 because the 31st is a Sunday.) I'm sure many husbands are mortified at the possibility of missing these games because their wives will want to go out for a proper New Year's Eve date night. But the commissioners (Mike Slive in particular) are convinced this event will be so popular they will redefine Dec. 31 across the country. People will prioritize watching the games, and New Year's Eve parties will become much like Super Bowl parties. There's at least a little evidence to support their thesis. This year's LSU-Clemson Chick-fil-A Bowl, played on Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. EST, garnered the highest rating for a non-BCS bowl in ESPN history (5.6). Most estimate these games will draw at least double to triple that audience. (Monday night's game, despite being hurt by a blowout, did a 15.7).

The BCS announced Tuesday that the Rose and Sugar will host the first semifinal games on Jan. 1, 2015, so this scenario we're discussing is still three years way. That should give you ample time to warn your spouses and significant others.

OK, we will all have to agree the SEC has been top dog the last few years, no question about that. My question is, when is SI or any other credible media going to address the competitive advantage oversigning has given them?-- Honest John, Raymond, Neb.

We'll start looking into it. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

The parallels between the 2001 and 2012 Oregon football seasons are downright spooky. Each had one regular-season loss to Stanford. Both Ducks teams were spurned by the BCS and settled for the Fiesta Bowl, where both then throttled their Big 12 opponent (38-16 over Colorado and 35-17 over Kansas State). Those seasons also featured one-sided title games that only added to Oregon's frustration at not getting a shot.  This year, Oregon would have played the loser of that game (Notre Dame).  But for argument's sake, let's say Pitt beat the Irish, and Oregon ended up playing Alabama. Should Oregon fans feel robbed for missing the chance to prove themselves both times?  Or thankful that they possibly missed the embarrassment of a similar beatdown?-- Landon, Salem, Ore.

While there are definitely some interesting coincidences there, they were not parallel scenarios. The 2001 Oregon team, which won its conference and finished the regular season No. 2 in the AP poll, can legitimately say it was robbed of a chance to face (and likely lose by three touchdowns to) No. 1 Miami. The BCS standings, then more heavy on the computers, snubbed the Ducks in favor of a Nebraska team that lost its last game 62-36 and did not win its conference. This Oregon team, on the other hand, as dominant as it was in all but one game, did not have the same argument. The Ducks did not win their conference. They did not play a particularly daunting schedule. They finished the regular season fourth in the polls, which means that even in your hypothetical scenario, Florida, not Oregon, probably would have played Alabama (and in light of the Gators' Sugar Bowl performance, we can at least be thankful they didn't).

So, to answer the latter part of Landon's question, I think Oregon fans have reason to feel disappointed they didn't get a shot at Alabama or Notre Dame, but they can't pin this one on the BCS. They needed to beat Stanford. Personally, I would have loved to see the Tide and Ducks tee it up next weekend. I can't say I'd like Oregon's chances, but it's the matchup most of us wanted to see all along, and if this were the four-team playoff, we just might have seen it.

Why doesn't the Alabama narrative include the fact that Saban oversigns via BS medical redshirts/grayshirts so that he has the functional equivalent of an extra recruiting class every four years?-- Chris, Washington D.C.

The Big Ten doesn't expand to the D.C. area for another year-and-a-half but I see you've already taken up the company line. Impressive

I get that the SEC is the dominant conference in the country.  But for Vanderbilt to finish the season ranked as a Top 20 team is ridiculous. The Commdores lost to all three good teams from the SEC East (Florida, Georgia and South Carolina), missed the big three teams from the SEC West (Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M), played two FCS teams (wait, when did UMass join the MAC?) and beat only two bowl teams all year.  Alabama's dominance has nothing to do with Vanderbilt, yet Vandy finishes ranked because of it.-- Al Caniglia, Arlington, Va.

Really, Al? You want to rain on Vandy's parade? You can't just let the Commodores enjoy their first end-of-season ranking since 1948? You can't tell me you didn't get a little kick out of firing up that final AP poll and seeing not only Vandy, but Utah State and San Jose State. I never thought I'd see the day.

You've got a point, though. That's a pretty soft 9-4 record. It's more impressive who they lost to (four teams that finished 17th or higher, including Northwestern out of conference) than who they beat (Ole Miss and N.C. State). But as a former voter, I can tell you it's pretty slim pickings when you get to around 20th. My only complaint is the exclusion of Baylor, which, like No. 24 Michigan, went 8-5, but finished with wins over Kansas State (11-2), Texas Tech (8-5), Oklahoma State (8-5) and UCLA (9-5). You could certainly swap the Bears for Vandy, but Baylor has already enjoyed a couple years of glory. Let the 'Dores have a turn.

P.S., I can't believe I've devoted this many words to the No. 23 team.

You forgot the biggest factor of all when predicting the Notre Dame upset: No one is supposed to see it coming. Therefore, you doomed any chance Notre Dame had of pulling off the upset the second you changed your prediction.-- Vincent, New Orleans

Indeed, I violated one of my own personal rules when it comes to making predictions -- always trust your initial instinct. Of course, my instinct has been off pretty much the entire season, so that might not have been any smarter. It turns out the only two things I was right about all season were that Duke would make a bowl game and that Florida was grossly overrated. Nobody cared about the first, and it took four months and multiple incorrect game picks to validate the second.

From now on, though, I'm just going to make more predictions than needed in hopes that at least a few of them pan out. Then people can write in and accuse me of oversigning.

Well, this is normally the time when I bid many of you adieu until the summer. But guess what, folks? We've decided to turn the Mailbag into a year-round franchise.

It's not going to be weekly the entire offseason, but I will be writing one next week, so have at it. Nick Saban said Alabama would only take two days off before it begins preparing for next season, so you're all under the same orders.










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