Dear Nick Saban,
I’m really, really sorry.
I doubted you again. I did it when the season started, and then I did it again. In fact, as the season progressed, I dug in deeper to doubt you further. And before I go any further, allow me to show you word for word what I wrote last week.
It feels like we’re watching a superhero that suddenly lost its powers.
You were a 6-point underdog to Georgia on Saturday in the SEC Championship Game—the first time in 93 games the oddsmakers didn’t have you as the favorite. And I took the bait.
I bet Georgia to win that game and cover the six points.
I bet Georgia to win the SEC and the national championship before the season began. (And I’m still holding out some hope on that last one. Sure, you can laugh about it. I won’t blame you.)
Well, none of that happened. You know this, of course, and you spoke on the matter after your game yesterday.
“You guys gave us a lot of really positive rat poison,” you said. “The rat poison that you usually give us is usually fatal. The rat poison that you put out there this week was yummy.”
You’re right. Guilty.
We did, and I certainly did. And you will now assume the familiar role of the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff.
Oh, and you’re the favorite to win the title once again. After chasing Georgia for much of the year, your team is now + 120 to win the national championship. Georgia, now at + 135, is chasing you.
Considering you lost your starting QB, who is tearing up the NFL as a rookie, a Heisman winner (and you’re about to win another) and plenty more this past offseason, this is all pretty remarkable.
Sure, you looked like crap against Auburn. You played “meh” football against LSU and Arkansas. You lost to Texas A&M and its backup QB, and that felt like a moment.
But here we are, near the end of the road, back where we started.
I’d love to say I won’t bet against you again, but I might. We’ll get to that shortly.
In the meantime, however, well done. You are the GOAT, and I’m not sure there’s a discussion to be had on the matter at this point.
There’s a little rat poison for the road.
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
First, a little housekeeping. I’m going to be doing weekly columns at VSIN focusing on the bowl games and the College Football Playoff. This week, we’re wrapping up the playoff rankings, previewing the playoff, looking at Army-Navy and talking through some coaching movements.
But bowl breakdowns are coming, each and every week. I love the bowl season, and I promise to celebrate it as such.
1. What is perhaps most shocking about the College Football Playoff is that we have had very little drama when it comes to Sunday’s reveal. Outside of maybe the first year, there really hasn’t been any team that feels like it’s being left out. I’m not exactly sure what that tells us, although I do know this. Playoff expansion is coming. It’s a matter how many teams (hopefully eight) and when (hopefully soon).
2. While the conference championship drama was relatively minimal, the ending of Oklahoma State-Baylor was superb. The Pokes lost a conference championship and a spot in the playoff by essentially a couple of inches on the final. Not only that, but Oklahoma State squandered so many opportunities throughout on the whole--plus the interceptions. It still was a great season for Mike Gundy’s team, but that was simply stunning.
3. One more notion about the playoff. It does feel like things are much more open than in recent years. Alabama in 2020 and LSU in 2019 were dominant football teams. Maybe Alabama, Michigan, Georgia or Cincinnati emerge as a dominant football team in the coming month. But at least right now, the semifinals have a bit more sizzle than normal despite some bigger point spreads.
4. The Heisman is over. Simple as that. In fact, it’s so over that it will actually be difficult to bet. Although he entered the day around -200 to win the award, Bryce Young’s record-breaking performance against Georgia sealed it. There will be no drama here. Young is around -3500 to win the award, which feels about right. I am curious, however, to see who joins him as a finalist. My guess is Young, C.J. Stroud, Aidan Hutchinson and Kenny Pickett.
5. Speaking of Pickett, his fake slide in the ACC Championship Game was diabolical. I would imagine we will see this talked about when it comes to rule changes in the coming months. Playing defense is hard enough already.
6. Now, a quick vent about the final rankings. Baylor beat a top-10 team, won its conference and still finished ranked behind Notre Dame and Ohio State in the final standings at No. 7. None of the teams made the playoff, so I suppose it’s a moot point. But given how much conference titles are supposed to matter, I found that a bit perplexing.
7. Let’s talk about Lincoln Riley. While I hesitate to ever crown a coaching hire a success given how few actually are, I would be shocked if USC is not competing for Pac-12 Championships and hovering around the playoff in two years. That roster needs a ton of help, although Riley inherits Jaxson Dart, a former 5-star QB recruit who showed promise as a true freshman, along with some other pieces. He’s already landing 5-star players, and he’s going to crush recruiting in the state of California. Just a monster hire.
8. Let’s talk about Brian Kelly. So, it started off a little weird. Kelly suddenly developed a southern accent when speaking to fans at a basketball game, which is, well, odd. That aside, Kelly has been superb at his job over the last decade-plus. And although this feels like an odd culture fit, I am curious what he can do when it comes to accessing and developing talent in a place surrounded by it. He’s not likable. Let’s be honest. But his teams win, and the consistency is staggering. It’s not a no-doubter hire, but it’s a good one.
The Buffet: Let’s Bet Army-Navy, Shall We?
Normally, we feature five of the week’s biggest games in this section. This week, we have limited options. Rest assured, the buffet will be far fuller next week as bowl games kick in.
Army (-8.5, 37) vs. Navy
I love this game. In fact, it’s a game I need to see in person at some point. As for this particular installment, we have to start with the total. If you were looking for points, you might need to look elsewhere. That said, both offenses have been plenty capable and actually posted a fair number of points. The problem is that the clock will be moving pretty much the entire game with two option offenses. Navy, despite its struggles, has covered the spread in seven of the past nine games. The schedule has not been very kind, and that is worthy of consideration. Army has won four games in a row, although two of these games came against Bucknell and UMass. I am inclined to take the points, pour a delicious IPA (or two) and enjoy the heck out of this.
The Buffet (Part 2): College Football Playoff Preview
As we get closer, the analysis will grow. But with the game announced and the lines out, here are some thoughts on our two semifinal games.
Orange Bowl: Georgia (-7, 43.5) vs Michigan
Does Georgia have a quarterback controversy on its hands? Well, it probably should at least consider it. Stetson Bennett looked frankly out of sorts against Alabama, and I am curious if JT Daniels will get a crack at playing time in the weeks ahead. Regardless, Georgia’s offense did not respond well once the defense was punched in the mouth.
Speaking of getting punched in the mouth, Michigan will likely be able to match Georgia’s physicality. The Wolverines closed out the year with a dominating win over Iowa, easily covering the double-digit spread. No team in college football has more momentum than Jim Harbaugh’s.
Oh, and they have been a delight to gamblers. Michigan is now 11-2 against the number this year.
Matchup wise, these two teams really want to execute a similar gameplan. I am curious, however, to see how these next few weeks treat both. Georgia is licking its wounds for the first time all year, and Michigan is enjoying more momentum than it’s had in some time.
Momentum is a hard thing to quantify, but the state of these teams at this particular time is fascinating. Early on, I tend to lean toward the underdog.
Cotton Bowl: Alabama (-13.5, 59) vs. Cincinnati
The narrative potential is delightful. The great juggernaut of the sport vs. the mighty little guy they finally let in. The early point spread speaks to this, although it shouldn’t come as a surprise.
What was most impressive about Alabama against Georgia, outside of Young’s brilliance at QB, was the way the offensive line held up. Against Auburn the prior week, this unit was a disaster. The fact that it rebounded as strongly as it did was unexpected and superb.
Sticking with Alabama, the loss of wideout John Metchie for the season is enormous. Metchie’s absence could be felt in the second half, and I am curious to see how ‘Bama counters. Jameson Williams has been superb, although he can’t do it alone.
For Cincinnati, which finished the season unbeaten while closing out with three wins against the spread, I am curious how they matchup athletically.
To be clear, this program has at least a handful of NFL players in key positions. But is the difference in other areas simply too glaring?
Finally, it boils down to this. Which version of Alabama will we get? And does it matter?