Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Belichick and Bama

What about football? Is it a sport or a concussion? ~Jim Murray

A couple of disparate items, connected by football.

Closing the Belichick Incident

I think everyone is about done bellyaching about New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and his video cameras. At least they've moved on to accusing others of similar evil deeds, like Pete Carroll, who to my knowledge never coached under Belichick, and Nick Saban, who did (more on him below). I forget what Carroll was accused of, but the accusation was made solely because he coached the Patriots at one time. Apparently just being associated with the Patriots is enough to mark you for life.

At any rate, the NFL demanded and received all the tapes and "materials" from New England and promptly announced that there would be no further punishments. But, I was rather intrigued by the fact that the league destroyed all those "materials" about as fast as they got them.

Think about this for a moment. Everyone is up in arms about the wicked Belichick and his marauding, lying, cheating, stealing Patriots. He's made these awful illegal video recordings that have enabled them to win all those games over the last few years, "cheating" Pittsburgh and Philadelphia (according to players from those teams) from their rightful titles. So the league demands all the tapes. New England delivers them with an alacrity that would indicate that either a) there weren't very many of them, or b) they had them all boxed up in a corner someplace. If the former, it doesn't seem like they gathered a lot of intelligence in the process. If the latter, it doesn't sound like they were looking at them very much.

But, far more amazingly, the NFL, upon receipt of all this damning evidence, promptly destroys it, with no comment, no "See? Here's how the evil Belichick was cheating". Boom, straight to the dumpster.

Do you people get it now? Belichick violated a stadium game-time procedure, not a football rule. There is no rule against stealing signs, so the Patriots couldn't have "cheated" by doing so. What they did was take sideline pictures of coaches signaling and maybe used that to figure out signs. Of course, they would have had to figure out which of three coaches or players who were flapping their arms like chickens in a flea storm were actually giving the sign. Then they would have to hope that those signs didn't get changed by the time they played that team again.

At least, we think that was what they were doing, because we'll never know since the NFL conveniently torched the goods.

Here's what I think: The Patriots violated a procedure put in place to ensure that NFL Films was the only entity on the sidelines taping or filming the action. What they were doing with it was unclear. Personally, I think they were checking out injured players or something. Whatever they were doing was not against any rule of professional football.

Get over it. The NFL has.

Bama Predictions Redux

First, let me mention the comedy of the Saban connection to the Belichick incident. During the week prior to the Georgia game with Alabama, Georgia coach Mark Richt closed practice. Now coaches closing practice is not exactly a rare thing. In fact, very few practices are open after the first 15-30 minutes, during which the press can watch players do stretching exercises. But Richt made a big deal about it. Now, he didn't say anything, but reports were picked up by the local sports shows that the reason he did it was that Nick Saban used to be an assistant coach to Bill Belichick, so he might be a low-down dirty spy too.

This is funny enough, but it becomes a laugher when you consider this. Virginia Tech played Georgia in a bowl game some time ago (the Sugar Bowl, I think). Frank Beamer accused "someone" of spying on his practices leading up to his game. Now, the only "someone" who would be interested in Tech's practices would be --well, whaddya know -- Georgia, coached at the time by one Mark Richt.

Anyway, what I really wanted to brag, er, talk about was the prediction I made for Alabama's season. As you can see in the linked article, I forecast a 9-3 record for the Crimson Tide. At this point, I predicted they would be 3-1 with one loss, that to Georgia.

Bingo -- so far.

In looking over the remainder of my picks, I'm not as sure about some of them as I was earlier. Actually seeing the teams in action does offer a different perspective (for example, ranking Michigan number 5 in the preseason polls). Now, for the record, the picks I made are the ones I'm going to live with, but I am willing to admit I'd change a couple if I were doing the balance of the season now.

For example, I'd seriously consider giving Bama a win against Florida State. FSU looks seriously mediocre, and Jimbo Fisher may not have the tools to take advantage of what he knows about Saban's defense. LSU, on the other hand, may be able to overcome Les Miles just because they seem to have buckets of talent. Alabama will be hard-pressed to pull out the upset.

Those two games would be a wash, with the team still finishing 9-3. However, it's just possible that the Auburn game might need re-evaluation. Auburn has had a rough year of it, with a weak offensive line, no Bill Lester, and a very confused Brandon Cox. They could be had. Of course, Lester will be back next week, and Cox looked very good against New Mexico, but the team was pretty uneven last year and seems to still be having trouble finding itself.

Of course, Nick Saban's defense has been pretty uneven itself, and John Parker Wilson is a continual accident waiting to happen, so that game is a toss-up.

All in all, I still feel comfortable about a 9-3 season, which would be a considerable improvement for the Tide and a probable harbinger of even better things to come. They look to be a team on the way up.

Of course, a lot of folks were saying that about Notre Dame not long ago.

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