Saturday, February 18, 2017
By Anthony Strait, OTSL Analyst
Flash back to March 18, 2014; Phil Jackson received a thunderous standing ovation as earlier in the day he came home. The man with eleven NBA championships as a coach had officially returned to the franchise where he won two as a player. Phil was a member of those beloved New York Knicks teams that won championships in 1970 and 1973 when the Knicks were the ultimate definition of that word: TEAM. On this day Jackson was now christened as the latest supposed savior to a team that had struggled to maintain any success since 2000. Knicks owner James Dolan had fired GM Glen Grunwald before the 2013-14 season started, mere months after the team Grunwald put together won 54 games, a division title and then their first playoff series win in over a decade. Now Dolan was again bringing in a big name to save a franchise that has made self-sabotaging more common in Midtown than rush hour traffic. Only this time it was the man who once helped the Knicks win titles as a player and also prevented them from winning more while coaching a man named Michael Jordan.
Now flash forward to the present. Days before the trading deadline in the middle of yet another lost season for the Knicks. The love and optimism that was felt at Madison Square Garden back on that March night has disappeared. The aura now felt is one of confusion, chaos and turmoil. A star player in the midst of constant trade talks and a owner now embroiled in a ugly PR nightmare with a beloved former player. Lost in all this is the job Jackson has done since March 18, 2014. Three years in and the numbers speak for themselves: 72 wins to 149 losses along with three different head coaches and 45 different players. The man known as “The Zen Master” has created more madness by his actions as well as his ill-timed words. The Knicks need to save face and admit to themselves that yet another big name is just that: a big name. Phil is no savior and now they need to move on in an act of salvation if winning basketball is to return to Madison Square Garden.
From the moment the 2013-2014 Knicks season ended and Phil went over his options he made one questionable decision and only compounded it with more questionable decisions. Jackson fired Mike Woodson instead of allowing him to coach the last year of his contract as Jackson himself made the transition from coach to front office. One would think an individual in Phil’s shoes would keep things intact just to make transitioning easier. When he missed out on Steve Kerr he settled on the just retired Derek Fisher. Jackson’s biggest mistake was not hiring an inexperienced coach to lead a veteran team but rather insisting that the coach run the Triangle offense that Jackson and Tex Winter made legendary. Flawed logic considering today’s NBA which now incorporates small lineups and three-point shooting more than ever. The Knicks struggled learning the Triangle and eventually Phil decided to press the reset button and blow up the roster. Gone were JR Smith and Iman Shumpert – who would later help the Cavaliers win a championship. The Knicks finished with the worst record in franchise history – 17-65 – in Jackson’s first full season as team president.
He got lucky when Kristaps Portzingis fell into his lap in the 2015 draft but it’s really the only positive on a resume full of negatives. The Knicks improved by 13 games in 2016, but a solid start was derailed by a lengthy losing streak and injuries ruined any hopes of a playoff spot. Phil fired Fisher after a 23-31 start and again pressed the reset button after the season. The building blocks he installed gave way to veterans like Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose in a shift from rebuilding to Win Now mode. It seemed to work at first in December. The Knicks were 14-10 and sitting third in the East when Jackson managed to put his foot in his mouth with controversial remarks involving LeBron James. Jackson referring to James’ business associates as his “posse” was both dumb and insensitive. In typical Jackson fashion, he offered no apology. The comments bashing Carmelo Anthony for not passing in spite of numbers showing differently only began what would now be weeks of a public tug of war against his own star player.
Nowadays Phil Jackson is symbolic for everything that has plagued the Knicks for so many years: lack of continuity, lack of patience, lack of an actual plan and poorly timed bad PR. He passed on interviewing guys like Tom Thibodeau and Frank Vogel while rumors swirled he would give the head coaching job to interim coach Kurt Rambis full time with the Triangle again in mind. He settled on Jeff Hornacek but it still feels like Phil is trying to coach from afar. In his mind the lack of Triangle offense is why the Knicks are struggling; not the realization that his team is among the worst defensive teams in the league. He wants to rebuild around Porzingis but now have Noah’s $72 million contract eating up payroll for the next few years. The guys he traded like Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton are still producing for other teams. Meanwhile many of the guys he got back in return are no longer with the team. His failure to build a contending team has now resulted in him throwing Melo – a man he convinced to stay and trust the process – under the bus. Three years later and constant changes from a man brought in to bring stability has resulted in a record more than 80 games under .500. Phil “The Savior” is now Phil “The False Prophet”.
In a season that has derailed both on and off the court, whether it’s the trade rumors swirling around the best player or the owner’s poor treatment of team alum, Phil Jackson is in the middle of it all. The Knicks have failed yet again to learn from their past by delving into their past for a big name. Phil with his rings and resume was supposed to bring instant credibility. Last summer those rings were not even good enough for Kevin Durant to sit and have coffee with Phil so you can only imagine how little those rings look now as the team’s bad reputation sweeps through the league. Jackson’s epic failure as President leaves the Knicks more in shambles than before he came home. New York was 127-103 with three playoff appearances and a division title. The team with Phil managed a 17-win season and a game of musical chairs to see all the different players who have worn a Knicks uniform. It’s time both part ways for no other reason than salvation. For Phil it’s his legacy and for the Knicks it’s to bring in someone who can do the job and revive the franchise without the fanfare.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way but when you think back to that night in 2014 Knicks fans in the building at the corner of 33rd and 7th and all around NYC wanted to believe. Unfortunately the man hired to save the Knicks instead has turned into an out of touch Old Man. Knicks fans deserve better; Carmelo Anthony deserves better; even James Dolan who kept his word about staying out of Jackson’s way deserves better. The franchise does need to rebuild, but the simplest solution is really to move on from the Era of Zen. Where one becomes a false prophet not because they fail but rather because they don’t realize that they have failed.
Phil will never admit it to himself so it’s up to the Knicks to do it for him.
Saturday, September 03, 2016
By Anthony Strait, OTSL Analyst
For the last few days, the biggest sports story that everyone seems to have an opinion on is what San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernick did in protest this past weekend. The issue I have personally taken with over the past couple of days isn’t his protest of sitting in silence during the National Anthem. It surely isn’t his explanation to bring attention to social injustice particularly police brutality. My personal feeling is while I disagree with his method, I respect his right to his freedom of speech and expression that is his given right as an American citizen. The issue I have with this whole situation is the hypocrisy that has reared its ugly head once again in an America that at some point became a place where freedom of speech is allowed but only if you say something that everyone agrees with. The fact that we are so willing to punish dissent is against the very principle behind the first amendment right that gives us the freedom to express our views without consequences.
I gave up keeping count of the people who said what Kaepernick did was disrespectful to our military and those who fought to protect his freedom. Even with Kaep’s statement of his respect towards our military and those who served, people still have their minds made up. Kaepernick is labeled un-American because he protests in a non-violent manner and disrespected the flag. But how much of this is really based on our own personal feelings towards the American flag as opposed to what are actual facts about what the flag stands for? Any game or event you go to you will see people stand and honor the flag and our military. That is how we choose to interpret the flag; it’s not how everyone SHOULD interpret the flag. As much as we don’t acknowledge it, the national anthem does not mean the same for all. In a stadium filled with thousands of people; you never know if there is one person who sees the flag as a symbol of greatness while someone else may see it as a symbol of what’s wrong. You can always have a person who came to this country for a better life see it as a symbol of hope while a man next to them sees it with anguish as he still grieves over the child he lost in war. We are basing Kaepernick’s stance on how we have always personally viewed the anthem and flag, which is unfair. Everyone’s meaning is different but the right to be different is what is supposed to set the United States apart from others. The US Constitution exists for that very reason.
The hypocrisy in those condemning Kaepernick isn’t just reserved to the flag. How many of those who criticize Kaepernick just months ago praised the late Muhammad Ali? Everyone in the sports world from the likes of Drew Brees to Kaep’s former coach Jim Harbaugh spoke out against him. But these two along with so many in the world praised the legacy Ali left behind due to his willingness to fight for what he believed in. Why is it okay in one case but not okay in another? Kaepernick is risking his own livelihood to use his platform to take a stand on something he feels strongly about. Ali lost three years of his career and was deemed un-American for not fighting in Vietnam. Today his life is celebrated not just by his boxing career but his role in civil rights. How many NFL players have given lengthy quotes on how they feel about Kaep sitting during the national anthem but remain silent on issues such as domestic violence or the possibility of having a gay teammate? Funny how these same NFL players also don’t mention how the league was paid over $5.4 million by the defense department between the years 2012-2015 to be a propaganda machine. For all of the talk about how the flag enables Kaepernick’s freedom of speech and right to protest, why are those saying it having a hard time simply disagreeing without disparaging the idea that Kaepernick only did what so many Americans do daily? There is nothing wrong with honoring the military as there is never enough appreciation that can be shown for them. But it doesn’t mean those who are honored and serve have exclusive rights to the idea of patriotism and our anthem.
As bad as the sports world has been, the fans and social media have been far worse in this matter. You don’t have to go far for proof. Colin Kaepernick’s Twitter handle alone showed the ugly racist backlash he received that almost works double towards proving his point that racial injustice still exists. Fans ask athletes to take a stand on social matters all the time. The moment one does and it’s something fans don’t agree with they are told to shut up and play and they don’t relate because they make millions. Is the problem with the athlete who takes a stand or the fan who can’t get past his salary or how many fantasy points he is losing to notice someone with remote power and influence is trying to make a point? The talks of “There are other ways to protest” are never followed up with actual ways to protest, at least one that hasn’t been tried yet and would really work. Kaepernick, whether you agree with it or not, took a non-violent approach. That is a far cry from some of the violence protests seen at a Donald Trump rally or even those at a few Black Lives Matter rallies. Colin did not burn a flag -- which was very commonplace during protests of the Vietnam War -- nor did he use the sidelines to perform a staged fake death, which were held frequently a decade ago to protest the War in Iraq. With my own two eyes I saw people on Facebook speak strongly against Kaepernick’s approach who I remember took part in those staged fake deaths while attending Hofstra University years ago.
The issue here isn’t simply agreeing or disagreeing with Kaepernick. As American citizens you, me and anyone who has an opinion are well entitled to their right to disagree with Colin Kaepernick. It is your God-given first amendment right to not support the 49ers or never watch a NFL game again if you choose to. What is lost in all of this is recognizing Colin is within his first amendment rights to his beliefs and to express them in a non-violent manner. For those who say he should go to another country is in itself disrespecting the rights afforded to anyone who lives in a country that encourages free speech without any repercussions. Kaepernick has vowed to continue sitting until change of some form is made knowing that his days as a 49er and possibly NFL player may be numbered. You are entitled to your freedoms to choose either side of this argument as you see fit. Just keep in mind that he is entitled to his and infringing on it based on not agreeing with it goes against the very heart of the first amendment that the Constitution and American flag for many represent as core values of our freedom.
Saturday, February 27, 2016
by The Rabbi, OTSL Video Editor/Producer
I am a chauvinist.
Yes, I know that's a very harsh first line, to say such a thing about myself, but the truth of the matter is this: you are all chauvinists too.
Why you might ask? It is simply because of the fact that we have not treated women right in sports.
For all of the good advances we have seen over the last few years, most notably the hiring of Becky Hammon by the Spurs as the NBA's first female full-time assistant coach and the hiring of Kathryn Smith as the NFL's first full time female assistant coach, we have treated the woman's place in the world of pro and amateur sports even worse than before.
Before we get to the issues at Tennessee (the reason I'm writing this column) let's just look at a few reasons why our treatment of women in what is a male-dominated field is still tremendously wrong.
A little over a year ago, the NBA got into a little bit of hot water when, after a game, Chris Paul (who is only the head of the National Basketball Players Association) criticized a female ref after calling a technical foul which Paul thought he didn't deserve. Postgame, Paul said about the technical foul, "That's ridiculous. If that's the case, this might not be for her." The technical was one of many the Clippers received in that game in which they were routed. If that were a male ref calling the foul, would the situation have been the same? I doubt it. Even if it was, the person who is the spokesman for NBA Players should not be saying things like that.
Last year, ESPN employee and former softball star Jessica Mendoza became the first female to be a color commentator for an MLB Playoff game (and she did the job well enough to get asked back into the Sunday Night Baseball booth this year). While this was a moment that was celebrated by many, there were some people who were outraged that a woman was taking what some called a "man's job" and what's even more disgusting was a tweet by Atlanta sports host Mike Bell saying this:
"Yes tell us Tits McGhee when you're up there hitting a softball you see a lot of 95 mile an hour cutters"
Bell got suspended for this tweet, but a short suspension doesn't hide ignorance.
Finally, let us take a look at what's going on at Louisville. The accusations made by a former prostitute a little less than six months ago that between 2010-2014 Louisville basketball players and recruits were at dorm parties where strippers were the entertainment provided by a former assistant coach. Also, some of the (non-college) girls at these parties were having sex with these former players after that same assistant coach paid for it. So they were, in a not so nice term, whored out.
There were two dozen of these such parties. Louisville has a self-imposed postseason ban this year because of this, with probably more to come from the NCAA. You know, because the only people that should be punished are the kids who probably had NOTHING to do with these allegations.
So from those three examples we've established that players and media personalities think a woman's place in a male-dominated game should be non-existent, other than to provide "entertainment" to those "hard-working" male athletes and coaches.
Then there's the University of Tennessee, a school with so many sexual harassment allegations it showcases those examples as well as any male "pig" ever could. I'm not even going to mention Peyton Manning in this article. The allegations of what he did to a female employee of UT in 1996 just solidify this even more. Let's stay more recent.
First, as you may have heard, a lawsuit is currently being filed by EIGHT former female UT employees basically saying that the institution "created a culture that enables sexual assaults by student-athletes, especially football players, and then uses an unusual, legalistic adjudication process that is biased against victims who step forward."
It's a huge claim, one that has examples going back to the 1990's, which includes claims from last Spring that a Vols football player, accused of sexual assault, had his suspension lifted just to take finals, so that same player could be eligible to play the next season. That same player’s lawyers allegedly were ALLOWED to contact witnesses that were going to be called during UT's investigation.
Second, three years ago, an alleged rape allegation against then UT football player Marlin Lane was essentially never disclosed because of pressure that was put on his alleged victim by fellow UT students and administrators. Even though the rape claim against Lane was never reported (and he was suspended while the allegations were still pending for Spring games and summer practices), details have come out that the woman never pressed charges because she was threatened on Twitter, and even threatened over the phone by Lane's girlfriend.
Finally, a year and a half ago, another UT student was claimed to have been raped by football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams. That night, another fellow player, Drae Bowles, drove the woman to the hospital as she was hyperventilating and crying. What happened to Bowles next by players and coaches is beyond disgusting.
One linebacker allegedly beat up Bowles and punched him in the mouth, two other players (including Lane) said "people get shot for that sort of thing", and even (still currently as of this writing) head coach Butch Jones called Bowles "a traitor". So, even the people who want to stand up for the rape victims are outcasts.
Tennessee could have done the honorable thing and taken these allegations as seriously as they should have been, but what would have been smart about that? Instead, all 16 of Tennessee's head coaches had a press conference earlier this week, in a move that screamed PR at its worst level, to basically say why women were just "as equal" at UT as all the men were. Examples of statements included:
"It's amazing to me to see the support of our female athletes," said Vols women's basketball head coach Holly Warlick, a move that came after a UT media relations assistant halted an interview last week with one of her star players about the allegations.
"Our competitors are using (the culture perception) against us," head coach football Butch Jones said. This cites what the interview was REALLY about, telling recruiters that everything is going to be OK. Don't believe the truths!
Finally, this gem, “These stories aren’t being told,” said softball co-coach Karen Weekly. “That’s why we’re here today — because we want people to hear the positives.”
Yeah, that's about all that was for.
While everything in that press conference was all about the rosy picture going on at Knoxville (male coaches even come to women's games!), the crux of the matter wasn't mentioned till 25 minutes into the love-fest (neither was the lawsuit nor the damning allegations) and it was mentioned indirectly by a reporter asking a question, not by any of the coaches themselves. In addition, those allegations against Butch Jones weren't revealed until 48 hours after the press conference, which just solidifies the disingenuous tone of the PR fest to begin with.
So, as we reach the end of this column, here's a little recap about what we've learned about the culture of women in sports (and all of these examples have taken place or have been revealed in the last 14 months):
- If a woman does all the things a man does in a position of power like referee, be prepared for extra scrutiny.
- Women are subjected to online bullying, regardless of how good of a job they do, just because they are a woman.
- A woman's main place in the male dominated college world is to be used as sexual escorts or victims.
- When it all comes down to it, the rights of victims only come second to a school's athletic success.
While the allegations that have recently come out against Louisville and Tennessee reveal an abusive culture related to football and basketball on campus, rest assured they are most likely not the only colleges or even professional sports teams where this exists.
This may resonate with you, the reader, or it may not, but the fact that this isn't more of forefront issue in the world of sports or the fact that we don't care about this more as a society makes all of us…chauvinists.
Saturday, February 13, 2016
by The Rabbi, OTSL Video Editor/Producer
If you watched media coverage in the two days after the Super Bowl, all we heard was about Cam Newton. Why didn't Cam Newton dive for that fumble? Why did Cam Newton say nothing to the media? Why is Cam Newton so cocky?
One more question should be asked: Why are we focusing on the QB of the team that lost Super Bowl 50?
What the winners did (oh by the way, that would be the Denver Broncos) in the NFL's Golden Game was extremely historic. Historic in so many different ways, that when people look back at this Super Bowl 50 years later (Super Bowl 100? Perish the thought) they’ll shake their heads in disbelief.
The Denver Broncos made history by being the first Super Bowl team to win having less than 200 yards of total offense. That last sentence is just mind boggling to me. When you looked at the field on Sunday, fans had a very good idea that we saw a shell of the Peyton Manning who played in three previous Super Bowls. What we didn't know was this wasn't a shell of a former great, this was basically a shell fragment.
Peyton, who seemingly had one job on the field in managing the game, was responsible for one interception and one fumble. It got so bad in the second half for Manning, that it kind of looked like in my view that Head Coach Gary Kubiak didn't let him do ANYTHING. Not even a pass over ten yards. The best pass that Manning threw, especially in that second half, was the two point conversion he threw to make the score 24-10. It was probably the last pass of his career.
Emmanuel Sanders was virtually the only reliable target for the Hall of Fame QB (he had almost four times as many receiving yards as anyone else did Sunday night). The running game was decent enough, as CJ Anderson went for 4 yards a carry (23 for 90yards). All those numbers and the fact that the offense for Denver was basically two people makes it even more amazing that the Broncos were not only leading the entire game, they didn't look like they were in trouble.
Now, we get to the Defense of the Super Bowl Champions. Orange Crush is not even the best way to describe this unit right now, but only because they are SO much better than their predecessors ever were. On Sunday, they hit Cam Newton 13 times. Eight Broncos got to the QB who ran the league's number one offense in 2015. As you all know by now, the chosen one got sacked six times on the night (they also sacked Ted Ginn Jr. once), with Denver's bookend Outside Linebackers Demarcus Ware and Von Miller getting credit for 4.5 of them. The only other team to get seven sacks in a Super Bowl? The 1985 Chicago Bears.
This postseason Denver got to their opponent’s QB 33 TIMES, which is an unbelievable stat considering the other two signal callers they manhandled were Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, who are responsible for five Super Bowl wins. When you take into account Von Miller's two strips of Cam on Sunday, the final score of the NFL's Golden Game should really read as: Broncos Defense 14, Panthers 10.
Since the 2000's the NFL has been a game dominated by offense. “You can't win a game without a great QB performance” people always say. Super Bowl Sunday proved different. Since 2000, I've only truly seen two Super Bowl winning performances that have been on par with Peyton Manning's on Sunday: Trent Dilfer in Super Bowl 38 for the original team who won with only defense, the Baltimore Ravens (153 yards, 3 sacks, 1 fumble); and Big Ben Roethlisberger in the last anniversary game for the NFL, Super Bowl 40 (9-21, 123 yards, 2 INT's). Being responsible for a single TD (Dilfer throwing, Big Ben running) in their respective Super Bowls was really the only positive thing either of them did. Peyton really can't even take any credit for that.
That Sunday showed us things we've never seen before from a WINNING team in a Super Bowl. Whether it be because of the Broncos own futility on offense or their amazing defense; either way, it’s truly historic. And either way, the DENVER BRONCOS are the TRUE story of Super Bowl 50, not the Carolina Panthers.
Or you know, we can talk more about how Cam is a sore loser again, your call.
Sunday, January 31, 2016
By The Rabbi - OTSL Producer/Video Editor
There's only one number you need to know going into Super Bowl 50, and that number is TWO.
Why 2? TWO is the number that showed what the Carolina Panthers public perception was for most of the season. TWO is the number that signified the 20 consecutive regular season wins as a fluke to the public. TWO is the number that made the Panthers look like a product of just a really weak NFC. TWO is the number that reminds people that the Panthers were a 7-8-1 division winner a year ago. TWO is the number that had people believing Cam Newton isn't even a Top 10 QB in the NFL, and that's a CRAZY thing to think now.
Okay, so let me tell you what the number 2 actually represents: it was the opening Vegas gambling line of Panthers-Cowboys in Week 12. The Panthers were 10-0 going in the game and the rumblings of a 16-0 regular season were getting louder. Carolina had built up a reputation as a big game team and was about to prove their worth against a Cowboy team whose QB, Tony Romo, would be starting in his 2nd game back from surgery.
Were the Panthers favorites in this match up going in? They were not. It seemed crazy at the time even though the Panthers were on the road in this game and it seems much crazier now. There have been a ton of doubters for this Panthers team all season, are there are a ton of different reasons why.
They're not the sexiest team in the NFC. The Packers have the history and fans; the Seahawks had the two consecutive NFC championships before this season; the entire NFC East (even this year) is more watchable to the average Joe than a singular Panthers game.
They are still very weak at the skill positions to the public. RB Jonathan Stewart had a great year, but he was always known as the slightly better portion of a backfield timeshare until 2015. WR's Ted Ginn, Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery? Please, they're just other teams castoffs, is what many said before this year. Greg Olsen wasn't a #1 TE in many people's eyes, because only two tight ends in the NFL were worthy of that distinction: Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Many people thought this team was done when its leading receiver from 2014, Kelvin Benjamin, got injured in training camp.
Then of course there's Cam Newton, now the very likely NFL MVP. He was always considered a pretty good QB, but one that still needed to prove himself worthy of that Number ONE Overall draft pick distinction in 2011 for a ton of different reasons. He had many injuries (which is to be expected for someone who moves as much as Cam does); he was always known as a out of the pocket QB (when the NFL these days embraces more in the pocket QB's); and he was just not considered as much of a leader (like a Brady, a Manning, or a Rodgers).
Unless you've been living under a rock, you all know by now how the Panthers proved the doubters wrong. They beat the sexy Seattle Seahawks on the way the NFC Championship.
They had the skill positions: Stewart was the main back in the NFL's #2 rushing offense; Ginn had the best year of his career, Cotchery proved he was still a viable wideout, Olsen had his 2nd straight 1,000 yard receiving season and developed into the 2nd best TE in the NFL behind Gronk.
Finally there's Newton: He was injury free in 2015; threw only TWO INT's from the pocket in his last 10 games and he is now one of the most vocal leaders in the NFL.
So, what happened in that Week 12 game vs. the Cowboys? Carolina won EASILY 33-14. Jerricho Cotchery was the team's leading receiver in that game; Newton was responsible for almost 230 all purpose yards plus one touchdown; and Cowboys QB Tony Romo through three INT'S and was re-injured by the very stiff Panthers defense.
The opening line for Super Bowl 50? Panthers by 3.5. The public perception changed big time from just TWO months ago, as the betting public moved the line a full TWO points. Now Carolina is favored over Denver by 5.5, and that line might grow even more.
Do not doubt the Panthers; they're not anyone's number TWO anymore.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
By The Rabbi - OTSL Producer/Video Editor
His smug, arrogant personality and coldness to reporters reminds me of a college version of Bill Belichick. The smugness is unbearable. His constant rumors about going to the NFL also make me hate his existence in the college game.
However, the man's presence is necessary to the game. If last night didn't reaffirm it, I can definitely say it now: he is by far the best coach in the modern game.
I know all the talk by people who are going to talk about his place in the history of college football, will be about how he's better than Bear Bryant, but I don't care. Comparing Saban and Bryant is like comparing apples and oranges. Comparing anyone in the non BCS/CFP era to anyone before is somewhat unfair.
As an LSU fan, the hatred I have for Saban is legitimate, but I can still respect the man. In a very stacked SEC, Tricky Nick always finds a way to make his team rise above all the rest. Four titles in seven years is a hell of an accomplishment. When you realize why he didn't win those other three years it is even more amazing.
2011: Cam Newton emerged as a dynamic talent, and yet Auburn still needed a huge second half comeback to beat the Tide in their regular season game.
2013: The "Kick Six" against Alabama in a game where either team could have won kept the Tide from the National Title game and sent Auburn to play Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles.
2014: This remains a mystery. I have two theories, though.
- Ohio State really snuck up on the college football world.
- Alabama didn't prepare and treated the National Semifinal the wrong way.
Let's not forget that Tim Tebow might have cost the Tide a title or two as well while he was at Florida.
In watching Nick Saban win his 5th national title Monday night, I saw him do a few things we have seen before.
1. Establish the Running Game
Sure, Derrick Henry had a quiet second half, but the establishing of him in the first half allowed Alabama to throw the ball, a lot, in the second half, torching a Clemson defense that hadn't been torched like that in any game this season.
2. Play to his QB's strengths
Yes, AJ McCarron did start a playoff game this week (and did enough to win), but the three previous QB's behind center for the Crimson Tide basically amount to one good player COMBINED in the NFL. Greg McElroy is already working for the SEC network; McCarron is not even the most well-known person in his own household; and although Jacob Coker did have an amazing second half, he doesn't show enough confidence to play QB in the NFL. He held onto the ball WAY too much at times last night, but as always, Saban figured out a way to overcome it and made Coker look like a Heisman finalist in the second half.
3. Out-coach your opponent
There's a BIG reason why Nick Saban doesn't lose to any of his former assistants and is now 5-0 when playing for a CFP/BCS National Title. He's the best coach on the field. Dabo Sweeney is a young coach who looked really good last night, for about three quarters. Saban pulled out all the stops, especially going all Sean Payton with a surprise onside kick after tying the game at 24 (yet another face slap to the state of Louisiana).
Which leads me to the one final thing in my praising of The Devil in college football coach form, the way he adapted to what Clemson gave him last night. He didn't have the best player on the field in Glendale (that would be Tigers QB Deshaun Watson) and his team never showed they had the better unit on the field - be it offense or defense - until the 4th quarter. However, the adjustments Saban made led to what truly might be the best of his five national title victories. Saban needed to find ways in the second half to win himself a title and that's when he called for the onside kick; the multiple downfield passes; and screen plays that carved up the Tigers secondary. As I said on the OTSL Twitter feed during the game, when Alabama plays at it's best, you just can't beat a Saban-led team. Clemson brought their A-Game and still came up a bit short.
That's why Nick Saban is the best coach in the modern college game, as much as I wish it wasn't so.
Thursday, December 31, 2015
By The Rabbi - OTSL Producer/Video Editor
Peach Bowl: (18) Houston vs. (9) Florida State (-6.5)
Florida State has been a team that, with Jameis Winston at QB, has been used to making playoff appearances and national title games. Now? This team is back in the position they were at before the boy wonder came to Tallahassee: good but not necessarily good enough. They are the beneficiary (or loser) of having to play the Group of 5's, New Year’s Six nominee in Atlanta.
The Seminoles are here because they lost the biggest game on their schedule (a 23-13 loss to Clemson) AND because they had their big upset along the way (to Georgia Tech). They ended the season hot, including a stone cold beat down of their in-state rival Florida 27-2. The transfer of Everett Golson was supposed to keep this team in the national title picture, but Golson disappointed and he’s not even here for this game. Sean Maguire - last year's #2 QB - is leading the team and is putting up numbers similar to Golson's. The defense for FSU is a lot better than they were months ago though, and Houston hasn’t seen a defense like this.
Houston gets this big bowl as a big reward for the work they did in the AAC. The AAC had FOUR ranked teams at points this year (3 in the final CFP standings), and Houston was their champ. If not for a letdown against UCONN, the Cougars would be coming into this bowl with an undefeated season. Their coach, former Ohio State Offensive Coordinator Tom Herman, has made this offense more dynamic in 2015. Their QB, Greg Ward Jr. - who is as much of a weapon with his feet as he is with his arm - has led the offense to 10 more points per game this year as compared to last year and if you get into a shooting match with them, you are could be in serious trouble.
FSU was in a similar situation three years ago going up against an upstart Northern Illinois team. They dominated that game and Jimbo Fisher isn’t the type of coach to lose games like this.
The Pick: FSU 31, Houston 20
Now, for the co-main events.
Orange Bowl: (4) Oklahoma (-3.5) vs. (1) Clemson
Yup, you read that right. Oklahoma, a team coming out of the much maligned Big 12, has a week longer of rust (or rest depending on your point of view) before facing the SAME EXACT TEAM they lost to in last year in the Russell Athletic Bowl 40-6. The Sooners are the favorite in this game, but both teams are different than they were last year.
For Clemson, it’s about belief, and much more importantly, the "Us Against The World" mentality the team has had in 2015. They finally beat Florida State for the first time in a while, and also ground out (and I really mean ground out) a close victory versus Notre Dame earlier in the year. Their coach Dabo Sweeney has prided the team in two major things: dancing and proving everyone wrong. Pretty much 50/50 with that.
On the field, Deshaun Watson has been the star that almost everyone thought he would be when he was recruited by the Tigers. He showed some improvement operating in the pocket this season (although he only averaged 12 yards a completion, which is slightly below what you want from under center these days) and more importantly, made fewer mistakes. That leadership from the QB position made Watson a Heisman Trophy finalist, though he finished a distant third. Watson didn’t play in last year’s bowl game and now leading freshman receiver Deon Cain will not be in the game either, due to a drug suspension. Still this team has enough depth at the WR position that Cain's absence should not be a big deal. What is a big deal however, is Clemson’s defense. The Tigers love to blitz and is one of the nation’s best in getting sacks and stopping the run. They live in their opponent’s backfield.
Oklahoma put up offensive numbers that are Big 12-worthy, but played just enough defense to make others take notice. In their games against TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma State, they had a good enough defensive scheme to slow each down, though all three having injuries to their regular starting QB’s when they played the Sooners no doubt helped. Deshaun Watson is the most talented QB the Sooners will have to face.
However, the most talented QB on the field, in my opinion, is Baker Mayfield. He had almost 4,000 yards of total offense (rushing and passing) and he was as good, if not better than every QB in the country; especially in the final half of the college football season. Mayfield has the same dual threat capability that Watson does, but he does get sacked. A LOT. 34 times this season. That does not bode well when facing a Clemson team that (as I said) lives in their opponent's backfield.
After all of that, I hate to say it, but I agree with the crowd. Oklahoma will outlast Clemson in this one and move onto the national title game in Arizona.
The Pick: Oklahoma 35, Clemson 31
Cotton Bowl: (3) Michigan State vs. (2) Alabama
Alabama had their “Come to Jesus” game early in the season: a Week 3 loss to Ole Miss. Michigan State has had about five “Come to Jesus” moments this season; not limited to, but highlighted by a last second win at Rutgers; a win over Ohio State without their starting QB; the longest drive of the college football season to beat Iowa to win the Big 10; and of course the Michigan screw up on a punt which gave the Spartans a walk-off win midseason. Though these two teams met back in the 2010 Capital One Bowl (where Alabama dominated 49-7), the Spartans are a much different program now.
Connor Cook has the leadership that is desperately needed in this game. However, since suffering a shoulder injury in November, he hasn’t been giving the Spartans the production they have come to expect from their Senior QB. Cook’s bowl game performances have been so solid, that hopefully the 25 days of rest leading up to this game for the Spartans will make Cook’s shoulder (and by extension his game) whole again. Many teams have stayed in the game with Alabama this year and a healthy Cook can blow a game open.
Michigan State's defense is CLEARLY lacking in comparison to Alabama's, but the Spartans have been able to take care of mediocre QB play this year. Sorry to say Crimson Tide fans, but Jacob Coker is the embodiment of mediocre QB play. The Spartans can make a team one dimensional, which is the biggest thing MSU has going for them in this game against Alabama.
The Flip Side of that coin is that 'Bama's one dimension is a FREAKIN' Heisman trophy winner in RB Derrick Henry. He gets 30+ carries a game (though only 14 in the Ole Miss loss) and will be the man Michigan State will game plan their entire defensive scheme around stopping. They did a good job stopping Ezekiel Elliott in their win over Ohio State, but Elliott only got 12 carries in that game. Henry has already gashed one Big 10 team in Dallas (the Tide beat Wisconsin here on opening Saturday) and he just might do it again.
There are not enough words to describe just how GOOD this Alabama defense is. There are LOADS of NFL Talent on this team and that talent has shined brightly (we're talking megawatts here) on the field this season. The key is going to be whether Connor Cook can outplay Jacob Coker by a wide enough margin to keep this really game close. My Prediction is no. I think Michigan State plays into Alabama’s hands and the dream season ends for Sparty.
The Pick: Alabama 31, Michigan State 17
NEXT UP: The New Year’s Day games. That post is going to be a lot less wordy. I swear.