What a difference 10 years makes.
As I looked over the Oklahoma media offerings this last week, I read 19 articles on the reason the media said Oklahoma lost to Ohio St. Only 2 writers got it right. Let’s go on a 10 year journey for answers to why Oklahoma is just OK, and Alabama is the best program in the country.
The Reality in Norman:
Dozens of Sooner fans either blocked or unfollowed me on Twitter at the start of the season when I said this was a 3 to 4 loss Oklahoma team. In my mind it was a mistake that people had them as the #3 team in the nation. In fact at the start of the season I had Houston and Alabama playing for the National Championship. I’m a closet Sooner fan; I still have my throwback Billy Sims Jersey in my closet; but we need to look at the facts.
When Bob Stoops Arrived at Oklahoma:
When Bob Stoops and his defensive coordinator/brother Mike Stoops first came to Norman, it was a breath of fresh air. With one of the richest football traditions in the country, Bob took over after the John Blake era which was a train wreck. Bob Stoops won a national championship beating four top 5 teams along the way, including #1 Nebraska.
The Stoops brothers were aggressive and they had dominating defenses. The Sooners dismantled Florida St in the National Championship game 13-2 with one of the great defensive performances in college football history. It was a magical year in the OK state.
Stoops also embraced the tradition. Here is a school that still holds the record for most wins in a row in College Football history at 47. And he showed great respect for their head coach Bud Wilkinson. Many remember the hitch and trailer play against #1 Nebraska in the National Championship year to honor the team of the 1970’s who used that play to help beat Nebraska in Lincoln. Many also remember on their own 29 yard line in Tuscaloosa, using a fake punt in the third quarter and then throwing a bomb on the next play for a touchdown to help beat Alabama on the road. I remember a lot of great risks and fun payoffs. Those days are long gone.
I also remember Sooner fans booing for 3 hours a couple of years ago watching OU’s CB’s playing 10-15 yards off of the line of scrimmage against Baylor like it was pitch and catch in the backyard. The aggressive magic turned into old man conservatism.
Nick Saban Comes To Alabama:
People forget what a train wreck the Alabama Football program was before Nick Saban. There were several scandals, two probations, wins that were forfeited, and the firing of newly hired head coach Mike Price who was a little too wild at a strip club in Florida. Add the over-matched Mike Shula’s coaching tenure and this once proud program had become a dysfunctional mess. All that’s forgotten now. Saban’s first press conference was filled with excitement.
Saban was the conquering hero at LSU in college but in the pro’s the media ate him up; especially during his second year which ended 6-10. Like most college coaches he was used to the college media bubble that can be mostly controlled by the coaches. In the pro’s a coach was like a raw steak in a lake full of piranha. His players didn’t like him, and neither did the media. After he left Miami, for months ESPN and NFL reporters all over the country destroyed Saban. They called him Nicktator and Nick Satan. I’ve never in my lifetime seen a coach so hated in one place and loved in another. And to be honest he probably deserved a little of both. In 2010 he somewhat apologized for his “lack of professionalism” in Miami but it didn’t help.
The NFL Network has trashed him on several worst of lists including the below video (pretty harsh) naming him the 7th worst college coach to ever coach in the NFL. Many remember him scolding the Miami media for weeks saying he wasn’t leaving when in reality he had been talking to the late Alabama AD Mal Moore for weeks.
Here is the explanation in the book “Saban; The Making of a Coach”.
Oklahoma Going Down, Alabama and the SEC Going Up in Recruiting:
When Saban arrived from Miami, he immediately went on a recruiting blitz. He didn’t have the time the other schools did to recruit his first year; he arrived late; but he immediately improved his first class in 2007 and didn’t just blow the year off. That helped set a tone. The biggest reason Alabama is the best is because they recruit the best and have the best talent. CBS reported that 80% of Bama’s players are 4 or 5 star recruits. That’s unreal.
The SEC has 3 of the best recruiters in college football. Mario Cristobal at Alabama, Tommy Thigpen at Tennessee, and Corey Raymond at LSU. These are the guys doing the dirty work of visiting high schools, kissing babies, eating mom’s apple pie and talking to dad’s about the good ol’ days. Imagine Mario Cristobal wooing you and then Nick Saban closing the deal. That’s tough to beat.
Urban Meyer got all the credit at Florida but who was one of his key recruiters? Charlie Strong the new Head Coach at Texas. Strong went on to great success at Louisville and just had a top ten recruiting class for Texas in 2016.
Another thing Alabama has done in the recruiting wars is dominate the offensive and defensive line position. In the last 3 years Alabama had the #1 ranked offensive line class in the nation. Their defensive line doesn’t miss out either. They are either #1 or #2 for the last 6 years. The NFL draft shows the fruits of their success.
While most teams are going to finesse offenses using the spread, Alabama for the most part has kept their roots. Saban has allowed OC Lane Kiffin to open up things in the past but when the chips are down, the power running game is what they are all about.
Alabama’s first recruiting class with Saban in 2007 was #17 in the Nation. Then the magic started to begin. It’s amazing what happened.
Now let’s fast forward to the last 4 years.
Oklahoma #15 (0 five star, 7 four star)
Alabama #1 (4 five star, 13 four star)
Oklahoma #15 (1 five star, 8 four star)
Alabama #1 (6 five star, 13 four star)
Oklahoma #14 (0 five star, 14 four star)
Alabama #2 (4 five star, 14 four star)
Oklahoma #16 (1 five star, 10 four star)
Alabama #1 (5 five star, 10 four star)
In some publications, Alabama just had their sixth straight #1 college football recruiting class. Oklahoma’s highest recruiting class in that time was #14.
In the last four years these are the 4 & 5 star players:
Oklahoma: (2 five star, 39 four star)
Alabama: (19 five star, 50 four star)
There is good news for the Sooners though; Bob Stoops has rebounded in 2017 and OU is now ranked the #4 recruiting class so far. That team from Tuscaloosa? #2 so far. Now many things can happen; some players change teams like the wind so there is still a lot of work to do. Remember you are dealing with teenagers; but hopefully OU is back on track.
Alabama a Step Above:
The #1 thing is obviously they have the best players. No one recruits like they do.
Innovation isn’t Saban’s thing. What makes him great is preparation, readiness, teaching quality fundamentals and technique and demanding perfection. It’s one thing to have the best players but you have to teach and coach them properly.
My dad was a great coach and he taught me so much. Proper footwork, tackle readiness/positioning, balance; football is more in depth than fans think. I love watching well coached teams. From Alabama to Jim Harbaughs teams, to the great dynasty at North Dakota St. in the FCS, I really enjoy watching the teams play. I especially love defense. The rules in college and the pro’s have made it a federal crime to breath near a WR or QB so passing is much easier in today’s game. That means a great pass rush is VITAL. While other teams are still only rushing 3 men, Saban and other SEC schools get that a pass rush is important. Some teams still don’t.
The average fan says it’s a passing game now and defense doesn’t matter as much. Problem is they are wrong. The Big 12 seems to feel this way. In reality though good defenses will beat good offenses most of the time. Ask the Carolina Panthers and the Clemson Tigers from last year. Ask Tom Brady how he feels about the NY Giants DL in the Super Bowl.
The SEC Formula; Nick Saban’s Way:
The SEC formula that Nick Saban uses is based on the 1970’s NFL; the greatest era of NFL football. It includes 5 things.
-have great team speed
-stop the run to make offenses predictable
-put great pressure on the QB and control the tempo
-have a great offensive and defensive line
-have a good power running game to run the ball when you need and want to.
Now some will say well of course you will win if you do all those things. Then why doesn’t everyone do it?
Think about it. The Big 12 struggles defensively and isn’t physical. The Pac 12 isn’t physical other than Stanford and they lack team speed. Michigan & Ohio St. are changing this but for the most part Big 10 teams lack team speed and the ACC; who has the worst winning % in the bowl series of any Big 5 Conference; also struggle defensively and lack physicality. There are exception but this is the reality of each conference.
While many teams have fallen in love with the spread offense and throwing 50 times a game, Nick Saban goes with what brung him; defense & a physical running game makes him tick.
This is the way the Big 8 used to be when Oklahoma and Nebraska were winning National Championships. Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes and Bear Bryant did it; it’s old school football that Alabama plays with a little more modern passing offense. None of Sabans QB’s will tear up the NFL, but his defensive and offensive lines will.
Saban’s Way Saved the Mississippi Game:
I tweeted at halftime of the Mississippi Alabama game, “RUN THE BALL, RUN RUN RUN”. Alabama threw 23 times in the first half for 2.8 yards a reception. Bama was behind 24-17 and were lucky to be so close. They put the game’s hands in the arm of Jalen Hurt; a freshman QB; on the road. Hurt isn’t a particularly accurate thrower and he missed on some key passes, but wow can he run.
Alabama passed only 8 times in the second half and ran for over 334 yards and won 48-43. They ended the game with 7 yards per rush, and only 5.1 yards per reception. Don’t think for a second that Nick Saban didn’t tell OC Lane Kiffin at halftime, “we aren’t throwing 23 times this half”.
Bob Stoops To LSU?:
Many in Oklahoma are not real happy with Bob Stoops. There are rumors that he is being eyed for the head coaching spot in LSU. Because of the failures of late, Stoops has taken a beating in the media. I saw one article calling him Big Shame Bob instead of Big Game Bob. OU is now 8-9 in bowl games with Stoops as coach.
It’s hard to see him leaving OU but if he is going to stay he has to hit the recruiting trail. (LSU Job? Tom Herman of Houston is the sexy pick and I’d think he’d come but if he doesn’t, with Chip Kelly in a mess at San Francisco with their lack of talent; Kelly @ LSU?)
Some say Stoops got complacent in recruiting and the numbers back that. So if I were talking to Bob I’d tell him, “It’s ok Bob; you can keep the spread but you have to go back to what made your teams great from the beginning. A great OL & DL & a great defense. I have my 5 part formula above that you can use when recruiting. And if you don’t want to listen to me, get a hold of Nick Saban. He’s got a copy”.