Somewhere during the last week Nick Saban forgot that the secret to life is not arriving at the destination but learning to enjoy the journey. The University of Alabama football coach should be on top of the world. His top-ranked football team sure is after belting a good Michigan, 41-14, in the season debut.
But during the nationally-televised game last Saturday night, he cruelly and publicly chided a female sideline pixie for inferring his stable of prized running backs seemed to be based on a “committee” and – in a growing way that is already sad – is being perceived by the public as some sort of control freak who hasn’t had a belly laugh since April.
After newspaper reporters and TV commentators praised his Crimson Tide so lavishly all weekend, “Mount Saban” erupted once again for the Alabama media during Wednesday’s press conference, seemingly because too many had pointed to the fact this week’s opponent – Western Kentucky -- is a 40-point underdog tomorrow at 3:39 p.m. (SEC Network) in Tuscaloosa.
According to numerous reports, Saban began by reading from prepared notes. “You know, there's a tremendous balance between humility and confidence and this game is a struggle. It's a struggle every day. And you've got to embrace it every day.
“And you've got to go out there and try to earn it every day, to be as good a player as you can be. You've got to have a tremendous amount of character, confidence, mental and physical toughness. You've got to be driven to be the best. And you've got to be able to handle success,” he said.
“But when you people start writing stuff about people that we're playing that doesn't give them the proper respect, that's not fair. It's not fair to them, to their players who work hard. It's not fair to our players, who need to respect them,” his voice got an edge.
“And to make presumptions like you all make really, really upsets me. It really does. It's so unfair. You don't need to write about that. There are so many more good things you can write about happening around here that people would be interested in. I'd love to see some of you do a little bit of research, and figure it out. It would really do my heart good.”
“What makes the really good players good? What makes the really good teams good? They have those intangible things that make them good. It's work every day around here to try to keep our guys on track to have a little bit of humility and confidence. We win one game and I can't believe what gets written,” he fumed.
"I'm just giving you my opinion. I respect what y'all do. I understand you're not here to promote our program. …
“We play the games for a reason. When we make all these predictions of what's going to happen, it takes away from the game, I think. Just like everybody talks about who's going to win the national championship. Why do we play the games? We've got a lot of great games coming up. Why do we play those?”
My goodness, the real question is why Nick Saban isn’t on medication. There is nothing wrong with what he said but there is something definitely wrong when a guy who should be enjoying his players, the fans, the media and all else that is Crimson, gets wound up tighter than a ball of rubber bands because people say “All is good.”
Nick Saban needs to confront the overwhelming theory that acid will eat the vessel that contains it and instead laugh a lot more. Twenty years from now everybody will remember the national championships but the sage will remember what Saban still must learn – it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
That said, here are my Top 10 Picks for his week:
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AUBURN (0-1) at MISS. STATE (1-0), 12 Noon (ESPN) – State is a 3-point pick over Auburn this week but I’m not falling for it; MSU gave up 5.2 yards per rush in the 56-9 win over lightly regarded Jackson State while veteran AU RB Onterio McCalebb and slashing sophomore Tre Mason gave Clemson defenders fits in the 26-16 loss to Clemson. Auburn is a better team and as QB Kiehl Frazier settles, the Tiger talent will rise to the top. And did you see the “train wreck” last week in Starkville when the “fogging machine” went berserk as the Bullies came running onto the field? Suddenly blinded, the MSU players ended up in a hysterical pile-up. MY PICK? Auburn, 27-16.
MIAMI (1-0) at No. 21 KANSAS STATE (1-0), Noon (FX) – The Hurricanes showed tenacity in the opener, staying fixed late in the game to upend Boston College, 41-32, so here’s one where I think speed could hurt KSU. It almost caught Bill Snyder’s crowd last year, KSU winning by two points late, but UM is much better than a 7-point underdog. I figure KSU QB Collin Klein will have to throw a lot on the ‘Caine secondary but here’s thinking Miami will withstand the onslaught. MY PICK: Miami, 27-24.
No. 13 WISCONSIN at OREGON STATE, 3:00 p.m. (Fox) – We don’t know much about OSU after Hurricane Isaac cancelled the opener at Nicholls State but we do know that UW RB Montee Ball runs with quite a roar. The Badgers got a real wake-up call in the opener, slipping by Northern Iowa by a squeaky 26-21, so UW needs to hush the naysayers in a big way tomorrow. Remember, too, that UW is ranked 13th in the country and that’s not a fluke. The Badgers are favored by 8. MY PICK? Wisconsin, 31-13.
No. 2 SOUTHERN CAL (1-0) at SYRACUSE, 3:30 p.m. (ABC) – It took exactly one week before Lane Kiffin’s Trojans, despite a 49-10 win over Hawaii, were dethroned as No. 1 in both polls. While the Kiff can do nothing about the votes, he needs to win in a big and convincing way to stay in the thick of a national race that will be decided in the eastern part of the country instead of “parched” California. So here we go, with incredibly-talented SC favored by 28 over the Orangemen, and you can bet all you want that the Trojans will be looking to make hay during their timely New York visit. MY PICK? Southern Cal, 45-12.
PURDUE at No. 22 NOTRE DAME, 3:30 p.m. (NBC) – The Irish started the season in Dublin with a light-hearted 50-10 jig over Navy while Purdue was a 48-6 winner over Eastern Ky. so all we know is the real game starts here. ND is a compelling two-TD pick but PU got into a stink this week when they named Cal TerBush, suspended last week, as the starting QB over Robert Marve, who hit on 30-of-38 passes for 295 yards and 3 TDs last Saturday. Notre Dame’s suspended players will also be back in the fold, and the game, so you have to figure in the home-field advantage in the first home game of the year. MY PICK?? Notre Dame, 35-20.
No. 24 FLORIDA (1-0) at TEXAS A&M (0-0), 3:30 p.m. (ESPN) – Florida wasn’t particularly impressive against ho-hum Bowling Green – the Gators wanted more than 27-14, for Pete’s sake – but here’s what you’ve got to look at after Hurricane Isaac made this one A&M’s season opener. You know Florida, so rich in talent, is settled on QB Jeff Driskell but at A&M you have a new coach in Aggieland, the first freshman QB at the school since World War II in Johnny Manziel and question marks everywhere. UF, after RB Mike Gillislee rushed for 148 yards last week, is still a two-point underdog so the deciding factor is how much did Florida improve this week or how much did A&M learn by just watching? MY PICK? Texas A&M, 24-22.
No. 7 GEORGIA (1-0) at MISSOURI (1-0), 6:45 p.m. (ESPN2) – The grumbles start at halftime in Athens last week, Georgia en route to a zipless 45-23 win over Buffalo that was highlighted by the 23 points the Bulldogs allowed to happen. Then again, if I knew that I would be Missouri’s next opponent, I wouldn’t have shown a lot of razzle-dazzle either. UM didn’t care to whip around tiny SE Louisiana, 62-10, because UGa has the most to lose. Georgia is favored by 3 but with so many good SEC veterans, I can’t see hanging much on the SEC rookies. MY PICK: Georgia, 27-18.
WASHINGTON (1-0) at No. 3 LSU (1-0), 7:00 p.m., (ESPN) – They rolled a circus wagon onto the Washington practice field this week that contained a real, live tiger but the children who gathered to look at the cat could see how horrifying Tiger Stadium really is. UW has a couple of assistant coaches who bolted from Tennessee but, no, they can’t describe the fact LSU is so strong and powerful that when Les Miles put in substitutes they are – in reality – just as good and eager to play. LSU is a 28-point pick and while the talent is there, I sense that is a lot of points to spot the Huskies. MY PICK? LSU, 40-13.
No. 16 NEBRASKA at UCLA, 7:30 p.m. (Fox) – The Bruins gave up a lot of points in the 49-24 opener at Rice, versus the Huskers’ 49-20 win over Southern Miss. So, yes, I think UN beat a tougher opponent and that they’ll shore up a sound defense to counter UCLA RB Johnathon Franklin. UN QB Taylor Martinez is a fabulous player but the defensive units will decide this outcome. Nebraska is favored by 5 and I think UN will “out-physical” the Bruins. MY PICK? Nebraska, 25-13.
VANDERBILT (0-1) at NORTHWESTERN (1-0), 8:00 p.m. (Big Ten) – Vandy fans everywhere were heartened by the way VU played toe-to-toe with South Carolina last Thursday night but, as coach James Franklin said after the 17-13 loss, “We didn’t get it done.” NU nipped Syracuse, 42-41, in a barnburner on Saturday but VU is a 3-point pick tomorrow because the lights are coming on in Nashville. VU runner Zac Stacy, QB Rogers and WR Jordan Matthews must stay healthy but – even more – Vanderbilt needs “to get it done” tomorrow and with Presbyterian next week before travelling to Georgia. MY PICK? Vanderbilt, 26-17.
ELSEWHERE IN THE SEC
EAST CAROLINA (1-0) at No. 9 SOUTH CAROLINA (1-0), 12:21 p.m. (SEC Network) – Gamecock QB Conner Shaw practiced Wednesday after a deep bruise to his throwing shoulder, which is the good news, but the bad news is USC is favored by 23 and that’s a huge number of points if Steve Spurrier’s passing game is bruised. Carolina has good talent, better than the visitors, but my hunch is the Gamecocks won’t try to score many more than they need to. MY PICK? South Carolina, 31-18.
WESTERN KY. (1-0) at No. 1 ALABAMA (1-0), 3:39 p.m. (SEC Network) – Alabama may be the best team that has played in America in recent years but when you hear the Tide is favored by a full 40 points, keep your hands in your pockets. Forty points is absurd, no matter that Alabama’s second- and third-teamers are really good, so listen for the final score and save your breath for next week’s game when the Elephants travel to Arkansas. After the Arkansas game, UA has back to-back dates with Florida Atlantic and Ole Miss. Excited yet? MY PICK? Alabama 48-7.
GEORGIA STATE (0-1) at TENNESSEE (1-0), 4:00 p.m. – There isn’t a player at Georgia State who could compete at Tennessee for a starting position. Tiny GSU lost to South Carolina State, 33-6, last Thursday in the Georgia Dome – this 24 hours before UT throttled N.C. State in Atlanta 35-21 – so no wonder there will be a lot of empty seats in Neyland Stadium, where only 60,000 season tickets were sold this year compared to 72,000 in the past. MY PICK? Tennessee, 48-13.
LOUISIANA-MONROE (0-0) at No. 8 ARKANSAS (1-0), in Little Rock, 7:00 P.M. (ESPNU) – The Razorbacks gave up too many points in the 49-24 win over Jacksonville State last week so while the high scoring offense led by QB Tyler Wilson will roll, the UA defense will be under a microscope with the “other “UA” – Alabama – coming to Fayetteville next Saturday. MY PICK? Arkansas, 48-10.
TEXAS-EL PASO (0-1) at OLE MISS (1-0), 7:00 P.M. (Fox) – Ole Miss, a 49-27 winner in Hugh Freeze’s debut against Central Arkansas last week, also has defensive problems that need to be tightened in a hurry. UM has Texas at home next week and then goes on the road against Tulane and Alabama. That’s a tough September. MY PICK? Ole Miss, 27-14.
KENT STATE (1-0) at KENTUCKY (0-1), 7:30 p.m. (CSS) – Kent busted Towson, 41-27, in the opener but Kentucky’s loss of the Governor’s Cup – that 32-14 blistering by Louisville on Sunday – has many in the Blue Grass State wondering if embattled coach Joker Phillips can beat the Flashes or Western Ky. next week. After that, UK has to play seven straight conference games. MY PICK? Kentucky, 21-14.
JUST ONE MORE
UT-CHATTANOOGA (0-1) at JACKSONVILLE STATE (0-1) – Oh mercy, which team had the biggest loss this week; Chattanooga QB Terrell Robinson’s despondent departure or Jax State’s Washaun Ealey being suspended for misdemeanor marijuana charges. UTC seemed set, with Robinson starting ahead of Jacob Huesman, but now the position is weakened (two are better than one) and Jacob relied on Terrell’s heroics. MY PICK? Chattanooga, 24-21.