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Cleveland: On the Landscape of College Football

So, I was following my electric twitter machine late Saturday night, checking for college football scores and comments from across the land.
And then, from friend Cecil Hurt (@Cecil Hurt), veteran scribbler for the Tuscaloosa News came this nugget of twitter gold: “Saban to media – all the good stuff you write is rat poison.”
Rat poison, he said.
And there you have it: Alabama football coach Nicholas Lou Saban, Jr., in a nutshell. There you have it: Nick Saban being the ultimate Nick Saban.
He said more. In fact, Hurt was basically giving us Saban in shorthand.
Saban’s actual words: “All that stuff you write about how good we are? All that stuff they hear on ESPN? It’s like poison. Like rat poison.”
His No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide had just defeated Texas A & M 27-19 at College Station, Texas. It was a solid victory, not as close as it sounds. Alabama out-rushed the Aggies 232-71. A & M scored late. And this was after Saban’s Crimson Assassins had obliterated Vanderbilt and Ole Miss by a combined 125 to 3 in its first two SEC games.
Here’s the deal – and someone please tell Saban not to read this: Alabama has third and fourth string players who would be stars on other teams. The second best team in the SEC is either Georgia or Alabama’s second team – and I am not sure which.
It has reached this point: Saban resorts now to creating a nemesis for his Tide. If SEC foes can’t put a scare into Alabama’s players, Saban will create one. In this case, he has anointed the media as public enemy No. 1 and chief threat to his team that is now 6-0 and has outscored its opponents 258 to 62.
You listen closely to Saban throughout a season, there’s not that much difference between what he says and how another Alabama head coach, Bear Bryant, used to talk about his team. Bryant, as Saban, always tried to build up his opponents and downplay his own team’s abilities.
“We ain’t very big but we’re slow,” Bryant said one August before his Crimson Tide reeled off 11 straight victories and won the national championship.
The first time I ever interviewed the Bear face-to-face, one-on-one was in 1971, the week after his Tide had stunned Southern Cal 17-10 in its season opener and the week before it would play Southern Miss in its second game.
Bryant, with a straight face, said he didn’t know if his team, led by the great Johnny Musso, could hang with Southern Miss after such a physical game against Southern Cal at The Coliseum in Los Angeles.
Yeah, right. Final score: Alabama 42, Southern Miss 6. USM scored late against Bama’s third team. The Golden Eagles had about as much chance as one of Musso’s tear-away jerseys.
The difference between Bryant and Saban is in the delivery.
Bryant was John Wayne, speaking in a gruff drawl, surely knowing that anyone in their right mind is not going to believe a single word he said.
Saban is Al Pacino, matching his words with his fiery, an evil-eyed delivery that says, dammit, you better believe me – or else.
Where Bryant and Saban are most alike is in their consistency. In interviews, Bryant always undersold his team and built up the opponents. Saban, in his own manner, often does the same.
Saban definitely has more of an edge to him, which perhaps is a sign of the times. In Bryant’s day, the Alabama sports writers were his buddies. He knew them well, drank whiskey with them, and knew their families as well. I don’t know this for certain, but I don’t think Nick Saban is drinking bourbon and telling jokes with Alabama sports writers and asking after their wives and children.
The results, however, are definitely similar. Alabama, the most talented team, is usually the most well-prepared as well. It was so under Bryant. It is so under Saban.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org. Follow him on Twitter at @rick_cleveland.

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