He’s as good a choice as any that are being considered. 203 yards rushing against Auburn yesterday should have cleared the air about whom of the candidates is best. And it wasn’t the 57 yard jaunt for the last touchdown that was his best work. No, it was the numerous five and six yard grinding carries, where he’d drag a pile of Auburn defenders on his back for another two or three yards to extend the gain–that was the real value he added to the Tide’s performance. The guy really is an amazing athlete. He’s like a bull with the speed of a gazelle. Give him the trophy.
But Richardson didn’t win the game for Bama. Bama’s defense did. At halftime, Bama was ominously ahead by 24-7, the exact same as last year’s halftime score when they ended up losing 28-27. But Auburn’s offense had less than a hundred yards and only one first down at half. All of the points scored in the first half came from Bama’s offense–Auburn’s included–when A.J. McCarren did exactly what a “game-managing” quarterback like him is not supposed to do, and fumbled the ball into his own endzone, which Auburn recovered. The only other Auburn points came when they returned the kick-off for a touchdown to start the second half. Bama’s defense sealed the victory with an interception returned for a touchdown when the score was still close enough (27-14) that Auburn might have mounted a comeback.
Auburn’s much exalted offensive genius, Gus Malzahn, had nothing to show for his efforts. Nada. Not a point. Of course, it’s easy to look like an offensive genius when your offense is centered around the quarterback position and you have lucked into one of the best quarterbacks to ever come through the college ranks (that would be last year w/ Cam Newton). With an average to mediocre quarterback, well, you don’t look so smart. You end the day with nothing. Malzahn refused all year to acknowledge that he didn’t have the talent to continue running his “spread” offense. He should have exploited his two best players on offense, running backs Michael Dyer and Ontario McCaleb, and built his offense around them. Had he better matched his offensive scheme to his players’ abilities, he might have been running a triple option, with his freshman quarterback Kiel Frazier at the helm. Bama’s defense was not designed to face a triple option running attack, as the previous week’s game against Georgia Southern proved. With Auburn’s superior talent (relative to Georgia Southern), they might have been able to put up more than the 21 points and three hundred yards on Bama’s defense like Georgia Southern did.
Coaching matters–mostly like the government matters to economic performance. A bad coach can mess things up (see Gus Malzahn); even a team full of great athletes can still be coached to mediocrity (See Dyer and McCaleb re Gus Malzahn). But when the coaching is more or less equitably competent across the board, as is the case among the ranks of big-time college football programs, it comes down to talent. Great players make great coaches, not the other way around. Auburn’s coaching staff did an excellent job in losing only five games this season, considering the youth of the team. But the offense could have been much better, had they been imaginative enough to think their way around the spread, and find a way to get the ball to Dyer and McCaleb.
Awarding the Heisman Trophy almost exclusively to guys that touch or carry the football is about like believing that the production of goods and services in an economic system depends on its investment bankers. In football, value is created by the guys that do the blocking and tackling. They’re like the producers of real goods and services in an economic system. The quarterbacks and running backs are the investment bankers, ensuring the efforts of the producers are leveraged to the fullest benefit. They’re necessary, but they wouldn’t have any value to leverage without the blocking and tackling efforts of the big uglies. Coaches know this, even if the common fan rarely does.
That it appears Alabama and LSU will meet in a rematch for the mythical national title, i.e., the BCS Championship game, just shows how dreadfully college football needs a playoff. Take the eight best teams–all the major conference champions and a couple of wild cards–and play it off. Bama and LSU would probably meet again anyway (Bama would get in as a wild card), as it doesn’t appear anyone else would be able to beat them, but still, the championship would have been won on the field. And along the way, college football might be interesting to more than just SEC denizens.
It’s high time the college ranks quit pretending that FBS football is just a bunch of university scholars that happen to be spending their free time playing football for their schools. Big-time college football is every bit a professional sport, just one that has expended a great deal of time and money promoting the myth that the players are student athletes. No. They are apprentice football players whom the NCAA has rationalized its way to exploitation. Along with a playoff system, the game needs a payoff system, where the efforts of the athletes are awarded in some way commensurate with the value they have created. The way it is now structured, college football is nothing more than exploitative capitalism, that depends for its existence on paying its workers as little as possible, no matter how valuable to the organization those efforts might be. Maybe it’s not an accident that the old South dominates the college sport, considering that there is no capitalism more exploitative than one that depends upon slavery.
I won’t hazard a guess as to which team might prevail in the Alabama-LSU rematch. They played to a regulation-time tie in the first game and nothing’s really changed in their relative strengths since. I doubt there’ll be much more scoring this time than last, but if you love football, you’ve gotta love a good defense. It takes all eleven operating as one seamless unit to put together a great defensive performance. If there’s a Heisman for the best offensive player, which is essentially what the Heisman Trophy is, there should be an award for the best team effort on either offense, defense or special teams. Either of Alabama’s or LSU’s defenses would definitely be in the running.