How Big Is a Win?

Obviously, Mike Shula has higher standards than the rest of us.

At his weekly press conference Tuesday, the University of Alabama head coach was asked if beating Steve Spurrier-coached South Carolina on Saturday would qualify as a "signature win." Shula fixed a somewhat uncalled-for icy stare on the reporter who asked the question, and said, simply, "No."

He paused for a moment, then noted that the only signature win "in his mind" would be winning a national championship.

If that's really his only qualification for such a victory, Alabama fans might have to wait a while to get it. Such is life with a team coming off a 6-6 season and serious NCAA probation.

But for those with slightly lower standards, the "signature" win could come as early as this weekend. Or will it?

Even if Shula coaches Alabama to a victory over the ol' ball coach and an undermanned Gamecock team, is it truly a "signature?"

Or does it matter at all?

The concept of a "signature win" is fascinating and murky at the same time. Admittedly a media creation (I myself remember using the phrase several years ago in writings before Alabama's five-overtime loss to Tennessee), nobody can define exactly what it means.

Would beating Spurrier's Gamecocks do?

How about Phillip Fulmer's Tennessee Volunteers?

If Auburn is below .500 when the teams meet up in mid-November, would that count?

Would a bowl game of any sort count?

Or would simply beating an SEC team other than Ole Miss, Kentucky, Vanderbilt or Mississippi State (a feat Shula has yet to accomplish) do?

Your guess is as good as mine; opinions most certainly vary.

Here's one fact about signature wins, however, that no one can challenge: In two-plus seasons as Alabama's coach, Shula doesn't have one yet.

His career record is 12-15. Of those 12 victories, four combined have come against Kentucky and Mississippi State, with another over Ole Miss, three over Southern Miss, one against Utah State, one against South Florida, one against Division I-AA Western Carolina and one against Middle Tennessee State.

Not a signature win in the bunch.

Obviously, for Alabama football to return to the level most fans expect on a year-in, year-out basis, that will have to change.

For Shula to keep his job, that'll have to change fairly soon.

Hope is on the way; he has recruited well, and is steadily building Alabama's depth back to levels which can compete for an SEC title in the near future.

Even though he hasn't said so, Shula appears tired of the "signature win" talk which has surrounded him during his tenure. Of course, there's only one way to change that – winning a big game, or a game he isn't supposed to win.

This weekend's game is certainly big; on the right day, Williams-Brice Stadium can provide a very intimidating atmosphere. Saturday, it'll be filled with 80,000 screaming Gamecock fans looking for a victory in Spurrier's SEC home debut.

It's also a very winnable game; according to oddsmakers, Alabama is a two-point favorite. And this isn't exactly a vintage Spurrier bunch, either; sophomore quarterback Blake Mitchell leads the SEC in passing yardage, but that's partially because the Gamecocks' rushing attack is pitiful at best (37.5 yards per game, 111th nationally).

Simply put, this is the perfect opportunity for Alabama to get a marquee victory, the kind of win that, at the very least, catapults the Tide from the Music City Bowl to somewhere warm on New Year's Day.

The offensive line is young and inexperienced, but enough talent remains on the offense and a strong, tested defense to hold up on the road.

But if Alabama hangs on, will it be a "signature" victory?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Shula likely won't say, having established his position on the subject. And much bigger games lie ahead against Florida, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn.

That's what Shula will be worrying about after this week, win or lose. That's all that matters. Eventually, he and the Tide will have to win more big games than they lose, if Shula wants to keep his job.

The only "signature wins" he should worry about are the victories that earn him a simple right: to put his John Hancock on a contract extension and a nice raise – and a real future in Tuscaloosa.

Greg Wallace is the Alabama beat writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald. He writes a weekly column for

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