Tide Senior Bowlers

Senior Bowl check-in, weigh-in, and practice early this week gave me a few more chances to chat with the core of the senior group that produced Alabama's latest 10-win season and bowl triumph before they spread with the wind.

The contributions to Alabama football of defenders Roman Harper, DeMeco Ryans, Freddie Roach and Mark Anderson, and quarterback Brodie Croyle will be valued long after Croyle and Ryans leave their impressions in the concrete at Denny Chimes this spring.

For all the gnashing of teeth about the Crimson Tide's mediocre record in the last decade or so, consider this senior group: They won 10 games twice, went to bowls in the only seasons they were eligible, and won a January 2 game over a Texas Tech team that was the Big XII's second-best team last year.

All this was done through the spasms of a major NCAA investigation and as much coaching turbulence as any Division I-A program has experienced in modern times.

For its 9-0 start and its lighting the fuse of hope on a Mike Shula regime badly in need of it, this class deserves kudos.

Speaking for the fourth estate, we'll miss this group for other reasons.

Nobody on the team was better with a microphone than Harper. Pleasant, funny and glib, Harper gave us such gems as the snake in his cleat, the description of Rudy Griffin's fumble return, and countless chuckles over his uproarious points of view.

Croyle did interviews non-stop much of his career, even when he was tired and beat-up, or even after tearing a knee ligament, when he knew his season was shot. He's a stand-up guy who deserves fine health for years to come.

Ryans has one of the easiest smiles from a football player I've ever seen. It masks a stone-cold striker. He supplied bulletin-board material by calling, in turn, the South Carolina, Florida and Texas Tech offenses ``nothing special,'' then backed up his suppositions with quality head-knocking that limited those clubs to a combined 27 points, including a late touchdown by the Gamecocks against Tide backups.

Let's don't forget Ryans filled in at middle linebacker–a spot he knew he wouldn't be playing in the NFL–for a sizeable chunk of a season, and never complained. Gerald Wallace and Mo Williams, are you listening?

Roach also shuffled around some due to injuries and necessity, and even lost a starting job to Cornelius Wortham as a junior. He soldiered on without whining, showed he had some versatility, and put together a strong senior season in the middle.

Anderson played with knee and hand injuries, but still helped his stock as a senior. No Tide fan should forget that Anderson almost single-handedly set the tone in that drama against Florida with a first-play sack and an early pass deflection that was intercepted and turned into a touchdown.

Let's also not forget seniors such as Charlie Peprah and Anthony Madison, who were key guys on what was likely the nation's best secondary the last two seasons, and JB Closner, whose value at center was sadly best realized after his season-ending broken leg.

What's it called when family members go around killing each other? Fratricide?

Whatever it is, that's what SEC basketball teams are perpetrating on themselves these days, with only LSU unbeaten in league play (5-0) and Auburn winless (0-5) through the first roughly one-third of the conference season.

You can only ascribe three teams with the ``lock'' designation regarding the NCAA Tournament at this stage: LSU, Florida, and Tennessee.

Behind that trio: Demolition Derby.

The old standard of a 9-7 SEC record being a virtual automatic qualifier for the NCAA Tournament might not apply this season.

Four league teams beyond the LSU-Florida-Tennessee triumvirate–Alabama, Ole Miss, Kentucky and Vanderbilt–sport winning records in league play. Arkansas is at 3-3 and rip snorting following a dagger loss at Coleman last week. South Carolina has a dog loss to Georgia, but has tripped Vandy on the road and Florida at home, and nearly delivered what would have been Kentucky's third-straight SEC home loss. Imagine the shockwaves if the Gamecocks had held on to that big lead at Rupp.

I'm not going to sit here and argue the SEC deserves seven or more bids because the league–with a dearth of big-time veteran talent across the board–is definitely down. The league should be happy to put six teams in the NCAA field.

Who might those be, beyond the Tigers, Gators, and Vols?

I'm guessing Vanderbilt and Kentucky, with Arkansas coming up hard on the outside.

Alabama will have to win at least a handful of some tough ones–Florida, Vandy, Tennessee and LSU at home; Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State on the road–to stay in the running.

That seven-man Crimson Tide rotation might be a little leg-weary during the critical stretch drive and the SEC Tournament.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register and contributes to 'BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com


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