Team Chemistry

The longer I'm in this business, the more I see the light as to what goes into the making of a great team. It's not talent alone, not by a far cry.

Counting backward, these examples should prove that: Tennessee 2005, Auburn 2003, Alabama 2000. All three of those teams had plenty of athletes on both sides of the ball, but were clearly lacking in some areas.

Great coaching isn't the sure answer to greatness. Was Joe Paterno past his prime when his Penn State teams stunk it up for a couple of seasons? Probably. But he was a year older last season when the Nittany Lions returned to glory. Paul ``Bear'' Bryant was at the top of his profession for three decades, but his 1969 and '70 teams barely reached .500. Tom Osborne and Bobby Bowden had their underachieving teams, Bud Wilkinson too. Bob Stoops had been everybody's genius since 2000, until last year.

The cohesion of a team, the chemistry, the sacrificing of individual goals to fulfill team goals. Those are components to greatness as much any other factor.

Take George Mason basketball for instance. (Or George Madison as Joe Kines called it the other day).

A No. 11 seed for a program that had never EVER won an NCAA Tournament game. All the Patriots do is knock off a perennial Final Four team in Michigan State, eliminate last year's champion North Carolina, dump another Cinderella in Wichita State, then come from behind to eject a UConn team many experts had dubbed this tournament's favorite.

They play relaxed and they play without fear because they know what they're capable of doing. They haven't stunk it up once in the tournament. They lose to Mississippi State in the regular season and fall to no one, so far, in the NCAAs.

Bracket gurus say not to fill your Final Four with teams whose seeds add up to a number greater than eight or so. Well, how is this Final Four with a total seed count of 20 striking the experts?

You know, I divide college basketball devotees into two camps: the ones who say tournament like we do -- turn-a-mint -- and the ones who pronounce it twu-na-ment. The latter group is not happy these days, with no Big East, no Atlantic Coast and no Big Ten representation in Indianapolis.

Anyway, I digress.

All the earlier stuff about the building blocks of greatness gets me around to today's theme. How good can the 2006 Alabama football team be?

The experts will rank the Crimson Tide below both LSU and Auburn, and perhaps even Arkansas, in the SEC West. They are also likely to determine that Georgia and Florida, probably Tennessee, and possibly even South Carolina are better than Alabama in the East. We're talking middle of the pack in the SEC here.

This is what makes football the greatest team sport. All the speculation means nothing. It's what your 11 guys make happen on every play, even if they aren't better, man for man, than the team across from them.

Having the talent helps. Great speed can overcome mistakes. Superb physical ability can wreck a perfectly schemed play. But it's not everything.

Great coaching cuts down on the chances of making mental busts, and increases the fundamental abilities of football teams. But it's not the cure-all.

Alabama's defense won't be as dominating in 2006 as it was the last two years. But it could still be very good.

The quarterback position with John Parker Wilson won't be as error-free next year as it was with Brodie Croyle in the saddle and healthy for a full year. That's a given. But Wilson could be pretty good in his own right, and a better scrambler.

The offensive line? Advancing through adversity, this group should be a notch better this year than it was.

Remember the mistakes, lost opportunities and disappointments of Shula's first team in 2003? It went through spring in a different offensive system, it suffered through injuries and it still was a miniscule play away from beating Tennessee, Arkansas and Northern Illinois, and almost as close against a great Oklahoma team.

That's the joy of football. You never know. The A-Day game on Saturday is simply one of the early steps in creating the identity for Alabama football 2006.

Predictions: UCLA 65, LSU 61; Florida 81, George Mason 73; Florida 68, UCLA 62.

Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register and a contributor to 'BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com


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