Beware Soothsayers

There's been some newfound huffing, puffing and griping about the current (and future) state of Alabama football in some circles since the Crimson Tide's 16-13 loss against Tennessee in Knoxville this weekend.

That's to be expected, I suppose, any time Alabama loses to one of its main rivals. No Alabama person likes losing to Tennessee. Never. Not under any circumstance. Alabama is not only right to have high expectations of its football team, but it should never apologize for those expectations.

The question that has been asked the most, though, is what it all means for the future of the program.

When I was on a radio show last week a caller panted about all he saw wrong which would never get better, then he said any coach ought to get at least five years to prove himself. He didn't see it as a problem that his two points were in direct contradiction of one another. Another wannabe soothsayer e-mailed me to say "Alabama will never be a winning football team" under Mike Shula.

To these two, and anyone else who thinks he or she knows with certainty how the next few chapters in the story of Alabama football will unfold, I say you're fooling yourself.

Andy Rooney, the cantankerous 60 Minutes commentator, pointed out recently that in 1986, CBS News did a five-part series predicting what things would be like in 15 years – in 2001.

"They predict by 2001 the Russians could land on Mars," Dan Rather said.

It would be funny if Martians got to earth first wouldn't it? Would they be illegal aliens?

"Los Angeles will be the nation's largest metropolis in 2001," another prediction went.

Wrong. New York is still the largest.

"The fastest growing, Phoenix," Rather read.

Wrong again. The fastest growing cities are Los Angeles and Las Vegas. I'd like to move to the slowest growing city.

"By 2001 we could be producing cows the size of elephants and pigs five feet tall," was one prediction.

It would be some pork chop!

"The car will be commanded by the operator's voice. And you could sit back and the ask the car to start and it will start," one prediction said.

"So what we now call the bathroom will take on a whole new meaning. (sic) with whirlpools, saunas and exercise equipment it becomes an entertainment center," another predicted.

We still call it the bathroom. You never hear anyone at CBS say, "Pardon me. I have to go to the entertainment center."

"By 2001, Mexico City could well be the world's largest with perhaps 35 million," it was predicted.

Wrong. It's 2006 and Mexico City is still only 20 million. Thirty-five million Mexicans may have come to the United States - that's what they're thinking of.

"Drugs will unclog our arteries, prevent baldness and cure alcoholism and phobias. Cancer researchers predict near victory over such major killers as lung, breast and colon cancers," was one prediction.

They're always talking about a cure for cancer but they never really find one.

"Prediction, Americans will work just six hours a day just 30 hours a week," another prediction went.

Wrong, I don't know anyone that works only six hours a day.

"The experts predict by the year 2001, 108,000 Americans will live to be at least 100," was another prediction.

There were only 55,000 people a 100 old last year.

CBS News doesn't predict the future anymore. It's hard enough for them to tell us what happened today – forget about tomorrow.

Like CBS News, I've learned the hard way that predicting the future is risky business. And predicting the future with a red-faced passionate certainty is a sure path to foolishness. And what does it accomplish, anyway?

Right now, what we do know is that this Alabama team is one with gaps and holes all over – gaps that have existed all year. They exist in offense (scoring), defense (pass rush) and special teams (coverage and kicking). We've written about them and provided analysis, and will continue to do so.

On the offense, Mike Shula himself admitted as much last week. In response to a question at his press conference Shula said, "I think that's the first time in four years anybody's asked me about a defensive coordinator being scared about our offense."

He's no dummy. He knows it must improve.

Alabama is also a team that has game-planned well in all the big games. Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines outwitted Tennessee Offensive Coordinator David Cutcliffe's and Mike Shula's offense outplayed Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee until late in the game, even if the touchdowns were in short supply.

It shouldn't be lost that the teams that beat Alabama (Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee) have a combined record of 18-3. Furthermore, the teams that beat the teams that beat Alabama (Southern Cal, Auburn and Florida) have a combined 19-2 record. All might finish among the top 10 teams in the country.

Who's to say for sure what will happen next? Not me.

A stroll back through Alabama football history reminds us of those who said Paul "Bear" Bryant's best days had passed him by after he won his third national championship and hit a small lull. Of course, he ended his career with six.

Was there anyone looking for the ejector button to Gene Stallings' chair when he lost his first three games as Bama's head coach? I'll bet there weren't any predictions being made about national championships at that particular moment.

Predictions are fun and harmless when taken with proper perspective and moderation. But be wary of anyone who says they know with certainty what will happen tomorrow, especially if they are unable to tell you what happened yesterday.

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