Football Guesses Seem Reasonable

As I looked over the Birmingham News 2007 Spring Preview, I was reminded of the days when I was an active participant in that effort. (I am also reminded that I think it should be called the Post-Spring Preview or the Early Preview since it is done following spring football practice of all Southeastern Conference teams.)

The only time the poll has been particularly accurate was in the 1970s when everyone picked Alabama to win the championship and the Crimson Tide of Coach Paul Bryant usually did the job expected of it.

I remember talking to Birmingham News Sports Editor Alf Van Hoose prior to the 1971 season regarding Bama's place in the poll. The Crimson Tide was coming off a 6-5-1 season, but had half or dozen or more pre-season All-SEC selections for 1971. And the Crimson Tide had been picked about the middle of the 10-team league. "Do you think Coach Bryant has forgotten how to coach?" I asked Van Hoose.

Of course, Van Hoose wasn't responsible for the pick. The sports information directors of the SEC teams made the selections. That job was handed over to me by Charley Thornton and Charley made it clear that I didn't need to spend a lot of research time on the project.

But I knew there would be other such polls for me to work on throughout the summer, so I always tried to get as much information as possible for the Birmingham News report, which was the earliest request each spring.

I suspect it's a mixed bag today. Some media relations offices will have someone work very hard on the poll and others will not.

I also suspect most had a difficult time seeing anything about Alabama except last year's record (6-7) and this year's coach (Nick Saban).

It was mentioned that Saban doesn't like expectations. I don't think that's true. He's worked awfully hard to foster

I didn't see anything in this year's Birmingham News report (Click Here) that made me want to tear my hair out. I have mixed feelings about Florida. It's impossible to ignore that the Gators are defending national champion, and it's reasonable to see Florida picked as best until dethroned. But it's also hard to overlook a team that lost half its offense (including quarterback) and 10 of 11 defensive starters. I know Tim Tebow is great, but even he could have a day or two when he looks like a sophomore.

Alabama and Arkansas are picked to finish in a tie for third in the SEC West behind LSU (best personnel in the league) and Auburn (I'd probably pick Auburn ahead of LSU based on coaching, except that Auburn has to go to Gainesville, Baton Rouge and Athens). Ole Miss and Mississippi State bring up the rear.

In the East it is Florida followed by Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky (!!!), South Carolina (which I have seen picked by others to win the East) and Vanderbilt.

Individually, Alabama had only one "best" and that was Simeon Castille at cornerback. I didn't have a problem with Arkansas' Darren McFadden being MVP, top Heisman candidate, best athlete, best runner, and second best leader. I probably would have had Andre Smith at least the second best offensive lineman, but that's because I watch him every week. And I wondered how Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson could be Best Leader and Best Passer and also Most Underrated.

Andre Smith at tackle and Simeon Castille at cornerback were Bama's first team pre-season All-SEC selections. Center Antoine Caldwell was second team on offense. (I was surprised at D.J. Hall not being either first or second team at wide receiver.) Linebacker Prince Hall was second team defense.

By the way (in case anyone has forgotten), that 1971 Alabama team that was a pre-season pick for about a .500 season opened with a 17-10 upset of number one ranked Southern Cal in Los Angeles and finished the 11-0 regular season with a31-7 blasting of undefeated Auburn, which had the Heisman Trophy winner in Pat Sullivan. Bama was not up to winning the national championship, though, losing to one of the greatest teams in history, the 1971 Nebraska team, by a 38-6 margin in the Orange Bowl.

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