It has been my pleasure to know many coaches and administrators at Mississippi State and, of course, Gene Swindoll and I have been friends in the Scout organization for a number of years.
Thank you for the questions regarding Alabama, and here is my best effort at providing answers.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Your red zone offense has not been very effective lately. What do you feel are the reasons for that?
BamaMag.com Publisher: Had there been one reason, it probably would have been worked out by now. There have been a number of problems, including the most important one: poor execution by the players. There have been missed blocks, overthrown passes, and dropped passes. There have also been some questionable calls. And there have been an unusual number of careless penalties, including having too many men on the field.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Does Alabama have a weakness on defense? If it does, what is it?
BamaMag.com Publisher: There may be some areas not as strong as others, but almost no one would suggest a weakness in Alabama defense. The Crimson Tide ranks among the Southeastern Conference and national leaders in just about every defensive category. Bama has national awards finalists in the line (Terrence Cody for Lombardi), linebacker (Rolando McClain for Bednarik), and secondary (Javier Arenas for Thorpe).
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Many of the Alabama fanbase appear to feel this game will be a cakewalk for their team. What are their reasons for believing that?
BamaMag.com Publisher: You're talking to different Alabama fans than I am. I know of no knowledgeable Tide fan who expects anything other than a very difficult game. Mississippi State always gives Alabama a good game, and it has not been lost on Bama fans that Coach Dan Mullen has the Bulldogs playing at a high level.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Most MSU fans consider this one of their rival games. Do Alabama fans also see it as a rival game?
BamaMag.com Publisher: For many, many years the most important game on the Alabama schedule was the Tennessee game on the Third Saturday in October. That game more often than not seemed to determine the SEC champion. As Auburn became more of a force in the SEC, the Tigers became a top rival for Bama since both are in the state of Alabama. Tide fans would consider the Mississippi State game to be an important game, but probably not a rivalry game despite the closeness geographically.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: In what ways has Greg McElroy improved this season? And if Alabama is to win the national championship this year, is there one thing he needs to do even better to help make that happen?
BamaMag.com Publisher: The thing he has done best is take a leadership role. He is the leader of the offense. That's not unusual for a quarterback, but as a junior first-year starter it may have been a bit of a surprise that he would be so effective as a leader. The thing he needs to be better is to have more experience, and, of course, he can't get much more in this season.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Julio Jones hasn't been as effective this season as he was last year. Has he been injured or double-teamed a lot this season or is there another reason for his lack of productivity?
BamaMag.com Publisher: Julio Jones has not been as productive as a receiver, but he has had a very good year. He was hampered by injuries early in the season and he has drawn double coverage through most of the year. In truth, though, he also has not had as good a year catching the ball as he did in 2008 as a freshman. Nevertheless, coaches and teammates consider him to have had a good year in great part because of his excellent blocking. Also, he stepped in as a punt and kickoff return man when Arenas was injured.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: In your opinion, how many NFL draft choices will your team lose this year?
BamaMag.com Publisher: I think Alabama will lose one junior to the NFL draft. Rolando McClain will be a very high draft choice. Seniors who will be drafted are nose tackle Terrence Cody (by a team that needs a two down run-stopper), tight end Colin Peek, left guard Mike Johnson, and cornerback Javier Arenas. Possibles, maybe free agents, are placekicker Leigh Tiffin, safety Justin Woodall, and defensive end Brandon Deaderick.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Do Alabama fans think their football program will ever get the "magic" back that they had in the 70s? By magic I mean the mystique, fear, swagger, the "We're Alabama, you cannot win" attitude.
BamaMag.com Publisher: Just as soon as Tebow leaves.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: What percentage of the Alabama fanbase would be satisfied with a one-loss season? The loss can be a regular reason game, the SEC Championship game, a bowl game loss or the national championship game.
BamaMag.com Publisher: Some of Alabama's greatest football teams have suffered a loss. Obviously, if a game must be lost, it's best if it's a regular season game. The worst is a national championship game loss. I couldn't put a percentage on what percentage would be satisfied with a one-loss season, but I'd guess that when Bama is 9-0 the percentage is very, very low.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: What is the story behind the expression "Roll Tide". And why does Alabama use an elephant as a sort of mascot?
BamaMag.com Publisher: Both are from the very early days of Alabama football. The original nickname was Thin Red Line. A newspaper writer called Alabama the Crimson Tide after a game on a muddy field and the name stuck. You'll be happy to know that the elephant tradition comes from a 64-0 win over Mississippi in 1930. Coach Wallace Wade started his second team against the Rebels, then brought in the "varsity" to start the second quarter and begin the rout. A newspaper writer noted that when the huge Bama first team went onto the field it was if a herd of elephants had arrived.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: Many coaches have a so-called "escape clause" or buyout clause in their contract. Does Nick Saban have one? If so, how much is it?
BamaMag.com Publisher: He has never had one and does not at Alabama. He is free to leave if he wishes. Alabama Athletics Director Mal Moore is of the opinion that if a coach doesn't want to be at Alabama, Moore doesn't want that coach.
GenesPage.com Subscribers: In the past, Alabama has played the likes of Penn State, USC and Notre Dame during the regular season. They don't seem to do that anymore. Do you think Bama fans would like to see another 'storied' program on the regular season schedule once again or has the BCS poll changed the fanbase's opinion to stick with the conference schedule and wait for those kinds of matchups in the post season?
BamaMag.com Publisher: Alabama begins a home-and-home series with Penn State next season. Informal talks have begun for an Alabama-Notre Dame series. Coach Paul Bryant liked those big intersectional games and Alabama had series with Southern Cal, Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Penn State, among others, when he was making the schedule. Current Athletics Director Moore has to make the budget for all sports, which is on the back of football. As such, he prefers more home games. A home-and-home costs Alabama several million dollars. Moore has been interested in the neutral site games against big-name opponents with guaranteed payoffs equal to what Bama would make on a home game-vs. FSU in Jacksonville in 2007, vs. Clemson in Atlanta in 2008, and vs. Virginia Tech in Atlanta in 2009. Moore also is of the opinion that a very good record is more likely against a less strenuous schedule and the big name opponent can wait until a big bowl game.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.