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Rivalry games bring out our best... and worst
Bob MUG square.jpg

Nick Saban is a sore loser, and Dabo Sweeney is an equally sore winner. That is what I learned from college football’s rivalry week. 

After losing to Auburn by three points and being virtually eliminated from any hope of making the playoffs, Saban immediately blamed an “unfair” trick on what amounted to the final play of the game as the reason for his team’s loss. 

The trick? Auburn lined up for a punt with their punter in a gunner’s slot and not the backfield as the Crimson Tide expected. The resulting confusion caused Alabama to commit a substitution penalty, giving Auburn a first down to allow them to run out the clock. 

Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn explained after the game that his goal on the play was to minimize the impact of punt returner, Jaylen Waddle, who had already scored a return touchdown earlier in the contest. Sounds like good coaching to me. 

Correct me if I am wrong, but the Crimson Tide employs a special teams coach (and pays him roughly a quarter-of-a-million dollars) specifically for these situations, and it would be his job to see the “trickery” and have a counter. In fact, in that situation, it begs the question as to why Waddle wasn’t on the field anyway? 

While unorthodox, Auburn’s play was most definitely not a trick nor was it unfair. It was an example of the out of the box thinking necessary to beat one of the best teams in the country, almost a compliment. 

Both teams had a ton of mistakes in a tight game. There were pick-sixes, bad runs, and missed kicks. In fact, Crimson Tide kicker Joseph Bulovas felt so badly about his miss that he penned a public apology to Alabama’s fans. 

To blame the game on that moment takes away from an incredible football game that featured two teams giving it their all for nothing other than bragging rights and memories. 

On the other end of the spectrum are Sweeney and the Clemson Tigers. After finishing off their undefeated season with a 38-3 beat down of the South Carolina Gamecocks essentially guaranteeing their spot in the post-season, Sweeney immediately launched into a lamentation about a system that wants to keep Clemson down. 

Let’s ignore the fact that Clemson did not face a single ranked opponent this season and the real possibility exists that fact won’t change in the ACC championship game this weekend. 

Ignore the fact that the team played an FCS opponent the weekend prior to the release of the first playoff rankings. Talk about padding the stats! That’s the equivalent of beating up on the local middle school team. (Although I wouldn’t recommend that in Dawson County, those kids are pretty darn good).

In Sweeney’s eyes, despite being in the top four since pre-season, being ranked No. 3 is an insult. In his eyes, the Tigers have beaten every opponent by a huge margin, with one exception. In the final stretch, his team demonstrated vast improvements in both offense and defense. Like all coaches, he felt his team was better than the pundit’s estimations. 

Much like Saban’s comments, Sweeney’s whining detracts from a solid group of kids. All of whom are playing their best and most of whom are playing their last football. 

You don’t see Kirby Smart complaining about his team’s lot in all of this mess. Number four since the second week, division champion for the second year in a row with the second-best defense in the country, and the only way they are going to make it into the big dance is to beat arguably the best team in the land. 

Smart has buckled down, kept his mouth shut and accepted the challenges put before his team.