Winning the Southern way

sports@macon.comJanuary 8, 2013 

Well, that was really something. If you wanted an exhibition of football in the South, we got it Monday night when Alabama destroyed Notre Dame.

Some say all the credit goes to Alabama, and there’s no doubt the Tide have established a powerhouse in Tuscaloosa that even Bear Bryant would be envious of. But this game was, to a large extent, a display of how we know how to play college football here in the South.

Now I’m not going overboard and saying Vanderbilt could have hung 30 points on Notre Dame down in Miami. But you have to wonder if the other four SEC teams that finished in the AP top 10 also could have beat the Fighting Irish.

Sure they could have. Easily.

I’m disappointed, frankly. I wanted Notre Dame to be competitive. I wanted the Fighting Irish to show they were not a fluke, and they had actually had a season that could make them stick with the mighty SEC champion.

Part of it was the head coach, Brian Kelly. I’m impressed with his humility and his honesty. He didn’t seem overpowered or intimidated by Alabama. He could have been. He has been the coach in South Bend for only three years. He used to be the coach at Grand Valley State. But he acted and looked like he belonged.

And I don’t think his team’s performance is an indictment on Kelly. He is a great coach, and don’t be surprised if he has Notre Dame high in the polls for many years to come.

But it won’t matter. These teams from up North and out West can try all they want. Right now they just can’t play with teams in the South.

We know how to play college football, just like we know how to eat grits, fry chicken and put sugar in our tea. Yes, I’m being Southern here. I’m poking my chest out and being proud that the SEC has won the BCS title for seven years in a row.

I wanted to believe Notre Dame could hang with Alabama. When people called my radio show and predicted a two- and three-touchdown victory for the Crimson Tide, I wondered if that was too much. Perhaps, I thought, we had finally found a team that could compete with an SEC team.

I’ve never gotten the level of hate for Notre Dame. Sure, the Irish have their own TV contract. Sure, they act like they’ve done something special, when the fact was they had not done anything for more than two decades until this season. But it didn’t take long to understand that this was almost the Civil War of football. This was the South versus the North.

I wasn’t foolish enough to pick Notre Dame. I thought Alabama would win. I just never could have predicted what happened.

Notre Dame showed it didn’t matter who it had beaten during the season. Wins over BYU and Pittsburgh and even USC, Stanford and Oklahoma were nice. It made the record look sexy. But the Irish were manhandled by a group of players who were just faster and more physical.

Nick Saban is currently writing a manual for how to win a national championship. Maybe in two years, when the format changes and there is a four-team playoff, this will change. But right now Saban is showing everybody how to win it all.

Saban just gets it. When he stood there Monday night and talked about getting ready for next year moments after he had won, he knows that while Alabama fans will celebrate this, most will be calling talk shows this week talking about how they can do this again next year.

Football is just a game up North, but it’s a way of life in the South. No one knows that better than Saban.

The teams from the South are the ones that can most easily follow Saban’s blueprint. Programs like LSU and Florida have done it before, so it’s not like they have forgotten. They just have a new standard to live up to that has been set by Saban.

Teams like Georgia and now maybe Florida State, teams that haven’t won it all in a while, can now also follow the lead. And they have the ability to recruit the same kind of athletes who go to Tuscaloosa to play for Saban.

Yes, maybe Ohio State, which would have played Notre Dame if not for NCAA sanctions, can do something special with Urban Meyer now in charge. But where did he really learn his craft? It wasn’t at Bowling Green or Utah. He won two national titles in Gainesville with the Gators, and now he has taken his philosophies to Columbus to try and do it up there.

But if you’re going to think about which programs can win a national title in the future, play it safe and stay south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Alabama showed everybody Monday that football down here is just a little bit different than what Notre Dame had played all year.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on twitter@yahoo.com.

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