The Folly of "What Might Have Been"

"When I was in school I studied biology. I learned that in making their experiments scientists will take some group--bacteria, mice, people--and subject that group to certain conditions. They compare the results with a second group which has not been disturbed. This second group is called the control group. It is the control group which enables the scientist gauge the effect of his experiment. To judge the significance of what has occurred. In history there are no control groups. There is no one to tell us what might have been. We weep over the might have been, but there is no might have been. There never was."  - All the Pretty Horses (Cormac McCarthy)

"Who knows what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from."  - No Country for Old Men (Cormac McCarthy)

The Alabama Crimson Tide are the 2009 BCS National Champions.  They deserve no asterisk nor any second guessing of their credentials as champions.  They won according to the rules for winning and there is nothing else to be said on that front.  They are the champions and I congratulate them on winning every single game they played this year against some tough competition to accomplish that feat.

But to grant that they are the undisputed champions is quite different from granting that they proved anything of any consequence by beating Texas on Thursday.  I mean no disrespect to Alabama for what they have accomplished, but all that they proved was that they could score more points than a team playing without its star quarterback -- the unquestioned focal point of both the offensive system and the emotional psyche of this team -- and instead playing with an 18-year old backup quarterback who was so unprepared for even the idea that he might to have to play that, from the stands, it appeared as though he couldn't even find his helmet after Colt McCoy ran off the field on Texas' 5th play from scrimmage.  'Bama, of course, still had to win that game, and they deserve credit for doing so (even if their style of play in the second half did resemble the mid-90's Knicks), but to say that 'Bama proved they were a better team than Texas this season is folly.

Which is where we must take a step back and consider those above quotes from arguably America's greatest living writer and inarguably America's foremost purveyor of fatalistic melancholy.

I think Texas would have destroyed Alabama if Colt McCoy had played the entire game.  We almost won the game with the aforementioned 18-year-old leading a monumental comeback so how badly would we have defeated Alabama with Colt?  Our receivers (particularly Shipley) got separation from the 'Bama defenders on numerous occasions, only to have Gilbert overthrow them all but twice.  How many times would Colt have connected instead?  And more Texas points on the scoreboard earlier in the game would have forced McElroy to throw more often, forcing incompletions, potential interceptions and potential fumbles on sacks (we sacked the man 5 times and he only attempted 11 passes -- eventually he was going to lose his grip on one of them).  These are all things that I passionately believe.  But I am a Texas fan.  Which makes me both biased and smart enough to know that I'm biased.

And the truth of the matter is that, as Cormac McCarthy says, there is no might have been.  There is no "control game" to show how things would have played out if Colt hadn't gotten hurt.  And of course, who knows what worse luck our bad luck has saved us from.  'Bama played the second half like Greg Davis calls games he expects to win by sheer force of athleticism: like a turtle crawled up into its shell, just trying avoid every single possible danger for as long as possible.  If Colt plays and we score TDs on those first two Alabama turnovers, then maybe Alabama takes off the gloves and counterpunches the Horns with something they weren't ready for.  Maybe Alabama blows Texas out of the Rose Bowl and sets the program back in the minds of the nation the way Florida's beat-down of Ohio State in the national championship game did to the Buckeye program.  For the first five minutes before Colt got hurt, it certainly didn't look like that would happen, but who's to say what might have been?  There's no such thing.

We as Texas fans cannot claim that we would have won that game had Colt been able to play.  We can run through a million scenarios in our heads of how the game might have played out differently and ultimately gone in our favor, but none of them did play out.  Only one history can unfold, and unfortunately that one developed into an Alabama national championship.  Consequently, as sincerely as I believe that Texas had the better team and would have won with Colt McCoy at quarterback, I can't in good conscience convince myself that it is a fact because it didn't happen.  What might have been is not what was.  By the same token of course, Alabama proved nothing last night other than exactly what happened: they are capable of barely holding off a 4th quarter rally by an 18-year-old kid who didn't realize he'd have to play the entire game until halftime.  Congratulations on that, Tide.  It was enough to get you an 8th national championship and nothing and no one can ever take that away from you.* Again, I mean no disrespect but we can only go by what actually happened.  So if you're up for it, I'd love to see a do-over -- a "control group" game, so to speak.  And after watching that actual game in person, I'd take the Horns -3.5.  What about you?

Random Notes:

  • I am of two minds about Alabama fans after coming in contact with them in large quantities at the Rose Bowl on Thursday.  First, and perhaps unfairly, they annoy the shit out of me.  Half are trashy, half are uppity, and they all have the exact same damn haircut.  They all seem like the type that would name their first borns "Saban" without any sense of irony, which is a roundabout way of saying that there is nothing more important in their lives than Alabama football.  I'm sure that's true of some Texas fans too, but it's a bit depressing to see it manifest in the majority of an entire fanbase.  But alternatively, I must say that when it comes to being in the stadium with them, they are uniformly some of the nicest, most respectful opposing fans I've ever come in contact with.  I sat in a section that was about two thirds Bama fans and they cheered hard, maniacally, at all the right times in the flow of the game, and they understood and accepted that I was doing the same for my team.  As I dejectedly filed out of the stadium after the game, all of them were congratulating each other rather than rubbing it in our noses.  Only one drunk idiot outside of the stadium started to taunt me before his more sober girlfriend pulled him away before I could finish my retort (for the record: "I'm sorry, are you taunting me?  After you barely beat our backup quarterback?  Go fuck yourself!"), which may have devolved into something that would have me writing a different paragraph right now.  So, thanks sober Bama girlfriend!  I despise the word "classy" so I will call the Alabama fans that I met unfailingly polite, slightly on the far side of maniacal, and incredibly dedicated to their team and the game of football.  I would have vastly preferred to hate you.  Jerks.
  • I'm also of two minds about how Greg Davis called the game for Gilbert.  At first, Davis called the most predictable plays imaginable.  Zone read that Gilbert was obviously not going to keep, zone read again, then on 3rd and long, a pass play.  He refused to let Gilbert pass on any down other than 3rd and choreographing when you're going to pass isn't exactly a recipe for success (ask Greg McElroy).  Eventually, Davis starting mixing in some wrinkles: a reverse to Chiles, a couple of wide receiver screens that actually worked, a deep shot to Malcolm that should have gone for a TD.  And eventually, Gilbert came around.  When Davis finally started letting him throw on 1st and 2nd down, and started spreading the field for him, the offense opened up.  Make no mistake, Gilbert missed his receivers all over the place and often times their drops had as much to do with his placement as their traitorous hands.  But it was working until we idiotically went 5-wide up against our own end zone.  So where I'm torn is whether Davis should have realized earlier he couldn't baby Garrett, or whether Garrett's success in the second half was a direct result of the acclimation he got through the babying that Davis did in the first half.  I don't know and we never will.  But it's interesting to consider.  All in all, I came out very impressed with Davis in this game.  He gave his players a shot to win by making plays.  Can't ask for much more in this situation.
  • Jordan Shipley finally disproved the incessant nonsensical notion that he and Colt McCoy have a "special bond" as roommates.  Jordan is just a supremely talented wide receiver regardless of who is throwing the ball to him.  He consistently beat the Bama DBs deep and Gilbert was able to find him twice for touchdowns.  Colt McCoy was certainly by far the most important player on this offense, but Shipley was arguably the best.  He will excel in the NFL.
  • I have never liked Nick Saban's personality (though I will readily accept his coaching resume as one of the best of the past 20 years) and the end of this game made him a mortal enemy of mine for life.  After Gilbert fumbled, Bama scored the TD to go up 10 with two minutes to go, and Gilbert threw another interception to effectively seal the game, the Tide took over at the Texas 27 with 1:48 to go in the game and a 10-point lead.  Texas had one timeout remaining.  The play clock in college football is 40 seconds, which runs immediately from the end of the previous play.  So if Alabama takes a knee on first down and Texas calls a timeout (which isn't a guarantee given that the game was OVER), that takes maybe 3 to 5 seconds.  So we're in the 1:44 range.  Then, if Alabama takes a knee again, they can run about another 43 seconds off the clock, putting us at 1:01 on 3rd down.  Then Alabama takes another knee, runs off another 43 seconds to put us at about 18 seconds (give or take a few) on 4th down.  Eighteen seconds with a 10 point lead and the ability to either kick another field goal or take another knee and run even a few more seconds off the clock.  Maybe if Richardson doesn't go out of bounds on the first play from scrimmage (at the 2 yard line with the facemask penalty) then Saban takes a knee, but that didn't happen.  He pounded in another touchdown, maybe because he miscalculated the time, maybe to get Ingram another superfluous TD, maybe to impress the history books with the margin of victory, maybe just because he's a dick.  I don't know why he did it.  But "respecting the explosive Texas offense" is not a valid reason, Alabama fans.  Eighteen seconds with a 10 to 13 point lead and the #1 ranked defense in the country and an 18-year old opposing QB?  Bullshit excuse.
  • I realize that I sound completely bitter right now, and that I haven't given Alabama a lot of credit.  Both sentiments are likely true.  But I don't mean to disrespect them.  I think they did everything they needed to do to win (plus scored a completely unnecessary touchdown just for good measure!) and that's all that matters in the end.  I understand that they didn't really even try to do anything on offense in the second half other than kill the clock, and it's impossible to judge the quality of a team based on that (just as it's impossible to judge a team playing without its star QB).  I also thought that Ingram and Richardson did an excellent job rushing the ball.  We managed to bottle up the inside pretty well (other than Richardson's long TD run, in which the Bama O-line opened up a huge hole and we for some reason had no safeties in the middle of the field; that should have been a 10-yard gain at most, I'm still not sure what happened), but the Tide RBs deserve a lot of credit for being able to bounce outside and make positive gains out of nothing.  In the end, Alabama is a very good team that, in my personal opinion, is in a battle with 2002 Ohio State for the title of worst undefeated national champion of the decade (and for the record, if Texas had won the game, I'd probably say the same thing about us; we were a very good but flawed team in a year with nothing but flawed teams).  Among all champions of the decade, I would put them ahead of only 2006 Florida, 2007 LSU, and possibly 2003 LSU and 2002 Ohio State.  A huge part of winning championships is luck, however, and Alabama can't be blamed for being the beneficiary of that luck and combining it with some exceptional skill and good coaching into a magical year.  Congrats again to the Tide.  Let me know about that rematch.

*Except for the NCAA after the inevitable next cheating scandal.  Sorry, cheap shot.  Totally uncalled for.  I apologize.  No, I will not retract it.

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