Before we get into this particular topic, let's make one thing clear. While Nick Saban was an atomic nightmare as an NFL coach for the Miami Dolphins in 2005 and 2006, and remains a general pain in the butt as a media presence, there's no doubt that the man knows how to coach and recruit at the big-time college level. Saban's 2011 Alabama team gave eight legitimate players to the NFL, and the fact that he's right back on top with personnel losses that would cripple a lot of programs proves that Saban is where he needs to be.
[Pat Forde: Alabama coach Nick Saban is, indeed, a curmudgeon]
And that's why a comment made on Wednesday by former Washington Redskins and current South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is pretty darned ridiculous.
"Alabama, gosh, they look like they could beat a couple of those NFL teams that I've watched on Sundays," Spurrier said on Wednesday's Dan Patrick Show (H/T to CBS' Mike Freeman). "I think a lot of the oddsmakers out there, that usually know what's going on, I'd guess Alabama would be favored by a little bit."
Well, not really. Alabama might have more talent year to year than any other college team we've ever seen, but to place the NCAA on the same talent plane as the NFL is truly goofy. Most programs produce a handful of draftable players at their very best, and the large majority of college stars will be be pro washouts even after they enjoy the benefits of NFL training and conditioning programs.
Spurrier should know better. Like Saban, he managed to survive two years as an NFL head coach (2002 and 2003 with the Redskins), and like Saban, he couldn't wait to turn tail and head back to the college ranks when it was made clear that he was out of his depth.
Any sort of matchup between Alabama and an NFL team? Heck, let's give Spurrier the benefit of the doubt and assemble a hypothetical group of big-time all-stars to face any NFL squad. It would be men against boys, just as it was most of the time in the Chicago Charities College All-Star Game.
This preseason contest between an all-star senior class and the NFL champions took place every year from 1934 through 1976 (except for 1974, when there was a players' strike), and both parties finally decided to disband the thing because the results were so one-sided. The college teams had an advantage in the early years, when their game was more glamorous and the NFL was still finding its way. But in the final 30 contests, the college teams won five games, and none after the 1963 squad upset the Green Bay Packers.
You could argue that a group of senior college all-stars would fare better against a beacon of suckitude like this year's Kansas City Chiefs or the 2008 Detroit Lions (the only 0-16 team in NFL history), but the majority of those who have thought it through would seriously disagree.
Frank Schwab, who writes for Yahoo's outstanding Dr. Saturday blog and helps us on Sunday NFL coverage, put it very simply.
There's no shot," Frank told me. "Yes, some of their players could compete right now in the NFL. Dee Milliner. Barrett Jones. C.J. Mosley. Chance Warmack. Heck, maybe even freshman running back T.J. Yeldon. To name a few. Could any of them be an above-average starter in the NFL right now? Maybe two or three of them. Odds are, even if all of Alabama's elite players turn out to be NFL stars, they won't all do it next year (and obviously couldn't all do it this year either). You're not going to go into a game with a handful (at most) players who are capable of playing at an average level in the pros right now and coming within three touchdowns of any NFL team. Even Kansas City. "
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Interestingly enough, I did talk to one respected voice who disagreed -- Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com and CBS Sports. I've known Rob for a decade, and most of whatever the heck I know about evaluating draft prospects came from him.
"While Spurrier's comments at first blush seem like hyperbole, the current Alabama roster is so talent-laden that I believe the Crimson Tide could give one of the weaker NFL teams a reasonably competitive game," Rob said. "Typically, the top-rated college team is blessed with several NFL-caliber athletes at one or two positions. Alabama, however, has elite athletes at virtually every position, including at quarterback. Generally speaking, the biggest difference between college and professional football lies in the trenches. This, however, is where Alabama is especially talented, with multiple future high-round picks on both the offensive and defensive lines."
Looking to break the tie, I went to a man who has had success in recent years at both levels -- Pete Carroll, who turned the USC program around in the 2000s (admittedly, with some controversy) and is trying to do the same with the Seattle Seahawks. Unlike Saban and Spurrier, and in a clean break with his own earlier turns with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, Carroll has now proven that he understands how to make things work when building and running an NFL team.
When I asked Carroll the college vs. pro question, I couldn't even finish before he started chuckling at the prospect.
"I was confronted with that at times [at USC], and the falsehood is to think that it could ever take place -- it ain't even close," Carroll said. "Alabama's got a great team, and Nick is a fantastic coach, but when you match up the interior lines against NFL teams on either side of the ball, it wouldn't even be close. Skill-wise and in their development, most of his guys are going to play in the NFL. But at that time, when they're still in college, they're not ready for it. I used to say that -- don't kid yourself. It's not the receivers or the running backs; it's what would happen up front that would be tremendously shocking to a college team."
So, I asked Carroll, you never bought into that whole "USC as the NFL's 33rd team" narrative when you were there?
"Nope -- that wasn't me. I wasn't buying it."
Neither are we. Coach Spurrier, stay in your lane.
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