Gary Danielson is entering his 12th season of covering the SEC for CBS.
And after last season, he’s starting to wonder if the league has gotten away from what made it the premier college football conference during the better part of the last two decades.
The root cause? He believes it’s chasing after Nick Saban’s success at Alabama.
“Top to bottom the whole league is wondering ‘have we maybe gone down the wrong course with our program as we try to tool our programs to compete with Alabama or beat Alabama,'” Danielson said during an interview with Birmingham’s WJOX on Thursday morning. “I think a lot of the teams in the league have thought ‘we need to go uptempo. We need to be more finesse. We need to have a scrambling quarterback.’ Because in reality there have been some occasions with Alabama where hot mobile quarterbacks have been beating them. But I think top-to-bottom the league’s fundamentals have gotten a little weaker. I don’t think they play as solid football week-in and week-out.
“And even at Auburn, I think Gus Malzahn is realizing that if you put too much of your program around one player — the quarterback– with the running game and the passing game and everything is decided by scoring. I think Auburn is a reflection of that around the league, that if that guy isn’t ‘the guy’ it’s really tough to win. And I think a lot of the coaches, like at Texas A&M and with Gus at Auburn, they’re realizing they need more balance to win. And then they’ll just take their chances with Alabama at the end.”
The Crimson Tide itself was not immune to Danielson’s critique. He believes that the Lane Kiffin-Steve Sarkisian leadership in 2016 took the Alabama offense away from what has made the program so successful under Saban.
Getting former New England Patriots assistant Brian Daboll in place to call plays is what he believes will remedy that situation.
“I think it’s going to be huge. Alabama’s going to get back to being what they want to be,” Danielson said of Daboll. “A lot of it was out of necessity last year with Jalen Hurts. He couldn’t run the whole offense so they ran the offense he could run. Obviously, if they may three more first downs they’re going to win a national championship.”
“I thought they really got away from who they were as Alabama. It’s not ‘can you run the ball when you want to run the ball,’ it is ‘can you run the ball when you have to run the ball.’ And Alabama was always able to do that. Last year’s team couldn’t. I think with Daboll, he’s going to get back to those little boots, he’s going to stretch the field, throw those slants and play action like back when [Greg] McElroy was playing quarterback and AJ McCarron was playing quarterback. I thought last year, it didn’t look to me like the normal Alabama team. Very effective, obviously, but I think they’re going to get back more to their roots and more protecting their defense so there’s not anymore of those games where they play 99 plays.”
Danielson’s first call of the season will be in Week 2 at the TCU-Arkansas game in Fayetteville with new booth-mate Brad Nessler. But he does have a prediction for the Alabama-Florida State contest that looms large for Week 1 in Atlanta.
“I think it’s a pick ’em game,” Danielson said. “Florida State — There’s nothing that Jimbo Fisher’s talent on his team can’t face, but overall I’m going to take Nick is this game because he has had his teams ready to play coming out of the box in these big games. They’re used to it, and I think they’re going to be ready to play.”
You can listen to the entire interview with Danielson here:
— WJOX 94.5 FM (@WJOX945) August 17, 2017