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Better than the worst of the best?
November 15, 2012
University of South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier stirred up some controversy in the sports media world on Halloween Day when he said that Alabama could beat “a couple of those NFL teams that I’ve watched on Sundays.” It’s not clear why Spurrier said it - maybe it was a Halloween joke, or a way to justify his college success against his horrid pro coaching career, or maybe just a way to hype Alabama’s fans and players into a false sense of invincibility.
Regardless of the origin of his claim, it’s just not possible.
NFL players are too strong, quick and smart for any college team to keep up. The Panthers have played horribly this year, but would most likely score triple digits on Alabama. Spurrier may be entertaining to listen to, but most of the time he is just blowing hot air.
His comments got me thinking, though: Are there college teams in any of the other major sports that would be able to take on – and beat – the pros?
Outside of football, basketball is another sport Americans pay a lot of attention to, both at the college and professional levels. Basketball can be played with the shallowest roster, so if a team sets out to win one game, a strong 5-man rotation and two or three capable reserves could potentially get them there.
Let’s play with just such a scenario.
Last year, the city’s own Charlotte Bobcats set the infamous record of worst winning percentage of any NBA team in history. Sadly, this makes them a perfect candidate for that embarrassing question: Would they have lost to last year’s NCAA champion Kentucky Wildcats?
The Bobcats finished the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season with a dismal 7-59 record. The team edged out the Panthers’ wins record by only one victory after playing 50 more games. They were ranked last in the league in points per game, offensive ranking and defensive ranking. The team glaringly lacked a superstar, with an unimpressive Gerald Henderson leading the team in scoring. Behind him was Kemba Walker, the previous year’s NCAA Player of the Year and still a bright hope for Bobcats fans.
The Wildcats were led by Anthony Davis, a bigger star than any Bobcats player, whom NBA scouts had been drooling over for a couple of years. Davis surely only played this year of NCAA basketball because of the NBA’s rule forcing him to wait a year before he could be eligible for the draft. He averaged a double-double on the season, with more than 14 points and 10 rebounds a game.
Supporting Davis were four more players that averaged double-digit points per game. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague and Doron Lamb all declared for the 2012 NBA Draft following last season. All except Lamb were taken in the first round. Davis was taken as the first overall pick and Kidd-Gilchrist was taken second by the Bobcats, the first time two teammates were taken first and second overall in a modern draft.
That’s an entire starting lineup of kids only one year away from playing at the professional level, and two of them arguably could have already played at the pro level last year if NBA rules would have let them. To put that into perspective in relation to a football team, let’s take a look at last year’s NCAA champion Alabama team.
There are 22 players on a starting lineup for any given football game. Eight players from Alabama’s 2011 championship team were drafted into the NFL. Three have already been knocked out with injuries and one is playing on the practice squad for the Cleveland Browns, presumably one of the teams Spurrier was referring to as being one of the worst in the league. There simply aren’t enough football players on a college roster anywhere that are even close to ready to go face-to-face with NFL strength.
Depth is a big part of any sport and Kentucky’s starting lineup wouldn’t be able to do it alone for an entire 48 minutes against a Bobcats team. That brings up an important piece of the puzzle I left out regarding Kentucky’s amazing draft class: the team’s sixth man was drafted by the Hornets with the 48th pick. They had an NBA-caliber player on their bench - that just doesn’t happen.
To call this an easy win for Kentucky would be a further stretch than Anthony Davis’ now famous unibrow. In fact they may not even come close on most nights. They have some height to their team but no matter how wretched DeSagana Diop played against NBA defenses all season long, he’s still 7 feet tall and 300 pounds and he would push those kids around down low in a major way. The Bobcats would probably use their strength and stamina to take a 7-game series from the Wildcats easily.
However, it would be no surprise at all if these two teams laced it up for a one night event and the kids from Kentucky took home the win. With the Bobcats completely self-destructing and Kentucky sending out a college “Dream Team,” (Anthony Davis played in the Olympics this summer as well, mind you) a perfect storm may have taken place to create this scenario. It’s not every year that the NCAA fields such a team and the NBA has such an embarrassing group of players to match.
As far as last season was concerned though, it could happen, and not by any stretch of the imagination. That’s far more than will ever be possible in the National Football League.
Let’s only hope that Kidd-Gilcrist can now do his part to make sure the Bobcats are never realistically brought into a conversation like this again.