THE EXTRA SEASON

Del Olaleye: If you are locked into college football recruiting, you are among friends

Alabama won the national title, but winning again may happen because of events in the next week. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Plenty of people think the College Football season ended when Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa hit Devonta Smith for the game winning touchdown in the national title game. Those people would be wrong and maybe you should disassociate yourself from them. Smith, the WR who caught the pass, wasn’t on Alabama’s roster at this time last year. He didn’t even decide he wanted to play for the Crimson Tide until Feb. 1, 2017. Smith is one of many elite high school prospects who wait until National Signing Day to make a decision on where to play college football. In some cases the journey to a decision is a three-year process. Late January to early February is closing time in college football. We’re gonna talk a little ‘crootin.

In Alabama’s comeback win against Georgia two different freshmen caught touchdown passes. The aforementioned Tagovailoa was a freshman as well. Tagovailoa played the entire second half after replacing an ineffective Jalen Hurts. Standing next to the freshman signal-caller for most of the second half was top-ranked running back and true freshman Najee Harris. Harris wasn’t featured in the first half but finished the game as Alabama’s leading rusher. The first of Tagovailoa touchdowns went to another highly touted freshman, Henry Ruggs III. Four freshmen all contributed to Alabama’s comeback. Ruggs, just as in the case of Smith, waited till the very end to decide to play for Alabama. Game-changing talent everywhere. All just out of high school.

Securing that talent is the lifeblood of any program and the pursuit of that top end talent turned perhaps the biggest curmudgeon in college football into someone we don’t recognize. It is the only viable explanation for why Nick Saban of all people is doing the cupid shuffle in some kid’s living room. Thankfully the recruit decided to film the whole thing and now Saban has gone viral. I’m not sure Saban knows what “going viral” is but he just did it. If I was that kid I’d commit to Tennessee. I fear what Saban will do him as retribution once the wining and dining is over. Saban isn’t alone in his apparent out of character actions. Adults of all backgrounds will tweet directly at kids who are considering playing for their favorite school. If a high-profile kid tweets something as simple as “Where the FSU fans at” you can expect over 300 RTs and 3,000 likes in response.

Showing twitter love is really the public face of a fanbase and their obsession. Message boards are where the real underbelly of following recruiting exists. Every major school has more than one board. The basic models can be found at Rivals and 247sports. You’ll find the real diehards at fan-run sites. Posters on those board will spend the entire month of January tracking what obscure city an assistant is traveling to. If they want to be updated about which players have made the decision to take an official visit to their school there is an app for that. Analyzing the words an 18-year old kid texts to a reporter about his college plans is absolutely a thing as well. Understand this, if you haven’t rationalized away a recruit picking your rival over your favorite team then you’re not a true college football fan.

Posters on message boards during the stretch run of recruiting season can be placed into easily recognizable categories.

  1. Optimist: Believes their coaches are recruiting monsters. Any kid who shows their team any type of attention can be snagged. They are usually disappointed on National Signing Day because there is no way any coaching staff can live up to their expectations

  2. Pessimist: They believe every recruit is playing the coaches for fools. They post things like: “Player X is just using the official visit as a free vacation. We’re wasting our time.”  Pessimists position themselves as realists. The Pessimist thinks their job is to keep the the Optimist’s expectations in check.

  3. Above the Fray: This poster will tell the board that NSD (National Signing Day) doesn’t matter a bit if the coaches don’t “coach’em up.” They will also point out that it is a little weird that grown men are so focused on the whims of 18 year old kids.

  4. Insider: This poster somehow, someway has inside information. They may have a “source” on the coaching staff. They might be a family member of a recruit. Sometimes a local high school coach decides to interject. They know a guy who knows a guy.

  5. Troll: A troll takes a run at everyone. Sometimes the troll pretends to be the Insider. This poster plays on the admittedly irrational emotion of other posters who really want a recruit to play for their favorite school. They are the worst.

If you happen to fall into four of the five categories you’re more than ok. You’re amongst friends and we understand. If you fall into the fifth and final category you’re not ok and everyone hates you. Once again, you’re the worst.

We’re a week away from the official end of this college football season( NSD is Wed. Feb. 7th) and less than two months away from the start of the 2018 season. Syracuse starts spring practice March 3rd and thank the college football gods for that.

No one wants to pay attention to baseball in March.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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