This is the best time of year to watch football. The games mean more, the players try more and it's usually a more intense, better contest. But for fantasy purposes, there's not usually a lot to learn. Their game is different, so what can we really get out of it?
In one game, I think there was plenty to learn.
The game in question didn't happen this past weekend, and it wasn't even a professional contest. The 2018 NCAA National Championship Game was held Monday night between Georgia and Alabama. A team that hadn't won a title in a quarter-century and a team that seems to win them every year.
I don't need to recap the game. If you say you don't know what happened, I call fake news. You know. Great game, right? But something happened that I'm going to try and take with me into the fantasy season next year.
Down 13-0 at the half, Nick Saban (regarded as a collegiate stable genius) made a questionable decision: He benched Jalen Hurts, then 26-2 as a starter. Saban turned to freshman Tue Tagovailoa in the biggest game of the year and with the team down two scores.
Was he nuts? The Crimson Tide could have turned it around. They could make up 13 points pretty quickly. How do you bench a proven winner for a guy who maybe could be good? How do you ditch your starter unless you're positive you have something better to replace him?
You know what happened in the second half. The gamble paid off and the Crimson Tide won the game in overtime. So what does that mean for fantasy football? To me, it means you can't be afraid to bench your starter, even if they have a proven track record. You can't just sit back, play it safe and watch your season unwind. Nobody would have criticized Saban for sticking with Hurts and eventually losing. And if Tagovailoa had been worse, people would have said Saban panicked and didn't give his team a chance to win with the guy who had proven himself all year.
But Saban didn't play it safe. He thought the only way Alabama was going to win that game was by making a risky decision. Even if they had lost, by the fourth quarter it was clear that the team was moving the ball better, scoring points and making the game competitive. It was the right call well before they claimed the title. Most coaches wouldn't have had the guts to do it. Saban did. And I want to be more like that this fall.
Confession time: I recently had the opportunity to be like Saban in a week 17 championship game, and I declined. I stuck with the okay quarterback who had gotten me there (Brees) instead of the guy with more upside (Garoppolo). It was like if Alabama had stuck with Hurts in the second half because he had been good all year and maybe he'd come through again.
So I stuck with Brees, and Garoppolo outscored him by four points. Doesn't sound like much, but we've all seen games that have turned on less. We've seen championships that have been decided by fewer than four points. I thought Garoppolo was better, but I didn't pull the trigger. I just stuck with the same guy because, well, just because. I didn't make the move because I didn't want to risk being wrong, and it cost me four points.
I'll skip to the end of the story: I won anyway. It didn't matter, but in hindsight I think it did matter. If it had cost me the title, it would have been because I knew the right move and simply didn't make it. What kind of way is that to run a team? Nick Saban wouldn't have hesitated, but I did. Right or wrong, he made a bold decision and stuck with it. He ran his team better than I ran mine, and I plan to learn from that decision going forward.
Try as we might, we'll never make our game just like the real thing. But it can be valuable to find strategies and lessons that might actually translate to both games. Maybe there will be more lessons this weekend. I'll be watching, and I hope you will, too.
Have you ever learned anything watching a football game that helped you in fantasy? Do you usually make gutsy calls, or stick with the tried-and-true option? Share your thoughts below.