With every week that goes by, it becomes more and more apparent that Alabama is a league above the rest in the grand scheme of college football in 2012.
Other formerly top-five teams have fallen by the wayside week by week—the LSUs, Florida States and USCs of the world—yet the Crimson Tide still continues to find some way to dominate.
Part of that could be scheduling. Before a Sept. 29 matchup against Ole Miss, Alabama's most recent three games certainly weren't against the toughest of opponents—and even though the Crimson Tide beat Ole Miss, they didn't do it by as wide a margin as we've become accustomed to seeing this year.
Perhaps a two-week layoff will help restore this team to its early-season form—or perhaps a date with 3-3 Missouri will do the trick. The Tigers haven't won or lost in consecutive weeks at any point in 2012, and last time around, they lost to Vanderbilt.
If the pattern were to hold true, Alabama should be on alert on Saturday. But given the fact that the Tigers are going to be without their starting quarterback, that pattern is, in a word, unlikely to continue.
Where: Faurot Field, Columbia, Mo.
When: Saturday, Oct. 13 at 3:30 p.m. ET
According to OddsShark, Alabama is the 17 1/2-point favorite over Missouri—a wide margin, but a fair margin, even if the Crimson Tide are on the road.
Alabama is, after all, the top-ranked team in the nation with a top-ranked defense that allows a mere 7.0 points per game. That isn't good news for a Missouri team that has had trouble scoring against the likes of Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Georgia—with its starting QB at the helm.
This bodes to be the toughest competition the Tigers have faced all season, and that's saying a lot, because they've already taken the field against one team that used to be in the top five and another that now is in the top five.
Not only is Alabama's defense a brick wall, but its offense isn't too shabby, either. It has never scored fewer than 33 points in a game, and the only time Missouri scored close to that many points was in a season-opening, 62-10 win over Southeastern Louisiana.
But maybe Missouri will surprise us. It will take a total meltdown by the nation's best defense, but 17 1/2 points is a generous spread, and Missouri—playing at home against the best team in the nation—could come out to prove something, even if that something is only that it won't get beaten quite as badly as some expect.
OddsShark has the over/under at 44 1/2, and we know which team is expected to account for most of the points on Saturday.
Every time Alabama takes the field, a lot of points are scored, and it is never because the Crimson Tide defense doesn't show up to play. There has only been one instance in which fewer than 40 points have been scored in an Alabama game—and that was only because that time around, the Crimson Tide shut out Western Kentucky 35-0.
It's possible that the two-week layover could have an impact on this Alabama team. It's also possible that those two weeks refreshed what is clearly the nation's best team, and Missouri could be the latest challenger to learn that the hard way.
Alabama Injury Report (via USA Today)
- TE Malcolm Faciane (shoulder) is questionable for Saturday's game
- DL Brandon Ivory (ankle) is questionable for Saturday
- WR DeAndrew White (knee) is out for the season
- RB Jalston Fowler (kne) is out for the season
- DB Jarrick Williams (knee) is out for the season with a torn ACL
- WR Chris Black (shoulder) is out until mid-November
Missouri Injury Report (via USA Today)
- QB James Franklin (knee) is out indefinitely with a sprain
- WR Wesley Leftwich (foot) is out indefinitely with a fracture
- OL Travis Ruth (tricep) is out for the season
- OL Taylor Chappell (knee) is out for the season
- HB Henry Josey (knee) is out for the season with a torn ACL
It's the same refrain we've been singing all season long: A spot in the National Championship Game for the second consecutive year is Alabama's to lose. The pressure is mounting, and thus far, the Crimson Tide have managed it admirably.
But again, it's worth noting that Alabama has barely faced a single worthy opponent in a stacked SEC. This is a conference that features seven teams ranked in the Top 25, and Alabama has only faced one ranked opponent—and that one (Michigan) proved to be wildly overrated.
The tough games will come in succession beginning on Oct. 27, when Alabama faces No. 19 Mississippi State, No. 9 LSU and No. 22 Texas A&M. Until then, the Crimson Tide need to hold strong and find ways to get better. That starts with a decisive win over Missouri on Saturday.
Keys for Alabama
In its last game, something weird happened to Alabama: It fell behind. Though it got on the scoreboard first with two first-quarter field goals, an Ole Miss touchdown early in the second quarter put the Crimson Tide behind 7-6.
The lead didn't last long—Alabama fired back with three touchdowns of its own before halftime arrived—but the Crimson Tide need to make sure that doesn't happen against Missouri on the road. For one thing, letting the Tigers build any early momentum will hurt. It will give Missouri far too much confidence, and the pressure could prompt uncharacteristic mistakes.
And for another thing, coming off a bye week, the last thing the Crimson Tide can afford is a slow start. This offense needs to come out firing, the way it did in Week 1 against Michigan. Back then, Alabama scored a whopping five touchdowns before the Wolverines put a single point on the board.
From here on out, the key for Alabama will be making it clear—very early on—that no team stands a chance.
Keys for Missouri
Obviously, the Tigers need to limit the kinds of mistakes that led to a 19-15 loss to Vanderbilt last weekend. Missouri blew it in several big spots the last time out.
First, after taking a 6-0 lead in the first quarter, it let the momentum swing decisively the other way when a mishandled punt led to a Commodores safety.
Then, with about 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Tigers pulled within a point on a spectacular 85-yard touchdown but then blew the extra point because of a bad snap. That would've tied the game; instead, one more field goal was all Vanderbilt needed to seal up the win.
Granted, the Tigers fought admirably after starting quarterback James Franklin went down with a knee injury in the first quarter. They overcame a pretty questionable performance by Corbin Berkstresser (9-of-30), whose numbers looked deceivingly decent only because of that 85-yard touchdown bomb.
He's going to need to be much better to give the Tigers a fleeting chance on Saturday, but that's a lot to ask of any quarterback, never mind a freshman making a start against the top team in the nation.
At the very least, the Tigers need to cut down on the silly mistakes. Alabama is not the type of team to let those slide.
Even with Franklin, the Tigers would have had a tough time competing with Alabama; without him, this bodes to be even more of a disaster.
The Crimson Tide have one of the best defenses in the nation, and that is going to be a nightmare for Berkstresser. On top of that, AJ McCarron & Co. are going to be an insurmountable challenge for a Tigers defense that has allowed an average of 36 points to the last two ranked opponents it has faced.
It isn't going to take much for Alabama to improve to 6-0.