It's been fashionable in the blogosphere to rank Alabama ahead of Florida ever since Week One, when Alabama handily beat the preseason number seven ranked Virginia Tech. I can understand the logic behind that, especially since Florida made the mistake of scheduling their 1-AA cupcake early in the season. Isn't it funny, though, how there won't be any outrage when Alabama plays 1-AA Chattanooga on November 21st?
What no one seems to have noticed is that Alabama has developed a serious problem at the quarterback position, which is not exactly the best place to have a problem in the game of football.
First time starter Greg McElroy got off to a decent start this season against the Hokies, completing 15-30 for 230 yards with one int. He played extremely well against Alabma's patsy schedule of FIU and North Texas, then shined again against an Arkansas defense that at the time was getting very little respect.
I was a believer. In my weekly "Best and Worst" post, I said that if McElroy had replaced Parker Wilson last year, the Tide would have won a national championship. I repeat this because I know many of my Alabama readers see me as a Florida homer. If I was a Florida homer, why would I have written something like that in Week One?
Anyway, back to the present. A funny thing happens to new quarterbacks once their opponents have three or four games of film to study—coaches start creating game plans to stop them. Against Ole Miss, McElroy was 15-34 for 140 yards. Alabama only scored one touchdown against the Rebels, and that was on a 36 yard breakout run by Ingram.
Against South Carolina McElroy was even worse, 10-20 for 90 yards. After three quarters of play, the Tide hadn't scored an offensive touchdown and they somehow still led the Gamecoks 13-6. As good as Alabama's defense is, no coach can expect his defense to hold SEC opposition to under 10 points two games in a row.
With 8:04 to play in the fourth quarter, Saban lost all confidence in McElroy's ability to the lead the team. He took Ingram, the only effective offensive weapon the Tide had had for two straight games, and lined him up in the wildcat for five straight plays. I have never seen an offense do this before and I don't think anyone else has either.
Now I'll tell you something about Nick Saban. He's no dummy. It worked, as he took South Carolina's defense completely by surprise. For only the second time in seven and a half quarters of home field football, the Tide marched 64 yards down the field to the South Carolina four yard line. Finally, he allowed McElroy back under center, but just to hand off to Ingram for a four yard touchdown run that finally iced the game with four minutes remaining.
Saban's tactics were brilliant, but did they come at a strategic cost? Was it worth humiliating his young quarterback on the premier Saturday night ESPN game? We'll have to see how McElroy responds. He's already struggling to counter adjust to the adjustments that SEC coaching staffs are throwing at him. Saban knows how risky it can be to bench a young player who is not performing. Did Nick destroy McElroy's confidence for good?
The schedule isn't easy. They play a solid LSU team and a dangerous Tennessee team at home, as well as two talented teams in the most difficult of road environments, Mississippi State and Auburn.
The coaching staffs of these four teams are going to game plan to stop Ingram and no team can rely on their own defense to put points on the board for them week in and week out. Alabama's season is going to come down to one guy: Greg McElroy.
I predict the Tide will lose two of these four games. If they beat LSU, they will still probably make the SEC Championship game. If they do, I don't see any way they beat Florida unless McElroy improves dramatically between now and then.
And a two loss Alabama team will not be ranked in the final top ten.
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