I've been pulling for Alabama all year. Even up until a month ago, I could envision how and why the Tide could win against Florida .
Now, with a gimpy running back, too many close calls against lesser teams, and the offensive resurgence of the Gators in the past three games, I don't see how Alabama will be able to exact their revenge in the SEC Championship Game this weekend.
You've got to score points against Florida, and you've got to be able to do it in every quarter. If Florida jumps out early like Auburn did last weekend—as I'm almost certain Meyer is planning to do—the Tide will be hard-pressed to make up that much ground as the game goes on.
The Tide field a grind-it-out, NFL-style offense that believes in low risk and eventual reward, and their games this year have reflected that strategy. Some teams were harder to put away than others, but the Tide defense has gotten it done when the offense hasn't.
But the Gators will be the best statistical offense the Tide have faced all year. Unless Alabama can completely shut down Tebow and the Gators' improved spread-option attack, there's no way the Tide will be able keep pace with the Gators, against whom they will find scoring points almost impossible. The Tide's numbers, the confidence of their players, and their health are all moving in the wrong direction.
What does all of this mean?
It means another Sugar Bowl, another letdown, and another opportunity for the Tide to get a great big Mountain West headache when the TCU Horned Frogs roll into New Orleans.
If there's another team I've been pulling for in 2009, it's been TCU . They're the best team Mike Sanford and Kyle Whittingham have ever faced , with the third best rushing defense in the country (behind Alabama), and they have the fourth best passing defense in the nation.
The statistical and rhetorical love fest could go on and on.
The Sugar Bowl representatives will select Alabama with their first at-large pick to replace SEC champion Florida. The Fiesta Bowl, as I've argued elsewhere , will then select Iowa.
The Orange Bowl will have the next at-large selection to decide who will face off against the ACC champs. I believe that Clemson will defeat Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game. Therefore, I don't think the Orange Bowl reps will select TCU with their at-large bid. Clemson already faced, and lost to TCU during the regular season, 14-10, and a rematch in the BCS bowl will, for all intents and purposes, be a major letdown. Assuming Cincinnati defeats Pittsburgh, the representatives will choose undefeated Cincinnati.
That leaves the Sugar Bowl with the next at-large bid. They'll select TCU as Alabama's opponent, in a virtual rematch of last year's epic upset.
Remember that game? Mountain West fans do. Unbeaten Utah got snubbed for the BCS Championship Game in favor of the one-loss Gators and Sooners. The Tide, similarly disappointed after losing to Florida in the SEC Championship Game, came out flat to the Utes, allowing 21 unanswered points in the first quarter before realizing it wasn't all a dream.
The Utes confused and blitzed the devil out of the left side of the Alabama line , which was recently vacated thanks to the demise of All-SEC tackle Andre Smith. The pressure forced sacks and at least one interception from John Parker Wilson.
The Alabama offense, sorely lacking in explosiveness, never caught up to Utah's passing attack, with All-MWC quarterback Brian Johnson at the helm. Utah wins, the National Championship is declared a farce, and the BCS is destroyed in favor of a playoff (we wish).
In my mind, TCU won't even need Alabama to be missing their starting tackles, or guards, or however many blocking tight ends and third down backs Saban throws out there to chip block All-American DE Jerry Hughes.
The TCU pass rush has gotten through every offensive line it has faced, and the secondary—which operates independently of the down linemen , to the utter confusion of most quarterbacks that face it—is among the best and most well-coached in the country.
The only area I could see Alabama beating TCU up in is the running game. TCU recruits offensive skill position players passed over by the big schools, bulks them up, and throws them on the defensive pass rush unit. That's why they run the 4-2-5, with four down linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs, with a strong, weak, and free safety in place of the traditional nickelback.
But this also means that they lack ideal size and strength against the run, and a big team like Alabama would probably be able to overpower them and gash them on the Wildcat and in two tight end formations.
If Alabama shows they are capable of running, TCU will look to run up the score early, as Utah did last year, and force the Tide to pass. For TCU to get off to a hot start, they'll need Andy Dalton to get hot—which shouldn't be a problem, since he's third in the nation in passing efficiency and has been white hot, throwing 14 touchdowns to two interceptions in the latter part of TCU's schedule.
They'll need turnovers as well—not many, one or two will be enough to break serve and change the trajectory of the game—but they'll be fierce in jumping all over Alabama's short passing game.
Of course, this all relies on Clemson beating Georgia Tech and that the Orange Bowl will decide against a Clemson-TCU rematch, something I have clearly taken for granted. I will be arguing for it in an upcoming article—stay tuned.
And of course, Saban will attempt to motivate his players against a second straight humiliation at the hands of a lesser conference, who will be gunning for split national championship controversy like their 2008 MWC predecessors.
But like 2008, Alabama will be playing down, TCU will be playing up, and the Horned Frogs—in my mind, in the mind of the MWC coaches, of the statisticians, and of those lucky few who have had Versus in your cable package—look even better team than the Utes did last year.
Can Alabama say that about this years team versus the one from last year? After the SEC Championship, we'll know more. But if not, New Orleans might just be another long, mountainous headache for Nick Saban and friends.
TCU 30, Alabama 15