Say what you want about Alabama. They have as much tradition as any program in college football. They have as much talent as any team in college football. They have the best coach in college football's modern era. They are currently dominating college football's No. 1 conference. They have lost two games in three years, and those were to the No. 1 (Florida) and No. 2 (Utah) teams in the country way back in 2008. They have the appearance of invincibility.
However, appearances are deceiving. Like a heavyweight champion with a glass chin, Alabama appears indomitable, but has weaknesses. They are a sitting duck for the right team to come along and exploit it.
As great as Alabama is up front and on the ground, they really aren't that good through the air. Their secondary is suspect, as Texas proved in the BCS title game last season with Jordan Shipley and a backup QB who has struggled mightily this season when thrust into action, and of course that secondary has since lost several players to the NFL.
And their passing game is simply subpar. While Greg McElroy has come up with good performances in big games—the SEC title game in 2009 as an example—the truth is that, as displayed in the Florida and Arkansas games Alabama has just played and the BCS championship game, McElroy is more likely to be a liability or nonfactor.
Against Arkansas' rather inviting defense, McElroy threw for less than 200 yards and also threw two interceptions. Against Florida last week, McElroy was 11-17 for 84 yards. And those are just examples.
Alabama fans defend McElroy, claiming that he is a leader and game manager, that he "just wins." They maintain the stance that McElroy could step up his game if needed to, but with the great defense and running game he just doesn't have to.
The evidence simply doesn't bear that out. Alabama badly needed plays from the passing game to get their offense going in the second half against Arkansas and didn't get it. If Ryan Mallett doesn't throw those interceptions, Alabama most certainly loses that game.
The same can be said about the BCS title game against Texas—where an ineffective McElroy was bailed out by turnovers by the backup Texas QB—and against South Carolina and Tennessee last year. McElroy was atrocious against South Carolina (92 yards and two interceptions), so Alabama had to put Mark Ingram in the wildcat to score points.
And against Tennessee in the following game, where McElroy only produced 120 yards and no touchdowns, Alabama needed a blocked field goal and a series of Tennessee gaffes to prevail 12-10.
Now Alabama certainly has talent in their passing game and could do things differently to get the passing game moving. But the truth is that football coaches, even successful and innovative ones like Saban, have this "dance with the girl that you came with" mentality.
Because Saban has had so much success doing what he is doing now, he is loathe to change it. The same was true of Florida last year. It was obvious all season long that the all Tebow all the time offense was no longer working, but Meyer and the staff kept with it rather than trying anything different because they had been so successful with Tebow in the past.
Now this approach may actually get the Tide through the SEC, the reason being that no one in the SEC has an offense good enough to really challenge the Tide's defense. LSU, Tennessee, and Florida vacillate between brutal and painful to watch, Auburn and Mississippi State are about a year or two away from having the athletes, experience, and depth that they need, and Ole Miss and South Carolina are what they are.
But what about in a national title game against a team with an offense that can make plays against Alabama's coverage schemes, and a defense that can slow down Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson? That would put Greg McElroy in a position where he has to actually win a game throwing the football. If he hasn't been able to consistently do it by now, there isn't much evidence that he is ever going to.
Make no mistake, Ohio State and Nebraska have the defenses required to shut down Alabama's running game. When that happens it would be Terrelle Pryor or Taylor Martinez versus Greg McElroy to see who can make the most plays and fewest mistakes to deliver a victory, and that DOES NOT favor Alabama.
Oregon does not have the defense to shut down Ingram and Richardson. What they do have, however, is a QB in Darron Thomas who can make plays running the ball, running the option, and throwing downfield. Before you protest "He's no Tim Tebow!"...well Oregon's offense is different from Urban Meyer's version of the spread option, so he doesn't have to be.
Because of Oregon's triple threat offense (run, option, pass) and big play capability, they will score, particularly when they correctly guess one of Alabama's blitzes or when they are able to find the seams in Alabama's zone coverages that Jordan Shipley so expertly sliced through in the BCS title game.
The question is whether McElroy and Alabama will keep up. Oregon isn't very big or athletic up front on defense, but they fly to the ball and plug gaps, can limit the damage that Ingram and Richardson do, and are willing to give up a big play or two over the top to Julio Jones to do it.
Their goal isn't to beat Alabama 13-10 because they know that it is impossible That isn't how their team is constructed. Instead, they would hope to beat Alabama 24-21. If they can force enough three and outs to give Oregon enough chances, that's exactly what will happen.
Just remember the 2008 Sugar Bowl, where Utah attacked Alabama's secondary with a quick passing game, shut down their running game, and forced Alabama's QB to make enough plays to win the game. Alabama's passing game and secondary weren't up to the challenge then and I don't think that they are up to the challenge now.
So look for Alabama to go down in the 2011 national title game. And when that happens, the era of SEC dominance will come to an end.
The SEC will still be good—very good mind you—but they are no longer clearly the top conference in college football. The cracks began to show last season with the messes at Georgia and Tennessee, plus Auburn, Ole Miss, and Alabama getting rather lucky in their bowl games. In particular, the SEC was one overtime play away from going 0-3 against the Big 10 in bowl games! This year the floodgates are about to open up.
Alabama will lose in the 2011 national title game, especially if the foe is Oregon. Mark it down.
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