Now that Alabama has played 3 games, let's talk about realistic expectations for the Crimson Tide. Okay I'll wait for you to stop laughing. The words realistic expectations and Crimson Tide are not often heard together (outside Bammer that is). Home to some of the most rabid fans on the face of the earth, Tide fans are known to vastly over-project their team's value. Every year Bama fans expect to contend for the SEC title and even the National Title in most years. When you have the storied history and tradition that Alabama Football has, it is easy to understand why. But this year could be different. The Crimson Tide may be actually ready to compete for the SEC title.....THIS year.
I did not stutter. After 3 games it is clear this is the most talent Bama has had in 10 years...at least. Finally there are playmakers at the skill positions. Don't get me wrong, D.J. Hall and Ken Darby were fine athletes and proud members of a prestigious program. But neither have the excitement surrounding them that wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Mark Ingram now have. Both freshmen by the way. They have playmakers on defense as well. Rolando McClain is one of the best linebackers in the country. Terrence Cody is just a massive force that no one has been able to contain. Couple that with Rashad Johnson and Kareem Jackson in the secondary and you've got a pretty solid defense to build around. Not to mention they have one of the best return men in the college game in Javier Arenas. Add an experienced QB who is protected by a veteran Offensive Line and you've got the building blocks for a championship run.
But here is where I differ from the state of Alabama. Nick Saban will not win his 2nd National Title this year. Sorry. The SEC is too tough and too balanced and as talented as Bama is, Florida and LSU are still better. I do think they can make a run at the SEC West and meet Florida in the title game (Georgia's schedule is just too tough to make it there). Here is a realistic road that Alabama could take:
I think Alabama will go to Fayetteville and beat Arkansas and then go to Athens and beat Georgia. Bama matches up well with Georgia on both sides of the ball and almost pulled off an upset last year in T-Town. If the Tide defense can control Moreno (and I think they can) and make Stafford beat them, they've got a good shot at coming home with a W.
After the Georgia game, Alabama gets a semi-break in SEC play (although is any real SEC game a break?). They get Kentucky and Ole Miss at home and then Tennessee on the road. I think Alabama really has more talent than UT but the game is in Knoxville and Bama has had problems there for the last 15 years or so. I think they drop this one on the road because Tennessee now has a lot to prove after the UCLA fiasco and last year's blow out in Tuscaloosa.
So Alabama is 7-1 rolling into November. Remember last November? OUCH. They get Arkansas State at home (a Sun-Belt team) and after last year's UL Monroe debacle, I doubt Arkansas State stays within 4 touchdowns. Then they go to LSU with probably the SEC West title on the line. I think the winner of this game will play Florida for the SEC title. Right now LSU is just too tough and too talented to go down at home against Saban and the Tide. This game will be fierce, nasty and close, but LSU will head for Atlanta while Bama prepares for payback against Croom and another Iron Bowl matchup with Auburn.
I think Alabama handles Mississippi State at home welcomes Auburn to Tuscaloosa with a 9-2 record. Auburn's defense is stout and without question one of the best in the entire country. Their offense on the other hand is questionable at best and although they've got all year to plan for Bama and work out the kinks, I don't think Todd or Burns will lead them to many points in the SEC. I think Bama exacts revenge, finally after losing 6 times in a row to Auburn and clinches a major New Year's Day bowl.
In order to finish 10-2 and beat a couple SEC heavyweights, they will need their Offensive Line to stay healthy (see Tulane game) and John Parker Wilson to be consistent (see last year's Mississippi State game). Alabama will also need the big play factor if they are win some of the tough SEC games. Besides Arenas in the return game, they haven't had very many big plays. Wilson has missed open receivers in the deep passing game in all 3 games so far, that will need to change. The defense will also have to play tough like they have the first three games. I am a firm believer that if you stop the run in the SEC you will win a lot of games. The SEC doesn't have the prolific passers that the Big 12 has so you have to challenge them to beat you.
Now obviously this is a best case run. If there are massive injuries or inconsistent play at key positions (OLine/QB/Secondary), Bama could finish 9-3 or 8-4. I just don't see Bama losing more than 4 games from this point on and even that would be a drastic turn of events. And if I'm even close to this prediction and they finish with only 2 or 3 losses, be prepared. If you thought the reaction out of Alabama was crazy when Saban landed on the Forbes cover or Glen Coffee on the SI cover, wait till Alabama is a pre-season top 10 or even top 5 team next year.