Adam Kramer on College Football: Are We Watching Nick Saban's Best Team Yet?

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterSeptember 20, 2018

Alabama head coach Nick Saban jogs from the dressing room with his players during warmups prior to the NCAA college football game against Mississippi on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, in Oxford, Miss. Alabama won 62-7. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

Just how good is this Alabama team? Is Urban Meyer's return from suspension distracting from the real story at Ohio State? What are the must-watch games for Week 4? Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer has the answers to those questions and more in his weekly college football notebook, the Thursday Tailgate.     


If you're reading this, Nick Saban, close your browser. Slam that flip phone shut. The following is an industrial-sized helping of "rat poison"—the kind of positive reinforcement you've grown to loathe over time.

The team you've assembled this year is good. Not just good, but potentially spectacularly good, even by the Crimson Tide's spectacularly unreasonable standards.

Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Of course. But in this instance, it's hard not to. Heck, even his former players can feel it.

"I think this will be the best offense in Alabama history when we look back on the season," says former Alabama lineman Barrett Jones, who won three national championships under Saban and now calls games on ESPN. "It's definitely much different than anything I've seen from them. Talking to fans, I'm not sure they've ever had more fun than when Tua Tagovailoa is in the game at quarterback. You really can't take your eyes off him."

Alabama leads the nation in total offense, scoring 56.7 points per game. (For what it's worth, the school's men's basketball team averaged 72.4 points per game last season.) Since 2008, Alabama has never finished inside the top 10 in scoring offense. That could change in the coming months.

Defensively, Alabama is allowing just 9.3 points per game, good for No. 8 in the nation. This boa-constrictor brand of football is Saban's team's calling card, of course. It has not finished outside the top 10 in scoring defense since '08 and has was No. 1 four of the last six years. Even when key field goals have been botched and offensive drives have stalled, the Tide have been able to tighten the vice just a wee bit tighter when they need to.

But what if this team doesn't need to do that? What if the Tagovailoa-charged version of Alabama football is exactly what it looks like right now: a team that is somehow a football juggernaut in every compartment?

"We've never had a quarterback who could be a first overall draft pick," says former Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri, who won two national championships with the team and now does analysis on sports talk radio in Tuscaloosa. "I think Tua is Russell Wilson 2.0, Baker Mayfield 2.0 and Johnny Manziel 2.0. He's level-headed, mature and has the physical gifts to be one of the best college quarterbacks in the last five years."

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 15:  Tua Tagovailoa #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts during a game against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 15, 2018 in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Here's what we know. Eight of Tagovailoa's 50 throws this season have gone for touchdowns, which is a reminder he's only had to throw the ball 50 times in three games because Alabama has had such big leads. He is protected by one of the nation's best offensive lines. He's surrounded by a physically gifted group of wide receivers and hands the ball off to perhaps the nation's most versatile stable of running backs.

Yes, it's early. Uncomfortably early to talk about historically great teams and new levels of rat poison even we won't explore. Just a few short weeks ago, I questioned how this team would possibly follow up last year with so many questions on the roster. It responded by dismantling Louisville, Arkansas State and Ole Miss by a total score of 170-28.

Better competition is coming, starting this week against a lively Texas A&M team that nearly upset Clemson a few short weeks ago. Alabama will most likely be tested—perhaps sooner than later—and Tagovailoa will eventually have a subpar game and (gasp) throw an interception.

There's also the possibility of an SEC Championship Game matchup against Georgia, which sounds delightful as we ready for October.

It's never that easy, of course. College football happens, and things will get weird at some point. And yet, one can't help looking at the sudden, shocking balance Saban's team has displayed early on and at least start thinking about the possibility that it all comes together.

You can come back, Coach Saban. We're all done here.


Meyer's Return Not Only Development at Ohio State

Prepare yourself for a sea of sideline-reaction shots of Urban Meyer. They are coming this Saturday, when the head coach of Ohio State returns to the team following his three-game suspension for his mishandling of domestic violence allegations against former assistant coach Zach Smith.

His return will generate robust feelings, as will the ovation he receives from Ohio Stadium, which feels inevitable.

But lost in the madness of every Meyer statement and press conference is the news that Nick Bosa, the defensive end many mock drafts are projecting as next year's No. 1 overall pick, will miss this week with abdominal and groin injuries.

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 15:  Nick Bosa #97 of the Ohio State Buckeyes lays on the field after being injured in the third quarter against the TCU Horned Frogs during The AdvoCare Showdown at AT&T Stadium on September 15, 2018 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

It is unknown how significant the injury that forced Bosa to leave the team's game against TCU is, but his influence is well-established. "He's one of the best players I've ever been around," Meyer said this week on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference.

Even more important is the timing. Bosa's services will not be needed against Tulane at home.

But next Saturday at Penn State? Now, that's a different story. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Meyer announced Thursday that Bosa had "surgery for a core muscle" and is out indefinitely.


The "Let's Fire All the New Coaches" Movement

To say it's been a rough start for UCLA's Chip Kelly, Florida State's Willie Taggart, Nebraska's Scott Frost and Arkansas' Chad Morris is an understatement. The four splashy hires are a combined 2-9, and there doesn't appear to be a quick fix in sight.

UCLA heads to Colorado, which won't be easy. Florida State takes on Northern Illinois, which warrants further discussion later in the Tailgate. Nebraska goes to Michigan, which might not be fun. Meanwhile, Arkansas is little more than a four-touchdown underdog at Auburn. There's a possibility that all four teams could lose once again and that the conversation surrounding the hires will spiral even more negatively.

I get it. They get paid millions to win football games, and most of them aren't right now. At its core, that is the nature of this lucrative, ridiculous profession. But it's also fascinating to see how we're now deciding the fates of coaches after a matter of weeks.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Remember, Nick Saban lost to UL Monroe his first year at Alabama. Dabo Swinney nearly got himself fired a few years into his tenure at Clemson. Other coaches, like Pete Carroll and Frank Beamer, turned awful starts into storied stays.

That is not to say any of these coaches will have the same turnaround. But instead of merely acknowledging something that shouldn't have to be acknowledged, keep in mind that it's been three damn weeks. Let's put the outrage and stupidity and "hot seat" columns in the crockpot and let it simmer a while longer.


Five Games to Watch This Weekend

Here's what you should watch this weekend, in tweet-length form (all times Eastern):

No. 2 Georgia at Missouri (Saturday, noon): This feels like a legitimate test for Georgia against one of the nation's most talented quarterbacks. Throw in a sleepy noon start, and I wouldn't be shocked to see this closer than most expect. (Please note: I felt the same way before Georgia played South Carolina, and that ended poorly.)

No. 22 Texas A&M at No. 1 Alabama (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.): I suppose I could use this space to tell you how young QB Kellen Mond is awesome for Texas A&M (he is) and outline the blueprint the Aggies will use to upset the most dominant force in college football. I could do that, sure. But I simply cannot. You never know, though.

No. 17 TCU at Texas (Saturday, 4:30 p.m.): The Texas message boards were finally noiseless, if only for one weekend. That could change if the Longhorns lose their second game of the season to a TCU team that just lost a wrestling match to Ohio State. Either way, prepare the hot-seat takes.

No. 7 Stanford at No. 20 Oregon (Saturday, 8 p.m.): It might not have the buzz it did a few years back, but this is a meaningful game in the land of the Pac-12. Bryce Love missed last week with an injury Stanford guarded like it was a nuclear missile code. Oregon looked certifiably "meh" against San Jose State. Should be fun.

No. 18 Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 8:30 p.m.): There will be points scored in this game, we are to believe, but they will not be plentiful. That's just fine, by the way. Night games at Kinnick tend to be weird and ugly and moderately terrifying for opponents, which is bad news for Wisconsin as it licks its wounds from Saturday.


What Else to Watch This Weekend

First: This Week's "Break the Scoreboard" Matchup

The Nos. 3 and 8 scoring offenses will face off this Saturday, and the end result is a game that may last seven-and-a-half hours and feature a dozen or so touchdowns.

Oklahoma State dismantled Boise State last week, while Texas Tech dropped 63 points on Houston in a win. These two played a basketball game last season that resulted in a 75-70 final score. While we might not get that high, a triple-digit total point output is by no means out of the realm of possibility.

That is two basketball references in one football column for those keeping count.

Second: Sutton Smith vs. Florida State's Offensive Line (WARNING: COULD BE NSFW)

Before we go any further, behold the following. Perhaps you're one of the many thousands of people who liked or retweeted this:

Trevor Sikkema @TampaBayTre

Look at Florida State’s left tackle. That’s your left tackle?! That?! https://t.co/JzXi4XsTtB

The situation at Florida State could be collectively described as many things, with "stable" not being one of them. In particular, the offensive line has taken abuse—involving injuries and position changes and inexperience making it hard to watch.

That serves as a backdrop for this weekend's suddenly intriguing game against Northern Illinois and the tackle-for-loss master Sutton Smith. Last year, the defensive lineman led the nation in TFLs with 29.5. This year, he already has six-and-a-half, good for No. 5 in the nation.

Godspeed, Florida State. Godspeed.

Third: Lane Kiffin vs. the National Champions

No, not that national champion. The other national champion, Central Florida.

Florida Atlantic takes on UCF in a lovely little Friday night clash—one that could ultimately become an even bigger scoreboard bonanza than Texas Tech-Oklahoma State.

This is a tough ask for FAU, given how good Central Florida has looked, but it should be a fabulous watch regardless. A win here should jumpstart the "LANE KIFFIN TO [INSERT STRUGGLING SCHOOL HERE]" conversations, which I would most certainly welcome.

Fourth: Will a mascot once again shoot themselves with a T-shirt cannon?

Yep, it happened. Poor Chip the Buffalo. Our furry friend was just trying to make some fan's day when he accidentally shot himself in the, uh, lower body.

Dan Lucero @danluceroshow

The T-shirt! His groin! It works on so many levels! https://t.co/L5vroxY2sm

First, we hope the person inside this suit is OK, because this didn’t look great. Second, assuming this person is in fact OK, I'm not sure I've stopped laughing. And third, can this possibly happen again in Week 4? Unlikely. But perhaps T-shirt gun mishaps come in clusters.


Gambling Locks of the Week

Last week: 4-2

Season to date: 7-9

I want to thank my family and friends who stuck by me during turbulent times. Those first two weeks were Arkansas-like. Without their support and encouragement, I wouldn't have bounced back with such vengeance last week.

That is not to say I am satisfied with one above-average week. No, friends. That overall record is still a blemish I wish to undo, and it must improve. Enough talking about it; here are the picks, using lines provided by the Westgate odds on OddsShark.

Indiana (+4.5) vs. Michigan State: Weird things happen in Bloomington on occasion. Close football games are also played, as will be the case here. Indiana in an upset.

Texas (+3) vs. TCU: We are backing Texas for the second consecutive week. If you're wondering what could possibly go wrong with that, the answer is…probably a lot.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

Vanderbilt (+2) vs. South Carolina: My favorite point spread of the week. Vanderbilt is sneaky tough at home, and look for everyone to tell you how the Gamecocks are easy money. Nope.

Maryland (-1.5) vs. Minnesota: I love playing the first-true-road-game-of-the-year angle, and that's exactly what Minnesota has here. Terps bounce back big.

Purdue (+6.5) vs. Boston College: Purdue is the best 0-3 football team in recent memory. That is not solely why I like the Boilermakers against a really good Boston College team, but it gets the conversation started.

Kentucky (+10) vs. Mississippi State: My second-favorite point spread of the week, and a game that will be far closer than most forecast.