BREAKING: The Sky Isn’t Falling

The Alabama Crimson Tide suffered its second loss of the season last Saturday in Baton Rouge as another SEC quarterback played the game of his career. However, that said, the sky isn’t falling, is it?

Sitting at 7-2, the question now remains, what happens when a team trained to play for championships can only play for pride?

There is still a scenario out there for Alabama to make it to Atlanta, but it’s about as far-fetched as the story coming out of Lee County that Auburn’s recruitment of Scam Newton was clean. Can’t hide those cell and text records, Cecil!

For the last two seasons, the LSU game has decided the West. This year, even had the Tide won there would still be work to do. While it’s disappointing that Atlanta or Glendale won’t be in the mix, has this team really underachieved?

Nine starters are elsewhere from 2009’s vaunted defense.
If you look at 2009, the Tide didn’t outscore anybody. Rather, their defense rose to the occasion every single time it needed to while the offense went about its business. Last Saturday a young secondary needed to respond late on a 3rd and 13. The result was a 41 yard pass completion. Game over.

Every difficult game on Alabama’s schedule has been played on the road. While I’m sure Bama wishes it could have flexed its muscles in Starkville, Lexington or Oxford, this season the Crimson Tide was assigned the task of taking it to Fayetteville, Columbia, and Baton Rouge. Since Tennessee inhales and will for the foreseeable future, I don’t count that one as a tough road game, but the environment was definitely more hostile than Commonwealth Stadium.

Six consecutive SEC opponents have off-weeks heading into their game with Bama. That fact never gets old simply because of the sheer mind blowing nature of its reality. It is well-documented that Alabama’s facing six teams coming off bye weeks is an unprecedented record in the SEC. Seventeen times this has been the case for Alabama since 2007, compared to the next highest victim in LSU with 5.

Understand, the SEC sets the conference schedule, leaving gaps for teams to schedule out-of-conference foes at will. But when 17 teams are given the option to take an extra week to heal, regroup, study and scheme for you, it’s hard not to sit up and take notice.

The previous record for bye week bias was four…amazingly, again against Alabama in 2003. Understandably, Alabama head coach Nick Saban tried to deflect the significance of this fact early on, but currently this season the record in that stretch stands at 2-2. Six of Alabama’s nine losses under Nick Saban have come after an opponent’s bye. I’m no math whiz, but that’s 66%.

Case in point, whether by design or default, this season was set-up for Alabama to fall. Give any team in our conference our schedule and their record is no better. So is it surprising?

Alabama’s offense isn’t designed to run away from you. It’s designed to run over you. 2011 will feature a play maker at quarterback. Whether it’s AJ McCarron or Phillip Sims, the Tide will be able to stretch the field leaving gaps for Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler to exploit…although one could make a case that Ingram hasn’t helped his NFL stock with this campaign and could return.

But at quarterback, McElnerd (as one antagonist has coined him), creates a 15-yard field for Bama’s opponents to defend. Even the occasional 30+ yard strike is a known respite from the norm. That Jim McElwein hasn’t seen this is astonishing. And as far as power running goes, William Vlachos spent more time on his back last week than Paris Hilton. This team can’t run the ball between the tackles, and if I see the Wildcat formation one more time I’m going to rip another shirt…umm…rip a shirt from my body.

When you don’t have a defense that can consistently get off the field, you have to have an offense that can apply pressure. Since it’s been discovered Alabama has neither, is 7-2 really a surprise?

Don’t know if you’ve heard, but there are a couple of match-ups that will salvage the season. Bama gets a tough challenge against an improved Mississipi State team this Saturday. Though nothing is on the record…yet…Dan Mullen may get a standing ovation from the home crowd for his involvement in making Abarn’s dream season a soon-to-be-vacated reality.

And the Auburn game…while right now it’s hard to imagine Bama’s defense slowing Scam Newton, consider that Alabama, with its Elephant Package-like offense managed the exact same number of touchdowns on the road against LSU as Abarn did in front of its warm, fuzzy home crowd. And the Auburn defense, while stingy at times, still possesses the ability to lay down and let a team that Samford will likely beat this Saturday find the end zone three times. Folks, the ship ain’t sailed on that game yet, and if by some small miracle Abarn’s luck runs out and Georgia gets the upset this Saturday, Abarn has to prove for the first time under Frank Chiznik it can win a big, pressure-packed game on the road.

Even if the West is won prior to that kick-off, it will be no small feat for this Auburn team to defeat this Alabama team on its turf. No one who has watched closely has been stunned by their benefit of phantom touchdowns and fumbles at home, game winning field goals against Kentucky or predictable opponent self-destruction.

While the title ride was fun for another season, simply put, the year has gone about how it was going to go for Alabama. And at last check, the sky over Tuscaloosa is still in place. Now it’s just a matter of if the Tide can make it fall elsewhere.

(Follow me on Twitter for news, commentary and smack: ITK4BAMA.)