Yes, Alabama is that good

To say Auburn is Alabama’s biggest test this year might not be wrong, but saying Alabama hasn’t been tested is.

By The Conduit

You know who’s critical of Alabama? Alabama is critical of Alabama. In particular, Nick Saban, AJ McCarron, Kevin Norwood, CJ Mosley, etc.

It’s hard for many Alabama fans to do the same. We hear from Nick Saban every week from his press conferences about mistakes and areas of improvement, but nobody swears at Saban to say something positive about Alabama. So let’s be critical instead and talk about how good Alabama is or isn’t this year.

First, the Texas A&M game stands alone. Yes, Manziel got too many completions with rainbow bombs into triple-coverage, but if Manziel can do it with those floaters anyone else could, too.

But they haven’t.

There are some questions still on offense, especially with AJ McCarron seemingly unable to hit long passes to deep receivers in motion, overthrowing the ball on go-ahead touchdown opportunities game after game. For what it’s worth, those kind of plays won games for Alabama last year, including in the SEC title game against Georgia.

The defense, however, has been impressive even for Alabama. Some expectations were low this year and they lowered further after losing Vinnie Sunseri, a game-changer as elite as CJ Mosley. But the defense has been incredible. Alabama has three zero-score games for 2013, plus near shut-outs against UT, CSU, Georgia State, and MSU despite not playing typical form against MSU. One explosive play in the season-opener against Virginia Tech created a lot of questions that have since been answered. And while I can’t say Texas A&M was crushed by Alabama the same way Alabama’s other opponents have been, many forget the last-second efforts it too TAMU to get close to an opportunity to tie the game with one play left.

Alabama is also ranked #1 in every poll. That makes a difference, too. We can argue about how much harder teams play against a #1-ranked team, but that’s too intangible to quantify. We can also argue about who else deserves to be there, only nobody who makes the polls seems to be arguing that anyway. The fact remains that Alabama has 11 consecutive wins as the #1-ranked team, and if Alabama beats Auburn they will tie USC with the most all-time #1-ranked consecutive wins. Thirteen could potentially be the SEC title game, and fourteen could be the national title game. As of today, Alabama is ranked in the top three for the 37th consecutive week, tying Oklahoma for the streak.

By contrast, I think the only team that stands up to the same scrutiny is Florida State. They’ve never struggled this year. Their schedule is weaker than Alabama’s, but Ohio State’s schedule is the weakest of the top-ranked teams and they’ve struggled nearly every opening half. They’ve certainly allowed more points than Alabama has against worst competition than Alabama has faced. Oregon is a great football team lacking too many fundamentals and making too many mistakes. Baylor is fantastic, but they lost to a better football team, Oklahoma State, who is absolutely mesmerizing; a top-3 team in my opinion. But they lost to West Virginia so now they’re overlooked and out of the BCS title race. Missouri is outstanding. They lost to South Carolina without their star QB and missed a field goal in triple overtime. TAMU will be a test, and Mizzou hasn’t had any shut-outs all season, but they’ve been outstanding at adapting over four quarters.

With all that said, is Alabama not the best team in the country? They’re missing some giant explosive plays on offense, but not missing much on defense. The schedule isn’t the toughest in the nation, but they’ve impressed in those games more than teams in similar situations. The Buckeyes needed to crush all of their opposition and they haven’t. Missouri has a very similar schedule to Alabama, yet even with the TAMU game Mizzou has allowed over than 100 more points than Alabama.

And then there’s Auburn. I understand the hype, and this Iron Bowl is already a historical one regardless of the result. Yet for all the questions about how good Alabama really is, I don’t think Auburn stands much of a chance and a win at Jordan-Hare will silence a lot of questions about Alabama’s rank at #1.

Auburn has allowed 68 more points than Alabama just against the teams they’ve both faced. That’s more than every opponent Alabama has faced this year combined outside of TAMU. Auburn had one more cupcake this year than Alabama, contributing to being nearly even on total points scored this season (62 points on Western Carolina helps, although even that game wasn’t a shut-out), but of course Alabama didn’t play Georgia this year. Instead, Alabama beat Virginia Tech, a team with the same win-loss record as Georgia, but I don’t think anyone reading this has to compare Georgia with Virginia Tech to remember how the Bulldogs lost to Auburn at Jordan-Hare. It might have looked like it at the time, but that wasn’t Auburn’s only close win this season.

To say Auburn is Alabama’s biggest test this year might not be wrong, but saying Alabama hasn’t been tested is.

The second half of the LSU game was arguably Alabama’s best performance all season, but I’d still say it’s a surprise they haven’t played as well more frequently; the numbers (notably on defense) make it look like they have, but missed opportunities for explosive plays have led some people to question if Alabama is that good.

They are, however, that good.

Look at the numbers, look at the game tapes, look at the intangibles, look at anything you want to know the best chance for Auburn having success is for Alabama to fail at fundamentals. Simply put, Alabama has to avoid messing up to win. I’m not outright dismissing Auburn and I’m sure they have some tricks they’ve been practicing every week since July, but I do think Alabama’s mistakes will have more to do with Auburn’s success than Auburn’s talent, planning and hurry-up-no-huddle distractions. I try to be more critical than most against Alabama and there’s definitely room for improvements in execution, but the more I look the more I’m convinced they belong at the #1 position.

Alabama hasn’t been mistake-free in every game this season. They’ve just been more mistake-free than anybody else. That is how good they are. That is the team Auburn has to play Saturday. That’s the team everyone else in the country either wants to beat or see beaten just so their team might have chance at success. That’s the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. If Auburn’s #4 ranking does nothing more than to put another exclamation point on Alabama’s unblemished 2013 regular season, then so be it. Roll Tide.