28 September 2008
Wait. What's this? Alabama lost 13 games the last two years. How did they go all the way from that to 5-0 and paddling beehinds of the pre-season number one in their own house practically overnight?
Well it ain't rocket science.
The Tide Wasn't That Weak To Start With
Yes, Bama lost 13 games the last two years, but they were by a total of 85 points.
During their last 19 games, Ohio St. only lost four games - but they were by a total of 80 points.
Ohio St. was universally celebrated as one of the top programs in college football the last two years. Despite all their losses, Alabama wasn't really light-years behind. They just needed to figure out how to finish.
This is Nick Saban's Second Year
The first year for a new coach tends to be full of turmoil, especially when new systems are installed. Nick Saban changed a lot of things in Tuscaloosa, including administering a fairly radical makeover to the defense.
Second years tend to be a big improvement for many coaches. Saban is a top coach, and this is his second year. It's no shock that his team is much improved.
The Tide Sports a Veteran Offensive Line
College sports programs, whether at the highest or the lowest level over the long term, tend to see their short-term fortunes rise and fall in somewhat predictable waves. One of the key factors in figuring where a team stands in terms of those short-term waves is the veterancy of its offensive line.
Alabama has an extremely
veteran offensive line that figured to be outstanding this year. Adding to the effect are the facts that Andre Smith officially blossomed between 2007 and 2008 from an All-SEC left tackle into the All-Everything left tackle everybody always knew he could be, and that Drew Davis surprised all onlookers by emerging as a relatively solid right tackle, and the effect becomes even stronger.
Alabama's New Geographical Feature
Alabama has managed to put together a decent and fairly deep defensive line most of the past few years. But the Tide has consistently lacked the kind of star defensive lineman that disrupts offensive plans and draws a consistent double-team.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, Bama has it. Best of all, it's right in the middle of the line, virtually shutting down opposition inside running games. Even the fact that Cody may need a few more breathers than some defensive linemen isn't such a big deal due to the emergence of Josh Chapman as a fine nose tackle in his own right.
This was the best thing that could happen to Bama. Nobody much expected it pre-season, and it explains a lot.
The #1 Recruiting Class
With as star-studded a recruiting class as the the one Bama hauled in this year, it's not surprising that there are at least three individuals - Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, and Don'ta Hightower - making big waves on offense and defense. More importantly, the 15 or so true freshman who have played have added instant depth.
Bama Is Incredibly Healthy
Most observers had thought it would be 2009 or 2010 before the Tide fully shucked the impact of sanctions and fielded a deep team. Well, the Tide's depth may still be in the waxing phase, but the arrival of the deep freshman class added to the amazingly healthy state of the Tide - a state to which BSR's writers have consistently called your attention, I might add - have combined to suddenly give us the ability to keep starters fresh by rotating in capable bodies all over the field.
As much as anything, it has been our lack of depth that has led to all the fourth-quarter collapses and late losses of recent vintage. Bama fans should be very happy to see that receding in the rear-view mirror.
Caveat: We could see a string of injuries, and the return of depth problems, at any time. (Knocking on wood. . . .)
Overall, you look at those factors and you're seeing a team that has a good chance to make a long and deep run. Like I said, it ain't rocket science, and no one should be overly shocked that it has happened.