It's Already A Strange Season

When the discussion moved to who will replace Lloyd Carr as head football coach at Michigan after this season, one suggestion was Jerry Moore, now at Appalachian State. After all, he would have a chance to "take his and beat yours or take yours and beat his," as the old saying goes. Our concern is not Michigan, of course, but Alabama. Or perhaps Vanderbilt.

For decades, NCAA member schools -- the majority of which were not in the class of Alabama or Michigan -- voted in rule after rule in an attempt to achieve parity. And every year there have been claims that "there is more parity in college football."

Maybe now we should believe. When Appalachian State beats Michigan there's something going on.

One of those teams that has moved up the pecking order, in apparent strength if not in the Southeastern Conference standings, is Vanderbilt. Coupled with Alabama's troubles of the past 15 years ago, many are picking the Commodores to defeat Alabama this year.

Certainly it can happen. After all, Vanderbilt did beat Alabama in 1984. And before that in 1969. Bama does have an 18-game winning streak over the Commodores. And Alabama leads the all-time series, 59-19-4 with about half of Vandy's wins coming before World War II.

While that sounds a bit facetious, it would not be prudent to fail to take Vanderbilt seriously. If last week's opponents had been reversed with Vanderbilt beating Western Carolina by 52-6 and Alabama defeating Richmond 41-17, no one would have been surprised by either score. So it's fair to say that first games can be thrown out.

There's an adage that a team makes its greatest improvement from the first game to the second game. Maybe so. But it's just as likely that the opposing team does, too. So throw that out.

Vanderbilt has an advantage, perhaps, in stability. Coach Bobby Johnson has been at Vanderbilt for six seasons. That's the good news. The bad news is that there have been a lot of losses for the Commodores in that time with Johnson posting a 16-42 record, including 5-6 last year.

Much has been made of Vanderbilt's star players, in part because their best are from the state of Alabama. And Vandy's best players are very good. Historically, Vanderbilt is much better earlier in the season because its first team players are capable. It's when depth becomes a factor that the Commodores frequently falter.

We have heard talk about teams flying under the radar because of the massive media interest in Alabama Coach Nick Saban. Oddly, this week it seems to be Alabama being the overlooked team.

The bet here is that players on Alabama's practice fields haven't felt like they were being overlooked this week. Saban knows something about getting the attention of those in his program, and preparation has emphasized the process of getting better.

Vanderbilt has a few players that Alabama would like to have. Alabama has dozens that Vanderbilt would like to have. True, only 11 at a time can play. But on a warm Saturday, the game kicking off just before high noon, Alabama should have both the quality and the quantity to win.

Of course, the same could have been said about Michigan last week in the Big House.

In some respects, the schedule seems to set up nicely for Alabama this year. Yes, several SEC opponents (Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State) have open dates before playing the Tide. But Bama seems to be easing into schedule difficulty: the warm-up against Western Carolina, a tougher test at Vandy, tougher still (but in Tuscaloosa) against Arkansas and Georgia.

First order of business, though, is to take care of Vanderbilt and move to 2-0 on the season in the Southeastern Conference opener. (By the way, Alabama has won its SEC opener 15 straight years.)

No one wants to join Michigan in the victims category.

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