Difficult To Predict Where Bama Is Headed
If anyone knows where Alabama is in the process of becoming championship caliber, it is Coach Nick Saban. Anyone else who cares about Crimson Tide football knows the results: Bama has won three games and lost two.
Many years ago a respected football man was discussing the success of former Alabama Coach Paul Bryant. The observer said that you could probably count on one hand the number of games that Bryant-coached teams lost when Bryant had the better team. Additionally, the man said, Bryant won a lot of games when he didn't have the best material.
It's not reasonable to compare Nick Saban in his first year to a legendary Paul Bryant, and that is not the point.
In his first five games as head coach it is reasonable to say that Saban has coached Alabama to wins in the two games Bama should have won and to one win and two losses in games that were more of less toss-up games. It is also reasonable to say that Bama was within a play or two or three of being undefeated, but also within a play of being 2-3 and 0-3 in all the toss-up games.
Saban has said he is optimistic about the future, but obviously he is not going to put a timetable on when the Tide reaches championship status.
Saban talked about the unrealistic nature of Alabama followers expecting a national championship when the Crimson Tide was 3-0. It's not likely too many were giddy enough over wins over Western Carolina, Vanderbilt and a fortunate victory over Arkansas to start thinking about how the trophy cases in the Mal Moore Athletic Facility should be rearranged. But was it unreasonable to expect Bama to defeat Georgia?
Considering that Georgia game came down to overtime, that doesn't seem to be so unrealistic.
Was it unrealistic to think that Alabama could defeat Florida State? Maybe if one thought Bama would hand the Seminoles two touchdowns in a 21-14 loss.
(One might also expect the building process for cornerback tackling to be accelerated this week, as Saban takes hands-on interest in coaching that position.)
Alabama has had three very difficult games the past three weeks. It is draining to have to put so much effort into attempting to win. Twice that effort was frustratingly unsuccessful, at least insofar as result.
Nothing can be done about the past (except to learn from it, as all coaches point out). The story now is the future for Alabama football. Not the future that Nick Saban aspires to, when Alabama is in the national championship picture. The future as in Houston and Ole Miss and Tennessee and so on.
A case could have been made in the pre-season that the schedule provided the opportunity for building with good results, a win-win, satisfaction for the process-oriented and the result-oriented.
If Alabama was 5-0, partisans might be dreaming of 8-0. And a team that is 8-0 might...
But Alabama is not 5-0. What is realistic for a 3-2 Alabama in upcoming games?
Houston is not a typical homecoming opponent. The Cougars had a successful 2006 season and have a lot of players back from that team. Still, this game falls into that "should win" category for Alabama. So should be the Ole Miss game on the road the next week, the Rebels good showing against Florida notwithstanding.
Prior to the start of the season, almost everyone looked at the Arkansas game as the key to the season. Maybe it was then, but this is now. The key will change if Alabama loses to Houston, or even to Mississippi, but the new key now appears to be Tennessee in Tuscaloosa on October 20.
It's dangerous to look past the next game. Fear not: Bama coaches and players won't do it. But if the Crimson Tide can reverse fortunes of the past couple of weeks and go to the open date with a 6-2 record, then those who are process-oriented can get on with their work while those who are result-oriented can rejoice.
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