Updating Alabama Football Expectations

Maybe you expected Alabama to beat Tennessee. The game was considered a toss-up. But you didn't expect it to be Bama 41, Tennessee 17. You didn't expect the Vols to be held scoreless in the second half. Among things Crimson Tide fans have, though, is no shortage of high expectations.

When Alabama was 3-0 with wins over Western Carolina, Vanderbilt and Arkansas, it wasn't a stretch to see Alabama getting to the LSU game with no losses. Alas, it wasn't to be. Although the Bama-Georgia game will be remembered as one that went to overtime and that the Tide was a couple of plays away from being in position to defeat Florida State in Jacksonville, in both those games Bama was out-played, particularly at the line of scrimmage.

So after those losses, and lackluster wins over Ole Miss and Houston, what were the expectations? What about after you heard that five players—including two offensive line starters—had been suspended for at least the Tennessee game?

Did you expect Alabama to be tied for the lead of the Southeastern Conference West Division? That's where the Tide is. The record is 6-2, including a 4-1 SEC record.

Maybe you didn't expect LSU to lose to Kentucky, or any other team. The Bengal Tigers still have a roster with more good players than any other team in the SEC, perhaps as many good players as any team in the nation. But there are the Tigers with a loss, and probably feeling lucky to have only one loss. In this topsy-turvy season, LSU is considered to be still in national championship contention.

In watching Alabama dismantle Tennessee, several things came to mind.

The first is that sometimes when a team faces the adversity of losing key players, such as Antoine Caldwell and Glen Coffee, other players raise their games and the team performs at a higher level. Not just a higher level than might have been expected considering the losses, but a higher level than might have been expected even with those key players in the lineup.

That is not to say that Alabama is a better team without Antoine Caldwell. Hopefully the situation that put him and Coffee and starting guard Marlon Davis and special teams players/backup defensive backs Chris Rogers and Marquis Johnson on the sidelines will be quickly resolved and they'll be back in the playing rotation.

Another thing that came to mind is a belief that college football is to great extent a coaches' game. We've all heard about those with the reputation: "He can take his and beat yours and he can take yours and beat his."

I think Nick Saban and his assistants would have won Saturday's game if the coaching staffs had been switched. There's no way to prove that, of course.

Saturday night I watched LSU struggle to beat an Auburn team that clearly out-played the Fighting Tigers. I couldn't help but think that despite the wealth of players left in Baton Rouge by Saban, maybe he didn't leave enough for that coaching staff.

So what's to be expected for the rest of the season?

LSU Coach Les Miles has made it clear that he has an elevated dislike for Alabama now that Saban is in Tuscaloosa. (Why?, I wonder, considering the program Miles inherited, but that's for others to determine.) So is Miles going to be coaching with the fear of being out-coached on November 3 when the Tigers come to Bryant-Denny Stadium?

To be sure, that won't be a factor on the Alabama side.

When we were considering those expectations about the 2007 season weeks and months ago, the thought of Alabama beating an LSU team with so many good players would have been approximately non-existent.

Those watching LSU at Kentucky and against Auburn may have more hope now.

Alabama became bowl eligible with the win over Tennessee. It is not a Bama goal to get into a bowl game, but that is part of the Crimson Tide expectation. And the more wins Alabama can get, the better the bowl.

We don't have to play them one at a time. We can look ahead and see that two more wins are reasonable expectations. After LSU will be Mississippi State in Starkville on November 10.

Sure, Sylvester Croom's team beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa last year. But the Crimson Tide of 2007 is a lot different than the team the Bulldogs defeated. Can you imagine last year's Tide having touchdown passes of three yards and two yards as Bama had against Tennessee? Our jumbo nightmare is over.

It's win over Auburn notwithstanding, State doesn't seem to be much different than most MSU teams.

On November 17, the Tide will host Louisiana-Monroe, the weak team in a weak league.

But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. We're only seven games into the Nick Saban era. We'll worry about Auburn (November 24 in Auburn) later.

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