Who Gets Bounce From Last Week?
There are not a lot of cases where one football team has played a game and the opponent has not in the second week of the season, but that is the situation this week when Alabama hosts Tulane. The Crimson Tide had a nationally prominent game, upsetting previously ninth-ranked Clemson in convincing manner, 34-10. Tulane plays its first game of 2008 this week in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Kickoff Saturday is at 6 p.m. CDT. The game is sold out and available on television only on a pay-per-view basis. Alabama has moved up from 24th to 13th in the rankings this week.
In all probability, expectations from this game would be about the same if Tulane had already played a game and Alabama had not. Nonetheless, there are historic advantages for both teams in a game in which a 1-0 meets a 0-0.
The most talked about advantage is the adage that a team makes the greatest improvement from the first game to the second game. Mistakes that come up in games can be corrected in the week following the opening game.
For instance, Bama is working on kickoff coverage this week after giving up a 96-yard touchdown return to Clemson's C.J. Spiller last week.
Most Alabama fans looking at the Crimson Tide's performance last week would give it high marks, and be reasonably satisfied. Coaches – and particularly Alabama Coach Nick Saban – look at things from quite a different perspective. Saban gave the Tide a grade of about B, and said there were a lot of areas in which there could be improvement. And there probably will be improvement.
On the minus side of playing a game, Alabama had a couple of injuries, most notably that to All-America left tackle Andre Smith. Smith is considered doubtful for Tulane. If Alabama can defeat Tulane and not use Smith, giving him an extra week of recuperation time, that will be a bonus. Smith has a strained medial collateral knee ligament, and rest is usually what the doctor orders for that injury.
Meanwhile, Tulane has had the emotional stress and distraction of not being on its campus for the past week. The Green Wave moved operations to Birmingham and has been working out at Samford University. Tulane Coach Bob Toledo said he was operating as if this was a bowl game. The Tulane players have done a lot of extracurricular activities together (church, bowling, movie). And, as Alabama players pointed out, the Tulane players haven't had their attention split between football and schoolwork.
Tulane also has the advantage of having seen Alabama play. While Alabama is having to look at tapes of 2007 Tulane games, the Green Wave has seen the plays and players of 2008 Bama, including the schemes of new Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain.
Tulane has been able to concentrate on Alabama since beginning fall preparation work. Bama, of course, spent all last week (and a few days before that) on plans for the Clemson game.
So who gets the bounce, to borrow a figure of speech from political convention coverage? It may be difficult to judge, but the suspicion here is that the team with a game under its belt – and particularly having such a dominating victory in that game – has the advantage.