Where Is Alabama Football Headed?

Sportswriters chatting prior to Alabama's game against Georgia in Athens Saturday night got around to the not-so-serious topic of picking games. Most of us consider ourselves to be reporters—telling what happened—not prognosticators—telling what's going to happen. Picking games is just a part of the job.

I sometimes think of former Alabama Coach Ray Perkins, perhaps because he and current Crimson Tide Coach Nick Saban share some characteristics. Perkins once snapped at a reporter, "I'm not a predictionist." Saban got a little irritated Saturday night at the suggestion Bama might be ahead of schedule. "After five games?" he growled.

I came a little late to the party, but still way ahead of most. In the summer I had predicted a 10-2 regular season record for the 2008 Alabama football team. Last week I revised that, picking the Crimson Tide to beat Georgia after the summer prediction that listed the Bulldogs as one of the two teams that would beat Bama in regular season play. And, I'm proud to say, I thought Alabama would have to score a lot of points to beat Georgia. I had it 31-28, and 31 was the number needed.

Okay, so I didn't have any idea the game would play out like it did. Who could have known that Alabama would get out to a 31-0 lead, then have to hang on for the 41-30 win? And who knows now that the final score was quite deceiving, Bama having had a 31-17 lead with just over three minutes to play?

Leaving for a moment the "predictionist" segment of this article, what about that "schedule" thing? Is Alabama ahead of schedule?

If Nick Saban had (or has) a schedule of where Alabama should be at this point or any point, it would be a surprise. He is in the process of building a football team that he will make every effort to have prepared to win every game.

Schedule or no schedule, though, who would have dreamed that after 18 games in the Saban system Alabama would be ranked second in the nation in the Associated Press poll and fourth in the nation in the Coaches Poll? A guy wearing crimson-lens glasses and drinking crimson Kool-Ade wouldn't have thought it possible.

What that means is that Alabama is in position to determine its own fate for the BCS National Championship Game in Miami. Even at a number four position, the two and three are LSU (Alabama and LSU will settle that on the field) and Missouri (in the same league with number one Oklahoma, and the Big 12 schedule will sort that out).

So all Alabama has to do is win the rest of its regular season games, take care of Vanderbilt (or whichever team emerges from the SEC East) in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, and head to south Florida, where Saban would be in familiar territory.

There are pitfalls ahead. Kentucky is playing better than ever. No one is calling them the Mildcats these days. Kentucky is 4-0. Bama and the Big Blue will kick off at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium with CBS televising the game.

Although the drools for Saban coming to town have turned to dry mouth in Baton Rouge, the LSU game will be a tough one because there are still some important Tigers who were recruited by Saban. Ole Miss has proved it can come up big, and Mississippi State is sure it has Bama's number. Tennessee now has all its eggs in the Alabama basket to save Phil Fulmer's job.

Auburn will likely be much improved as the Troy State Spread is tweaked. Auburn's offensive coordinator was quoted as saying that 60 per cent of the offense had been removed and 30 per cent more might come out. He didn't say if that was 30 per cent of the original 100, or 30 per cent of the remaining 40 per cent, but in any event a smart coach like Tommy Tuberville is likely to have it all out by the time Auburn plays Alabama.

Predictions and schedules aside, it's nice to be a national championship contender again.

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