Saban Has Bama Headed Up

After week three of the 2009 season the Alabama Crimson Tide is sitting in perfect position to make its second run at a possible BCS Championship berth. Alabama missed its chance last year by the slimmest of margins when Florida's Tim Tebow engineered a near perfect drive late in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game to seal the deal and send the Gators to Miami to face Oklahoma.

Getting that close to a championship is not the reason Nick Saban came to Alabama.

Alabama is sitting at 3-0 and is ranked No.3 in the polls after the loss to Washington by USC. Alabama now faces the upset minded Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday at 3:30 EDT (2:30 central) in Tuscaloosa.

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The Arkansas game is the beginning of Alabama's difficult SEC schedule. The schedule is not difficult because of who they play or where, but because Alabama has become the team to beat in the SEC's Western Division.

Alabama along with Ole' Miss and LSU are favored to win the Western Division of the SEC. It now looks as though Auburn is trying to throw its hat into the race. That will make the road to Atlanta a little more bumpy than many originally thought when the season first started back on September 5 in Atlanta.

Alabama's remaining schedule looks like this:

Sept. 26 vs. Arkansas

Oct. 3 @ Kentucky

Oct. 10 @ Ole Miss

Oct. 17 vs. South Carolina

Oct. 24 vs. Tennessee

Oct. 31 Open

Nov. 7 vs. LSU

Nov. 14 @ Mississippi State

Nov. 21 vs. Chattanooga

Nov. 27 @ Auburn

Looking down the schedule, the away game at Ole Miss poses the most danger at this point in my opinion with the home game against LSU following close behind.

After that I see South Carolina, Auburn, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and then Mississippi State posing threats in that order.

Playing South Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas at home is a plus but having to play Auburn, Kentucky, and Mississippi State at their place adds to the difficulty. All these teams could be a test for the Tide based on who they are and where Alabama has to play them.

So how do I see all of this playing out?

I believe Alabama's greatest challenge will come against the Ole Miss Rebels on Oct 10. I'll take that a step further, in my opinion the whole season will ride on the outcome of the game in Oxford on Oct. 10.

It will be the make or break game for Alabama's 2009 season much as the LSU game was in 2008.

That is what I think, now here is what I know.

This years Alabama team is more talented than last year's.

Greg McElroy is the real deal and Mark Ingram is solid as a rock. With Trent Richardson now showing everyone that he wasn't overestimated by the recruiting experts, Alabama's running game is good enough to get the Tide to Atlanta again.

Quarterback Greg McElroy has already shown why Saban has so much confidence in him. He is smart, poised, talented, and accurate. He can stretch the field, which makes Alabama's passing game a real threat to opposing defenses. Opposing defensive coaches can no longer just load the box and dare Alabama to throw the football.

Julio Jones has been double covered by everyone Alabama has played. The way to solve that problem is for McElroy to spread the ball around and force defenses to cover someone else. A good dose of Maze, McCoy, Hanks, Peek and Smelley should open things up for Jones as the season progresses.

Saturday's game with North Texas was a great start toward that tactic as McElroy and Star Jackson threw the ball to 11 different receivers in the 53-7 blowout at Bryant-Denny Stadium. I repeat: eleven different receivers!

The offensive line is better than predicted.

One of Alabama's question marks coming into 2009 was the offensive line. No wonder, with the loss of two star linemen to the NFL. Carpenter, Johnson, Viochos, Jones and Davis are getting the job done. Alabama has allowed very few sacks and Johnson, Carpenter and company have opened decent holes for Ingram, Richardson et al to run through.


Alabama is ranked No. 3 in total defense through week three and that is due in large part to Alabama's stifling No. 2 ranked running defense which has smothered opposing running games.

Alabama's passing defense may be the defense's weakest link as it ranks No.13 without having played a major passing threat.

I would like to see a little tighter coverage on short to medium passes as well as crossing routes. The deep passes look covered, but keep in mind we haven't really played a top notch passing team that can stretch the field and throw deep.

Arkansas should be that test.


When it is all said and done I just can't pretend to be confident that the Crimson Tide will come through undefeated in the regular season as they did in 2008, but I do believe they will get their shot at Atlanta and beyond if they can beat Ole' Miss on October 10.

Now, before that all happens, Alabama must beat Arkansas.

Before the season I picked Arkansas to be the most improved team in the SEC and I still believe that.

Their new offense led by Ryan Mallett can strike from anywhere and they have scored 89 points in their first two games. Mallett has passed for 717 yards and has completed 38 of 61 passes this year for a 62.3 pass completion average.

I am not, however, as impressed with Arkansas's defense after they gave up 52 points to Georgia at home Saturday night. The Razorbacks are ranked No.81 in total defense but they are opportunistic and the Razorbacks are currently ranked in the top 10 in Turnover Margins.

So it would appear that not turning the ball over is key when Alabama faces Arkansas.

The season is still very young and there is, as they say, a lot of football still to be played. Alabama has been fortunate in the injury department and as shown by Oklahoma the injury bug can strike at any time. An injury to a key player can muddy the water in a hurry.

Having said that, I like this team. There is no glaring weakness and they are motivated and have great team chemistry. You can have all the talent in the world but without team chemistry it is just not going to happen.

This team has a chance to make a lot of noise and accomplish great things.

I am not ready to crown them SEC Champs or even hand them the SEC West title yet, but it wouldn't surprise me to see both things come to pass.

The road to Atlanta begins Saturday with the Arkansas Razorbacks. It is a long road and must be navigated one step at a time. The first step is beating Arkansas and that is all that's on Nick Saban's mind today.

Nick Saban's elevator only has one button and it says, UP!

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