Mid-Term Grades Are In, Tide Gets 'A'

Classes at the University of Alabama were dismissed this past Thursday and Friday for what the school calls "mid-semester study break." (Most students omit the part about studying and simply call it "fall break."). The midpoint for the Alabama football team's regular season was Saturday. It was marked with a 22-3 win on the road at Ole Miss.

Alabama is a perfect 6-0. In the Southeastern Conference the Tide is undefeated at 3-0. Since a mere 10-point win over top ten ranked Virginia Tech in the opener, each Bama win has been by more than two touchdowns. The Crimson Tide's mid-term grade is an ‘A'.

Though the Crimson Tide has an extremely tough grader in Coach Nick Saban, so far the Tide has passed every test with flying colors. Alabama's average margin of victory for 2009 is 24.5 points. Bama is averaging 37 points per game while its opponents are scoring a mere 12.5 points per game.

Saban, his assistants, players, and Bama fans can still spot areas for improvement. Scoring just one touchdown Saturday while settling for field goals five times is one example. Greg McElroy getting knocked around more than a few times is another. Kick coverage was improved on Saturday but it will take more than one good performance to bring its average up.

Despite the need for improvement, I'm certain there has never been a more insurmountable 9-0 first half lead in the history of football than Alabama's Saturday. The Tide defense showed again why it is the star pupil. And with Greg McElroy's steady leadership at quarterback (despite a lower-than-usual completion percentage Saturday McElroy still sports an impeccable 9:1 touchdown to interception ratio), the defense is likely not to have to defend a short field too many times.

One might fairly say that mid-term grades are meaningless, but being on the mid-term Honor Roll beats the alternative. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when the University of Alabama football team achieving bowl eligibility, as it did today, came well after the season's midpoint. Back then achieving bowl eligibility was a significant and noteworthy event. Today there will be more questions about the chance to be No. 1 than about simply finishing the season with a barely passing grade.

While it has been a superb first half of the season, everyone knows the tougher tests come at the end of the year. Next week Alabama's match-up with South Carolina will be billed as a battle between an offensive mastermind coach (or at least a former mastermind), Steve Spurrier, and a the defensive savant, Saban. In reality, Alabama's talent should overmatch Carolina's at nearly every position. After that, Tennessee comes to town and then Bama gets a week off. Of course, the Tide will have to win these, and get through November as well as it got through September to have a shot at earning extra credit.

Nick Saban has tried to impose his psyche on everyone connected with the UA football program, including its fan base. He hates to take anything for granted, and hates to discuss expectations, predictions or possibilities. This philosophy has taken root among the Alabama fan base, and is starting to grow. Many Alabama fans, online and in real life, were apprehensive about the Ole Miss game. Afterwards, many were quick to spot the faults in the 19-point win. Hardly anyone is discussing a possible trip to Pasadena in January to play for the national championship. That's probably how it should be (even thought there's a distinct possibility the Tide will be there if its level of play is maintained).

And while Saban, his staff, Tide players, and maybe even a lot of fans will say this is no time to stop and smell the roses, writers certainly have nothing better to do. Alabama's defense has a chance to be the best Tide unit since 1992. Bama's quarterback is reminiscent of Jay Barker in his smarts and quiet confidence. The one-two punch of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson is awesome when the run game is clicking. On Saturday Bama converted a novel fake, blocked a punt, and didn't give up any big kick returns. Leigh Tiffin hit five field goals in a row, and P.J. Fitzgerald has punted admirably.

Are there aspects that could be better? Is it too early to celebrate? Could anything derail this joy ride through college football's toughest conference? Yes, yes, and yes.

Could anyone in his or her right might have asked for a better first half to the 2009 season?

Hell no.

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