The title is a legitimate question, not a lame attempt to knock off our coach's book title, nor an inability on my part to come up with a decent title for this piece. In all seriousness, how good do you want to be?
For Alabama, based on what we have done to date, we're going to have a very positive end result to this season. We know that much already. Even if we don't play particularly well against Tennessee-Chattanooga or Auburn, we probably should nevertheless win both games and finish up 12-0 with back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. So, even if we get smoked by Florida in Atlanta, we still end up making another BCS game and with a win there we finish up #2 in the country. And even if we lose again, life is still pretty much all gravy... we'll easily stay in the top ten, and we'll still be 25-4 over the course of our last 29 games. And, oh yeah, we've got another top five recruiting class on the way in 2010, we'll be in very good shape to win a lot of games in 2010, and for several years after that too. Regardless of how this season finishes up, life is good for a 'Bama fan.
But again, how good do you want to be? Are we going to just be a team that wins a lot of games, or are we legitimately going to take the step to the next level and bring the first national championship to Tuscaloosa in seventeen years? And if your answer to that question is that you want to win a national championship this year, then that changes what you have to do.
Not all national championships are created equal. Each year presents a different set of circumstances, and its immeasurably more difficult to win a national championship in some years than it is in others. And without doubt, it will be tougher to win a national championship this year than it is in most years, and there will clearly be no freebies. We will not be able to lose a couple of games in the regular season and get patsies in the championship games like LSU did in 2007. Nor will we be able to avoid a conference championship game altogether and get a declining Nebraska program -- that couldn't even win its own division -- like Miami did in 2001. No, we're going to have to earn it the hard way... by beating a 12-0 Florida team in Atlanta and then likely topping that by beating a 13-0 Texas team in Pasadena. Again, no freebies this year, we'll have to earn it the hard way.
So, how good do you want to be? And if you want to be that good, you are going to have to accept the reality that you must play at a level commensurate with such accomplishments.
Last weekend against Mississippi State, we won in a relative route, 31-3, in a game that was really never in doubt. But of course, we didn't exactly play perfect football, and far from it in fact we made a lot of mistakes in our own right and took advantage of many mistakes on the Bulldogs' part. Just to name a few of them, they included:
- Two long kick returns allowed by our kick coverage unit
- A busted assignment in pass coverage by MSU that directly led to a 'Bama touchdown
- A missed chip-shot field goal by Mississippi State
- An easy touchdown pass missed by Mississippi State when their receiver never looked for the ball
- An easy touchdown pass missed by Mississippi State on the opening play by a poorly underthrown ball
- A slow start by 'Bama, allowing Mississippi State to drive the football twice early, matched with a three and out by the Tide offense
Now, against Mississippi State, doing things of that nature is fine and dandy because a team like that will often times beat themselves for you and be incapable of taking advantage of the mistakes that you make. But what about an elite team like Florida or Texas? Well, that's simply not going to happen. With the slow start we had, they would have probably gone up 14-0 early. And they probably wouldn't have missed the easy touchdown passes, or the chip-shot field goals, nor would they likely have given up big plays via busted assignments. And you can rest assured that they would have generated at least some points off of the two long returns. Playing like that is just fine against the Mississippi States of the world, but that simply won't cut it against a team like Florida or Texas.
We talked earlier in the year about putting it all together and effectively playing the perfect game. I think the potential is clearly there to do such a thing, but to date we have not done it yet. Nevertheless, that is likely what you will have to do if you want to get to where want to go. And if we cannot do that when the time comes, well... we've been done that route before.
So again, how good do you want to be?