I think you all know by now that I'm a big fan of the writing and analysis of Jess Nicholas, so it should come as no surprise that I'm tabbing his Iron Bowl wrap-up as recommended reading. Having said, that, though, he particularly nails it this week. Money quote:
Alabama fans also need to begin to accept the fact that Auburn will likely erase the specter of the 1957 season and take home a national championship this year. South Carolina would need a miracle of mammoth proportions to knock Auburn off in Atlanta, and in a matchup with Oregon, Auburn will have advantages in every significant category from size to speed to experience to diversity of its offense. Alabama did the best job anyone has done or will do this season of slowing down Cam Newton; Oregon has no chance of it. The only thing stopping Auburn from steamrolling the Ducks is the fact Oregon has finished games with much greater intensity than has the Crimson Tide.
What lies ahead for Alabama is a bowl game, and then some crucial self-analysis. There were some members of both the team and the coaching staff who didn’t follow a championship season with a championship effort. Alabama has to get better at in-game adjustments. The Tide’s offensive line must get back to being able to lead a smashmouth rushing attack when the situation calls for it. The defense has to learn to play downhill again. More leaders must separate themselves from the followers and assert their presence on the team.
And that’s what is most annoying about this team: Alabama had more talent than Auburn – much more, in fact. Aside from the obvious advantage Auburn has thanks to the freak Newton, there wasn’t a single unit on the field Friday that tilted toward Auburn in a battle of recruiting stars or raw ability.
Alabama simply never became a team in 2010. It played like one for 30 minutes against Auburn on Friday, but games run twice as long. The Tide’s punishment will be watching its hated rival copy Alabama’s own 2009 dream season. Bitter medicine, indeed.
Brace yourselves, boys: Newton is winning the Heisman and Auburn will be holding up the crystal ball in five weeks -- even if they lose to South Carolina they still probably get to Glendale, and Oregon is basically Auburn with a worse defense and no Cam Newton -- and for 'Bama we've got a hell of a lot of introspective analysis to complete in the coming weeks and months, and none of that will be easy or painless. You can never call 9-3 a bad year, but when you've got a man like Nick Saban at the helm with a boatload of raw talent, well, 9-3 ain't it, especially when those three losses include blowing 24 point leads at home and losing to men who eat grass better than they coach.
And why did we never find an identity? Why did the offensive line become so damn Shula-esque after September? Why did the defensive line play poorly all season despite boatloads of raw talent? Why did the linebacker corps look so bad with so many heavily recruited players? Why couldn't we get a stop on third and a mile? Why couldn't we run the football with two tailbacks who'll make tens of millions on Sunday? Why did we basically have one receiver on Saturdays when we had about ten guys rated as four-star prospects on National Signing Day? Why did the playcalling get so predictable at times? Why were we so soundly beaten in the second half of football games? Why could we not even get lined up correctly, on offense or defense? None of these are easy questions, but in the aftermath of the disappointment they must be asked and they must ultimately be answered correctly moving forward if we are to improve and to get back to where we want to be.
I'm not one to call for setting the ship ablaze mid-stream, nor I am going to throw out any ridiculous statements to that effect now. However, if you think that Saban is just going to throw his hands up at this season and say, "Oh well, we were young and had some injuries, I'm sure we'll do better next year," then you've lost your damn minds. This one will sting for a long time, and don't expect Saban to just sit around and do nothing. He'll look long and deep at the entire program -- from the coaching staff to the S&C program to the players to the recruiting philosophy -- and he'll make changes accordingly. The next few months in Tuscaloosa will likely prove mighty interesting.