The march toward March is three-fourths complete. Where does the Alabama basketball team stand going into its first of eight games in February? The Crimson Tide is 14-7 overall but only 3-4 in the Southeastern Conference. Will it reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006? Two so-called "bracketologists" still like Alabama's chances despite a recent four-game losing streak. "They're closer to in than out," said ESPN's Joe Lunardi, whose latest bracket shows Alabama as a No. 7 seed in the West Region. Jerry Palm of CBS projects the Crimson Tide as a No. 8 seed in the West Region. "They're definitely on the better side of it at the moment," Palm said.
In the postseason hunt Alabama: The Tide is 3-4 in the league and the conference’s most disappointing team. The outside shooting has been atrocious. Of the seven losses, only one (at South Carolina) is a "bad" one. But there are just two top-50 wins, meaning upcoming games against Florida, Mississippi State and Ole Miss (home) and Arkansas (road) are extremely important.
Last season, when the then-No. 6 Crimson Tide traveled to Gainesville, Fla., to face the then-No. 1 Gators, Alabama lost its first meet of 2011, 197.55 to 195.45. Patterson said that was a turning point for a UA team that went on to win the national championship, but coaches wouldn't be bringing it up this week in practice. "I think we just use what we're doing this year, and (the gymnasts) may talk about it, but from a coaching standpoint we don't really talk about it because it's a different group of people," Patterson said. Senior Ashley Priess said the gymnasts won't be talking about it much, either. "I feel like our Penn State meet (this season) was a point for us where we had to come together and change some things in our minds and focus more on the team instead of ourselves individually," Priess said. "We kind of look at that meet as our ‘Florida meet.' "
It doesn’t get any easier for the No. 6 Alabama Crimson Tide gymnastics team. After facing the current No. 4, No. 10 and No. 13 teams nationally in a row to start the season, the Tide returns home to face the No. 3 Florida Gators on Friday in arguably its toughest meet of the season so far. The Gators come in to Tuscaloosa boasting the third-best average score in the country at 196.563. They also posted the highest score in the country so far this season at home on Friday: 197.775 in a quad meet win. "Based on talent, on their roster, I think they are the most talented team in the country. I’d put them at number one," Alabama head coach Sarah Patterson said. "For me, to see what they did last week, 197.775, that’s exactly what I expected from them. They’re that talented."
Fundamentally, though, recruiting is a perpetual construction project, and Alabama's latest crop is even more impressive when taken as the latest expansion of an already formidable skyscraper. By Rivals' count, it's 'Bama's fourth No. 1 class in five years under Saban, a spree that's now stacked the roster with an incredible 99 four- or five-star prospects since 2008 — 54 of whom, including the incoming class, remain on the prospective 2012 roster. The starting lineup this fall will be composed almost entirely of that number, replacing a dozen outgoing starters from last year's BCS championship team with an even more hyped wave coming right behind them. Saban's success is in the macro. No other team in the country has put together five straight top-five classes since '08. Only USC and Florida State have put together five straight in the top 10. Based on the point totals Rivals assigns to each class, Alabama is a good 10 percent ahead of its closest competition in the SEC, Florida and LSU, in the race for essentially the same talent. Even if you think recruiting rankings are disposable hype, those remain championship odds.
1. Alabama: Not only did Alabama lead the SEC in rushing (214.5 yards per game) but Alabama's running game led the league with an average of 5.1 yards per carry against SEC teams. Alabama also had the Doak Walker Award winner in Trent Richardson. Projected as a top-10 pick in April's NFL draft, Richardson finished the season with 1,679 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. Backups Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler combined for 1,059 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Sarkisian said Wednesday at his news conference to unveil the signees that he prioritized the hiring of excellent recruiters. "We want to pound our chest on how much football we know," Sarkisian said, "but if the players can't execute it, then that part is a bit irrelevant. You have to have the players in place to do it. So we went out and tried to identify some guys that, I think, were not just good football coaches, but were good recruiters. I think in the end, it did have a direct impact on what we were doing."
While Meyer's one-year coaching hiatus remains puzzling to much of the college football world, it didn't seem to faze recruits, who knew his track record well. But they did have other concerns. Meyer said he usually addressed the NCAA sanctions preemptively before the players even asked. "Every kid has a dream, and never once have I heard 'play in a bowl game my freshman year' as their dream," Meyer said. "It's 'have a great collegiate experience, graduate and go to the NFL.' All the penalties in place have no impact on the kids' dream." Meyer said he had not anticipated the bowl ban, which came down Dec. 20, shortly after the initial flurry of commitments. But, "as long as this makes college football better, I'm behind it," Meyer said. "It has a serious impact on me, on my family, on my players, but ... I was a very vocal proponent before I came here about willful and intended violations need to be dealt with in a very severe manner."
Media organizations have flocked to Moore's defense. A friend-of-the-court brief filed by the American Society of Media Photographers and the Alabama Press Association claimed Moore was expressing the culture of his surroundings, much like Claude Monet was inspired by water lilies in France and Pieter Bruegel was moved to portray peasants in Belgium. "Daniel Moore lives in Alabama; he paints football," the brief said. "To say football is special in Alabama is to understate the state's passion for and interest in it — not by inches, but by yards."
The companies will also install and maintain 715 antennae in 12 zones around the stadium. Most of the antennae look a bit like oversized smoke detectors, one about the size of a platter, the other a large book. A third type of antennae is about two and a half feet long but enclosed in a plastic casing, much like an overhead fluorescent light. Mike Beeler of the UA land management office said that would fix the problem of bad cell service inside the stadium -- a problem he said partly of the university's making.