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2011 Begins in Orlando for 'Bama, Literally and Figuratively

TUSCALOOSA AL - NOVEMBER 13: Wide receiver Marquis Maze #4  of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes upfield against the Mississippi State Bulldogs November 13 2010 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa Alabama.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
TUSCALOOSA AL - NOVEMBER 13: Wide receiver Marquis Maze #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes upfield against the Mississippi State Bulldogs November 13 2010 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa Alabama. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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Let me be frank from the outset: the 2010 season has not gone as anyone had hoped and as almost no one had expected. Admittedly I never really expected a repeat national championship, and certainly not an undefeated season, but even I certainly never expected things to play out quite like they have.

With the wild successes of the previous two football seasons, Alabama fans have a vivid image in mind of what Alabama football is. Or at least is supposed to be, anyway. Unfortunately, all that lofty talk about what Alabama football is supposed to be under Nick Saban never really came to fruition in year four. If anything, 2010 has been the antithesis of what Alabama football is supposedly all about. Imposing your will physically on opposing teams? Dominating games at the line of scrimmage? Consistent, sound play? Taking over games in the second half? Winning in the fourth quarter? We've seen almost none of that this season, hence the reason why this team followed up a 5-0 start and a unanimous #1 ranking by limping down the stretch with a mere 3-3 record in the final six games against Division 1-A teams.

Better record notwithstanding, the team that this 2010 squad most resembles from the Saban era is, actually, the 2007 team. We have not been able to consistently run the football this season, nor have we been able to stop the run. We've been forced to throw the football much more than Saban would probably like, and we've been hounded by mental errors on both sides of the football. And in the second half of all three losses, we've been nothing short of consistently annihilated. In the second half of our three losses this season, we've been outscored 59-29 and almost tripled in the number of total yards. Sound familiar? And so, for now anyway, ends all of the chest-thumping talk of making their asses quit.

To be sure, there were quite a few legitimate reasons justifying the overall downturn. Injuries hit very hard to key contributors at the worst times, we had to rely heavily on true freshman and inexperienced players, and we had the luck in close games of Gil Gunderson. Nevertheless, you have to overcome whatever adversity comes your way, and we did not do that particularly well. Rest assured, Nick Saban will never stand up and say, "Well, you know what, we were a great team this year, we just had some bad luck, I'm sure we'll get 'em next year."

And with all due respect to Michigan State and the Capital One Bowl, nothing that happens in Orlando tomorrow afternoon will really change any of that. Obviously we want to finish the season on a positive note, but let's not get overly carried away here. Respectable as though 9-3 and fourth in the toughest division in all of college football are, playing a Big Ten team in a non-BCS bowl is not what we are striving for, and winning such a game does not magically make all of the disappointments and shortcomings of the season go away.

For those looking merely at the one game, it's admittedly a good one. Michigan State is basically an Alabama clone, and it does not take long to see the Nick Saban influence showcase itself with this Mark Dantonio team. Yes they are a good match-up for us -- Michigan State is probably the weakest of the one-loss teams, and it's infinitely better than having to face one of the pass-happy spreads from the Big 12 with no Mark Barron -- but they are no slouch in their own right, and it is probably of no help to us that the Spartans apparently have a massive chip on their shoulder after being spurned by the BCS and that Alabama has not performed particularly well in its two previous bowl games under Saban with no championship implications on the line. And, hell, even if none of that were the case, let's be honest with ourselves: if you can get taken to the woodshed by South Carolina, well, you can fall at the hands of almost anyone. Vegas is still high on us, as they have been all year, with those who put lots of money and research into their college football picks have us as a 9.5 point favorite over the Spartans. Having said that, though, Vegas has been very bullish on us all season, often erroneously so in the final two months of the season. I'm not going to make any bold predictions for tomorrow, and honestly I could see it going either way.

If all goes to plan a win will result and we can send off the seniors and a handful of juniors -- Mark Ingram and Marcel Dareus are locks to enter the NFL Draft, and while Mark Barron most likely returns Julio Jones most likely leaves goes -- with a final victory to close out their careers, but I submit that the outcome of tomorrow afternoon's game is of relatively minor importance. Simply put, win, lose or draw, Alabama has to get back to consistently doing the things that Alabama football is supposed to be all about. For the Tide, 2011 begins in more ways than one on New Year's Day.

Hope for the best.