For a variety of reasons, I don't think Alabama has gotten anyone's best shot this year, with the possible exception of Ole Miss. It could be that the Crimson Tide is so dominant that even the "best shot" from Michigan, or Arkansas, or Missouri, was futile. Certainly, Alabama disrupts opponents in the way a tsunami disrupts a day at the beach. Maybe it will be a few more years before Tennessee turns this into a heated rivalry again, and who knows what will be left of the history in these changing times? For now, though, Alabama vs. Tennessee does still matter, even if recent arrivals have a hard time figuring out why.
Coach Nick Saban, speaking on ESPN's BCS Countdown show, said Alabama's focus can't be altered by tonight's news. "You've got to get them to focus on the next game, the next play, the next day, the next practice so they don't get affected by the external factors so you can continue to improve as a team," he said. "That's a real critical factor. Mindset is so important in this day and age and this game."
It's no accident that Alabama is stockpiling talented runners. It's a recipe by design of recruiting, developing talent, style of offense and the overall program. "Alabama is running as close to a professional football team as you can in college football," Rivals.com National Recruiting Analyst Mike Farrell said. "Obviously the pro-style offense is attractive. They feed the running backs well, too. They've had prior success, which always leads to future success. "I think the program is so high profile now…kids are smart. They understand it's not a quarterback-featured offense. If you're the go-to running back, you're going to be on the Heisman ballot. We saw it with Ingram, with Richardson and now will Lacy. Running back is really the star of the show when it comes to Alabama football."
Tennessee's coaches have said since spring practice they've felt good about all three of their top tailbacks. Saturday night tested those words. Starter Rajion Neal (ankle) and second tailback Marlin Lane (thigh) both were banged up by the third quarter of Tennessee's 41-31 loss at 19th-ranked Mississippi State, leaving the diminutive Devrin Young and two freshmen to carry the Volunteers' improved ground game. "It never helps when you have two running backs out," quarterback Tyler Bray said. "Devrin and Que Watson stepped in and did a great job. We couldn't have asked them to do anything better."
You can give the Vols credit for not folding. You can give their coaching staff credit for recruiting junior college wide receiver Cordarrrelle Patterson, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown, scored again on a pass reception and set up a field goal when he reversed field and outran most of the Bulldogs defense on a 34-yard, end-around. But don't lose sight of the bigger picture. UT's defense is a disaster. In fact, it's so bad that you have to wonder if this team can improve on its 1-7 SEC record of last season.
Identifying Tennessee's problem is simple: Its defense gives up too many points. Solving the problem has been more complicated. The Volunteers have allowed 31.5 points per game, the highest average since the 1893 team gave up 42.7 in a six-game season. Tennessee's struggles this season continued Saturday with a 41-31 loss at No. 19 Mississippi State — which racked up 450 yards on offense. Next up is No. 1 Alabama, which has scored at least 33 points in each of its first six games. "We're not very good right now," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said in regard to his defense. "You are what your film is. We don't get off blocks the way we need to up front. We don't get enough hats to the football."
Of the six computer rating systems used by the BCS, only two go for Bama as the best team in the country. They say the Crimson Tide is No. 3 nationally, with Florida first and Notre Dame second. The sticking point? Alabama’s strength of schedule, although that’s not the Crimson Tide’s fault, and it isn’t something Bama fans should worry about. Obviously, if Alabama goes unbeaten, it doesn’t matter what the computers say — after all, this isn’t 2004 when the poll voters weren’t absolutely convinced the BCS National Championship Game had to include the SEC winner.
If Alabama and Florida were to remain unbeaten and hold onto the top two spots, they’d meet in the SEC championship game with a berth in the Discover BCS National Championship Game at stake. It would be a repeat of the 2008 and 2009 SEC championship games. Alabama has a comfortable lead right now as the No. 1 team, but Oregon is right on Florida’s heels for that No. 2 spot. Even so, with games against nationally ranked foes South Carolina, Georgia and Florida State all remaining, you’d have to think the Gators would stand a good chance of holding steady in that No. 2 spot if they win out.
Hot seats are only getting hotter: Things just aren't working at Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee. And that means that their respective coaches are really starting to feel the heat. Heading into the weekend, Kentucky's Joker Phillips was probably in the most hot water, and it's boiling after a 49-7 loss to Arkansas. Derek Dooley entered the season on the hottest seat and his Vols are now 0-3 in SEC play and eight wins is looking tougher and tougher by the day. And Gene Chizik has a bad offense and defense at Auburn. The Tigers gave Ole Miss its first SEC win since 2010 in a blowout in Oxford. The problem is that things just aren't getting better at any of these three schools and fans are beyond antsy and upset. None of the three schools have a conference win this season and have a combined record of 5-14.
Sunday's release of the first BCS standings was bittersweet indeed. Just two years from now, this 14-year-old ritual will be no more. What ever will we do when we no longer have to spend Sundays waiting for a television network to tell us the results of a mathematically bankrupt formula that doesn't truly matter for another seven weeks? Must ... have ... a pecking order. And this year, we even have a full-blown pseudo-controversy. The first BCS standings mirror the polls in declaring Alabama (6-0), the national leader in every major defensive category, as the No. 1 team. But -- gasp! -- AP and USA Today No. 2 Oregon (6-0), which is outscoring opponents by an average of 52-20, currently ranks at No. 3. Furthermore, the Ducks are only three-thousandths of a point ahead of BCS No. 4 Kansas State. Looking at each team's schedule, the explanation for the standings is obvious: The BCS computers have discounted the Ducks' competition. And in comparison to the schools ranked behind them, Alabama, which the computers list third, and Oregon, which the computers list sixth, have played barely anyone yet.