A buddy of mine texted me this morning and asked if I was getting tired of hearing about how FSU is better than Alabama. He wasn't referring to all the sports pundits out there who are jumping on the FSU bandwagon, but the fans who truly believe FSU is actually a better overall football team than Alabama and would beat Alabama when (not if) we meet in Pasadena. Silliness, I know.
This is not a post about FSU vs Alabama but the confidence I have in the 2013 version of the Crimson Tide and the program Nick Saban has built.
You see, FSU, though a very good football team, does not invoke fear in me. Jameis Winston, who is probably the best quarterback in the country, doesn't scare me. Oregon, who has all the speed in the world, is just another HUNH team in my eyes. Marcus Mariota, who has the wheels to beat you on the ground and the arm to torch you through the air, certainly is a cause for concern but do I fear him? Not so much.
How about Ohio State? Louisville? LSU? Stanford? Dare I say, Auburn? When the thought of playing these teams enters your mind, are you worried about a loss? Probably not.
This is not meant to disrespect these teams or players who have an enormous amount of skill and talent. Anything can happen in college football and upsets occur on a weekly basis but again, Saban has created a monster to a point where Alabama fans, and the players, fear no one.
The Progression of Alabama Football Under Nick Saban
The Alabama football program is in disarray and outside of a few blue chippers, is not a talented football team. The facilities are in need of an upgrade and Bryant Denny Stadium deserves more than just a new coat of paint. With current losing streaks to LSU, Tennessee and Auburn the Alabama fan base is desperate to see the Crimson Tide return to the glory days.
Enter Nick Saban. Instantly an excitement returns to the fan base and hope is in the air. The 2007 season wasn't what we all wanted but it was certainly what the program needed.
On the heels of Alabama's first #1 recruiting class in ages, the Crimson Tide have an edge, a meanness that is evident from the first snap against Clemson. The team used the end of the 2007 season as motivation for a 12-0 campaign that included the Black Out, a thriller in Baton Rouge, and the perfect send off for Tommy Tubberville.
A heart breaking loss to Florida in the SEC Championship game and an embarrassing performance against Utah in the Sugar bowl turned what should have been endearing memories into lasting frustration..
2008 wasn't the most talented Alabama team in recent memory but they played with heart, gave full effort and for the first time in nearly a decade, learned how to win.
From a fans perspective you kept waiting for the wheels to fall off. When was the old Alabama, the one that over and over again gave up big leads in the 4th quarter going to show up again? Maybe you could consider the UF and Utah losses the "old Alabama" but even those felt different.
Using the disappointing ends of both the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and adding yet another #1 recruiting class to an already motivated team, Saban turned in one of his finest coaching performances to date. A 12-0 regular season, an utter dismantling of Florida in the SEC Championship game, Alabama's first Heisman trophy winner and the Crimson Tide's first National Title since 1992. Again, this wasn't Bama's most talented team, but talent isn't everything.
For evidence in how focused this team was at the task at hand, look no further than the end of the SEC Championship game. In the waning seconds, two Alabama players grabbed the Gatorade bucket to do what football players have been doing for decades but our captain and leader of the defense stopped them in their tracks and said, "Not yet, we have one game left". #Process
During the entire season, as a fan you wanted to believe this was the year but like 2008, you kept waiting for that inexplicable loss. For me, and probably for many others, it wasn't until the Florida win when we all started to believe it was our time.
Alabama reeled in yet another top five recruiting class but looking back, 2010 was a season of "what ifs".
What if Hightower had been fully healthy and not a step slow all year? What if ESPN hadn't done that special on the team pre-season which seemed to distract the young guys? What if Ingram hadn't tweaked his knee which plagued him for most the year? What if Dareus and Upshaw weren't dealing with high ankle sprains all season? What if Richardson hadn't dealt with his own knee issues against LSU? What if Ingram hadn't fumbled the ball on the 20 against Auburn or McElroy and Barrett Jones had finished the Iron Bowl? What if, what if, what if..
Problem is, all those things did happen. Coupled with these injuries, Alabama ran into a buzz saw in Columbia, SC, a LSU team that honestly out played us in Baton Rouge, and an Auburn team that didn't know the word quit. Sure, all the injuries and distractions had their effect on the outcome of those three games, but Alabama had far more issues in 2010 than a few injuries.
Alabama was yet again recruiting national champs and had its first QB battle since the early 2000's. AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims would battle it out during the A-day game and the first few games of the season but by the time 'Bama headed to Gainesville in early October, AJ had clearly won the job. For the entire regular season, McCarron wasn't asked to do much and was the essence of a game manager as the 2011 version of Alabama would win by defense and a power running game - just how we like it.
Unlike in 2008 and 2009, and even 2010 to a certain extent, Alabama fans started to believe Bama would and could win every game. The team had already overcome the loss to Florida in 2008, had an undefeated season and put behind them the losses of 2010. How could you even begin to doubt this team?
Well a loss did come. After the game of the century, then the joy of ALL the upsets and jumping Okie St in the BCS, the National Championship game was truly an opportunity for redemption, not only for the team but also the fans.
As we all know, AJ had his coming out party, 21-0 happened and LSU was finally quieted. I still haven't deleted this game from my TiVo.
For the fourth time in six years Alabama had the #1 recruiting class and for the second time in just a few years 'Bama was defending national champs. This was the season where gumps were born.
Nearly the entire offense returned and so did many key role players from arguably the best defense ever in college football. This would be the year, however, where the Alabama offense, not the defense, would carry the team .
The defense actually looked like it hadn't skipped a beat for the first eight games but then LSU and Mettenburger exposed weaknesses in the 'Bama secondary and Texas A&M, along with Johnny Manziel, crushed all our hearts in Tuscaloosa. Thanks to another year of upsets and a back and forth battle with UGA in the SEC Championship game, Alabama found itself defending its 2011 title against a "vaunted" Notre Dame team who was prepared to show the world the Irish were back.
Honestly, I went into every game of the 2012 season expecting Alabama to win by 14+. This was the year for me where expectations truly rose to an almost unhealthy level. It took a few seasons but the fan base had fully bought into the Process and much like our coach, expected perfection.
Oh hey, there is Alabama walking away with yet again the #1 recruiting class but this time as two time defending national champions. To be honest, this team looks and feels different than any of its previous brothers under Saban. The offensive line isn't quite up to the usual standard, though they are progressing each week and the defense is a little bit faster/lighter than normal.
But make no mistake, this is easily the most talented and most complete team Nick Saban has ever had. Even with the defections to the NFL Bama has sustained over the past four seasons, this team is immensely talented.
As a fan, there is no doubt, at least in my mind, this team has national champion written all over them. Can they lose a game? Certainly, this is college football after all but there is no team in all of football, including Oregon or FSU, that can match-up at every level with Alabama. You can say I'm just a gump, but even our special teams are elite this year.
So, a little advice for the Oregon's, Florida State's, Ohio State's and even Missouri's of the world - before you start printing shirts that say "WE WANT BAMA" or start to believe you are better than us, take a step back and remember, 'Bama has been here before and you haven't.
For Alabama, no stage is too big and no opponent too great. Saban has built this team to defend not only the HUNH and spread attacks but also power teams like LSU and Stanford. The offense can score with power running or a finesse passing game. What Saban has built at Alabama isn't just individually great teams but a national title winning program.