This week the takes emanating from the national media have been very odd, indeed. On one hand, we're seeing near-unquestioned opinions that this is Saban's (and Alabama's) best team ever. On the other hand, each new challenge for the Tide is presented as the the one that Alabama will not/can not/should not/unsurprisingly shan't overcome. This week, of course, is Texas A&M, probably second most talented team top-to-bottom in the SEC. So, of course, this is the one Alabama will lose (unless you listen to some authors, who are already circling their calendars for that loss in Baton Rouge, as though that Tiger team is in anyways different than the bunch that lost to Auburn.)
While Alabama looked close to unbeatable against Tennessee and A&M needed two overtimes to put away the Vols, the Aggies appear to have the personnel capable of matching up with the Crimson Tide. Remember what Derek Barnett did to Jalen Hurts on Saturday in two of the few low moments for Alabama? Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall are both capable of doing the same. Remember what Chad Kelly did to Alabama last year and this year? Trevor Knight is Chad Kelly without the rap sheet, and Knight already owns a victory over Alabama himself when he starred for Oklahoma in that 2014 Sugar Bowl.
(Pssst. Chad Kelly is a better quarterback. Knight is a less turnover-prone Josh Dobbs with happier feet: keep it short, take a few shots downfield, take off when given the chance.)
I cringed every time I heard someone say on Saturday that the Crimson Tide had separated themselves from the pack of undefeated teams. That's a terrible jinx to lay on a team that will close a tough pre-bye week stretch with perhaps its toughest opponent all season. Yes, Alabama combines a defense that ranks eighth in the nation in yards per play allowed (4.3)—and has scored eight touchdowns—with an offense that ranks ninth in the nation in yards per play (seven) and fifth in the nation in yards per rush (6.2). And yes, coach Nick Saban's greatest strength is his ability to coax a consistent performance out of an age group not given to consistent behavior. But history is not on Alabama's side here.
Then the buts arrive. Staples takes the view that LSU is the one to circle the calendar for though, and that just because a team five years or two years ago lost a division game, then that means history is destiny and Alabama shall lose in 2016. That is, frankly, the rankest sort of gambler's fallacy posing as analysis.
The middle of the SEC West between Alabama at the top and Mississippi State at the bottom is a group of five teams that all seem to be capable of winning any game they play in, but none of them seem to have the ability to really put an opponent away with conviction. Texas A&M is the best of this group and very well could be a College Football Playoff contender. The Aggies appear to be legit and passed a big test at home against Tennessee a week ago. But with Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU all remaining on the schedule, we still have some things to learn about them. Few teams are as confounding as the Aggies, with a roster loaded with talent that often appears like a dominant team, but far too often goes through spells of poor play that keeps them from beating an opponent as handily as they should -- see: fourth quarters against UCLA, Tennessee.
The SEC isn't the downward trending stinker Dodds wants it to be. Yes, the teams still bloody each other divisionally, and, yes, the conference's lesser teams got paired against better opponents on Labor Day weekend, but few teams are ponying up for home-and-away with Ole Miss, for instance. I don't see Michigan beating down the door to play Arkansas -- in fact, the last time I checked, the Wolverines backed out of that game. So, spare the ink and look at the advanced stats: the conference has gone nowhere.
Aggies look ahead
Saban's presser was yesterday. Here were the only two real highlights of note.
Alabama right guard Alphonse Taylor is "day-to-day" as he continues to work back from the concussion he suffered against Arkansas Oct. 8, coach Nick Saban said Monday. Taylor didn't play against Tennessee on Saturday.
"Jalen is probably as mature and does it as well as anybody I’ve ever seen at his age. But still, we’re trying to bring him along in all these circumstances and situations, and there’s nobody on our team that wants to do that more than he does. So he welcomes it. He’s very self-critical, so when you bring something up to him, it’s like, ‘I get that.’ Maybe it’s because his dad was a coach, I don’t really know. He’s one of the easiest guys to manage in that circumstance that I’ve ever been around, at his age."
These quotes above? Yeah, that's why a freshman won Nick Saban's trust. I love this kid more every day. Yes, he makes mistakes. And, yes, he's still very raw, but he's coachable and a learner while also being a leader.
Putting a bow on the 3rd Saturday
Quarterback Jalen Hurts was named the SEC Freshman of the Week. He finished 16-of-26 for 143 yards through the air, and carried the ball 12 times for a team-high 132 rushing yards and a career-high three touchdowns. This was the third time this season that Hurts was recognized by the conference for one of its weekly awards.
Right tackle, Jonah Williams was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week for his role in an offense that recorded 594 total yards against Tennessee. Williams also helped the offense pick up 438 yards on the ground for an average of 8.9 yards per carry.
The Alabama coaching staff recognized 10 players following the Crimson Tide's 49-10 victory in Knoxville over Tennessee last Saturday. Bradley Bozeman, ArDarius Stewart and Jonah Williams were selected on offense, Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson, Reuben Foster and Ronnie Harrison on defense, and Adam Griffith, Eddie Jackson and JK Scott on special teams were each recognized on Monday.
Josh and I were texting the morning following the game, and I remarked that Bradley Bozeman looked, for the most part, fantastic. The middle was open for business and there no pressure on Hurts from his man. Anthony Averett also played perhaps his best game in crimson: he was a sure tackler, was in phase in a game the Vols wanted to pick on him, and made a really damned smart (uncalled) tripping penalty on Evan Berry in a play that could have given the Vols life. Jonah was also an absolute beast. His pass blocking has improved so much since the Ole Miss game. He'll need it to, drawing Daeshon Hall this week.
"I saw him coming at me," Durbin told AL.com. "I looked up at the jumbotron and then turned back and saw him at the 20-yard line. Then he gets into the endzone and runs straight at me. I see his eyes look at me and I'm like 'Crap.' I couldn't break eye contact and then he puts his hand straight in my face. I wish I would have just high-fived him back just to see his reaction. "It would have been funny. I think it's funny."
The Vol fan is taking it better than the media scolds out there. So, can we drop this one now?
Expansion was inevitable ... until it wasn’t. The Big 12 announced in July that it was going to explore candidates and evaluate resumes, with expansion by two or four teams looking like a certainty. But the league has opted to stay put, according to Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated.
The long and short of it is this: the league had a television clause that paid an extra $25 million in revenue for each team the B12 added. The networks looked at the flagging ratings, the terrible product on the field, and some of the names bandied about, and said, "we'll renegotiate. Forget that clause, because we'll pay you to not make a bad product worse." (UCF, Tulane, UConn? Really? GTFOH.)
Who knew you could extort a billion-dollar corporation by being dreadful and threatening to get worse? Also, I more than suspect that Oklahoma and Texas certainly did not want Houston to walk in with access to their talent and instantly be the best team in the league. In this case, "dilution of the brand," meant "protectionism."
Miles would make Purdue nationally relevant from the moment he's announced and his teams play hard for him. I know he still wants to coach, but who knows how good his coaching options will be this winter. Miles, paired with a well-regarded offensive coordinator, would be very attractive no doubt for many jobs given his pedigree and track record. I think they'd have to make a strong pitch to him that they are committed to competing at the highest level.
There were no fewer than three national articles yesterday on Les Miles replacing Darrell Hazell. Stop. That's just stupid. There will be several assured (and potential) high-profile openings at the end of this season, Notre Dame and Penn State being just two far better possible alternatives. Les Miles, a man who commands nearly $7m a year and who's first head coaching job was far better than this one, isn't going to leave his table at the Commander's Palace to walk across the street and grab Denny's. And, no, the nation's best (and most high profile) offensive coordinator isn't taking that woeful job either. Lane Kiffin has never had a job at a program that crappy, and his return as a head coach won't be at a dead-ender like that either.