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Sugar Bowl preview: Tide must ignore waves of disappointment to beat Sooners

Sugar Bowl preview: Tide must ignore waves of disappointment to beat Sooners

The 2008 Crimson Tide team opened the season with 12 straight victories, only to lose a potential national title shot at the hands of Florida and quarterback Tim Tebow in the SEC Championship Game. While Alabama was admittedly ahead of schedule in even getting to the game in the first place, the loss was still a bitter pill and served as motivation for the entire 2009 year. Highlights of the 2009 SEC Championship Game, for instance, make their appearance in Alabama’s pregame video under the headline “Redemption.”

Auburn preview: Alabama finds unexpected roadblock on way to another title

There’s really no other way to say it – Alabama didn’t see this coming.

Few people thought Auburn would be as bad as it was in 2012, but the number of people who expected the Tigers to be 10-1 and just on the outside of a BCS Championship Game matchup probably wouldn’t be enough to fill a taxicab. And that’s including Lee County residents.

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LSU wrap-up: Tide makes the most of halftime adjustments to shut down LSU

Whether coaches like to admit it or not, some games are “circled” games.

Given that it’s next to impossible to be at an emotional high 12 or 13 times a season, the typical college football team will go through ebbs and peaks of emotion. But for some games, coaches make sure the emotional preparation reaches a zenith.

For Alabama in 2013, those games have included the opener over Virginia Tech, a road trip to Texas A&M and will include the season finisher against Auburn. But the biggest of the big to this point, without a doubt, was the annual showdown against LSU.

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LSU preview: Tigers looking to play the spoiler role in T-Town

For the entirety of Nick Saban’s tenure as Alabama head coach, the Alabama-LSU game has held special meaning, and not just because Saban used to coach in Baton Rouge.

Almost every year the two teams have met, something important has been on the line for both teams, usually involving the SEC West lead or even a top-5 ranking. But this year is a bit different. While Alabama comes into the game ranked No. 1 in the country and with much still to play for, LSU is all but out of both the national title race and the race for an SEC championship.

And it wasn’t completely unexpected. LSU suffered substantial losses on the defensive side of the ball after the 2012 season concluded, and this is not the throat-choking juggernaut of a team that is has been in previous seasons. LSU is a rather average 50th in rushing defense, and the secondary, while still very good, isn’t filled with the same lockdown-style athletes as opponents are accustomed to facing. But offensively, this team has gone from being strong to very dangerous, thanks to an upgrade at the offensive coordinator position.

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Tennessee wrap-up: Vols have found out how the other half lives

For a period of time about 15 years ago or so, the SEC football world revolved around Florida and Tennessee.

Phil Fulmer had built the Volunteers into a powerhouse, putting out NFL players left and right and – at least in years he could get by Steve Spurrier’s Florida team – annually threatening the top of the AP and Coaches’ polls. In addition, Tennessee enjoyed a cozy relationship with the SEC office, and there was little hiding the fact that Tennessee wanted to consign Alabama to the SEC’s second tier, or worse.

Funny what a difference a decade makes.

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Tennessee preview: Vols improving, but they’ll need help to beat Alabama

If you allow yourself to think of the Alabama-Texas A&M game as an anomaly – whether tied to the late fumble that caused a 14-point swing, or to a defense that began changing personnel afterward and finally found the right mix – then the rest of this season begins to make sense. Tennessee, coming off a late upset of South Carolina, becomes just another middle-of-the-road SEC team that upset a slightly-more-than-middle-of-the-road opponent. The LSU game isn’t such a shocker – TideFans.com saw the Tigers as a 9-3 team in the preseason – and Alabama starts to look like the juggernaut people were expecting back in August. But the small margin of victory in College Station clouds the view.

As 4-3 Tennessee comes to town, given that the Volunteers are no less than Alabama’s second-biggest rival, there will always be the tendency to see the Vols for more than they might be at that particular point in time. But if you consider Alabama’s resume to this point and take a 5-minute span of the Texas A&M game for what it could have been, it gets easier to see another solid Bama victory.

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Arkansas preview: Razorbacks in transition, Alabama looking for domination

For Alabama fans who appreciate nostalgia, they’ll get plenty of it when Arkansas comes to town this week.

Why? Because they’ll swear Danny Ford was back in Fayetteville.

Bret Bielema took over the Arkansas program this spring after John L. Smith was mercifully let go after a season that could justifiably be called the most disappointing – relative to expectations – in the history of Arkansas football. The Razorbacks were coming off a string of high-scoring seasons under Bob Petrino, and the program was threatening to punch into the elite of the SEC West.

And then Bob Petrino got in a motorcycle accident, got caught lying about an affair and was relieved of his duties as the Razorback head coach. The coach of the Hogs had been thrown off his Hog and was found to have been acting like a pig.

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Kentucky wrap-up: Dominant Tide begins to put the pieces together

The middle of the season seems to mark a tipping point for Nick Saban-coached Alabama football teams.

If one doesn’t count the initial 2007 season, the following key games occurred at or near the midpoint of Saban’s other seasons: In 2008, Alabama’s fifth game of the year was the now-infamous “Blackout” game in Athens, Ga., where the Tide won 41-30 in a game that was made respectable only by a couple of late Georgia touchdowns well after the results had been decided. In 2009, Saban’s first championship season with the Crimson Tide, the seventh game of the year came against South Carolina in Tuscaloosa, otherwise known as the game that won Mark Ingram a Heisman Trophy.

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Alabama mostly avoided the dreaded injury bug that seems to bite the Crimson Tide in one-sided affairs like this (see: Croyle, Brodie; ref. Western Carolina), although Denzel Devall appeared to tweak an ankle at one point. The starting offense could have scored with nine men on the field if it had wanted to, and the starting defense was never in danger of yielding a touchdown. Georgia State looked just like the transitional Division-IA program that was previewed here earlier in the week.

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Colorado State preview: Out-manned Rams can only hope to keep it close

Whether Alabama scheduled this game because it needed a soft spot on its schedule, or whether it was a favor to McElwain from his former boss, no one can say for sure. What is certain is that Alabama’s biggest challenge this week will be in staying interested long enough to finish the game without head coach Nick Saban going off on some poor soul for a perceived lack of effort.

Simply put, the Colorado State program is in bad shape. McElwain will get multiple seasons to turn things around, but it is a far cry back to the glory years of Sonny Lubick’s tenure, to say nothing of McElwain ever bringing enough talent into the program to allow it to compete with most BCS teams. CSU is struggling on both offense and defense at the moment, despite having a rather weak schedule to open the year. Alabama, meanwhile, is banged up after a trip to College Station, Texas, and the game against Colorado State couldn’t come at a better time.

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