By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Aug. 30, 2012
From the moment LSU beat Alabama 9-6 in Bryant-Denny Stadium last November, college football has been strange. Actually, it has been made strange.
Everyone should have seen it coming, no matter who won the first matchup between the Tide and Tigers. That’s because everyone – even those who shilled for Stanford or Oklahoma State to face LSU in the BCS Championship Game – knew that Alabama and LSU were the two best teams in America.
Not just the two best, but as The Clash used to say about itself, they were the only two teams (bands, in Clash-speak) that mattered. And everyone knew that.
Alabama and LSU didn’t just play in 2011 to determine who was better; they played to further the agenda of the bowl haters, the playoff advocates and a growing number of people who have just plain gotten tired of the SEC, despite the fact that you could just go ahead and give the SEC champion the BCS trophy and 9 times out of 10, be justified in doing so.
In the nine months since Alabama-LSU I, college football has been about everything not related to the field. It’s been a discussion about politics, voters, conference strength, bowl jealousy, bowl greed, bowl gluttony, the makeup of NCAA governing boards, the NFL’s influence over the college game, what have you.
In two days, though, it will be about Alabama-Michigan, the game that will set the tone for the will-Alabama-repeat discussion.
There has been plenty of talk as to why Alabama won’t, maybe even can’t repeat. The Crimson Tide lost half its defense, the critics say, and the last time that happened, the Crimson Tide lost three games.
Never mind, though, that LSU also lost half its defense – even before Tyrann Mathieu was suspended – yet many of the same alleged experts have already penciled the Tigers into the BCS Championship Game alongside USC or Oklahoma, whichever school runs manages to run through its noticeably-weaker-than-LSU’s-or-Alabama’s schedule in the more impressive fashion.
(By the way, for those tracking it, USC returns exactly one more starter on its defense than does Alabama.)
One thing Alabama fans can be plenty sure of, though – lose again to LSU, and the voters aren’t likely to let the Tide get anywhere near the BCS title game. The national appetite for SEC football is split, and finds itself passing into two distinct stomachs – one that appreciates the best, wherever the best may be found, and another that would rather drink ipecac martinis than hear the “SEC” chant again in January.
Above the fray has been Nick Saban, who is nothing if not consistent in his staunch refusal to talk about what he calls “clutter.” Clutter, in Saban’s vernacular, refers to anything about football not involved with either running said football down the opponent’s gullet or stopping said football from passing the midfield stripe, which means that if one were to have taken a blood sample from Saban in the moments immediately after Alabama’s second meeting with LSU last year, he would have tested positive for some unknown substance best described as “footballistic orgasmic glee.”
Clutter, in 2012, means the discussion of who deserves to be in what bowl at the end of the year. Alabama, thankfully, got a high enough placement in preseason polls to all but guarantee the Tide controls its own destiny. Win every week, and it doesn’t matter what Oklahoma or LSU does, Alabama will be in the title game. Lose even once, and Alabama will probably spend the New Year’s holiday in New Orleans once again.
So if clutter doesn’t matter, what does? What matters is talent, coaching, preparation. In those three areas, Alabama gives up very little to anyone.
Despite the losses on defense, this team is in much better shape than was the 2010 squad. There is plenty of returning experience on defense, and the offense is almost completely intact. While it hasn’t been talked about much, overshadowed by discussions of the receiver corps and the new starters on defense, one of the biggest unknowns for Alabama this season is whether Eddie Lacy can shoulder Trent Richardson’s load, and if he can’t, whether T.J. Yeldon can live up to the hype.
If the answer to either of those questions is “yes,” then yes, Alabama can repeat as champions. Nothing is guaranteed other than the chance to make it happen.