Acknowledging that college football’s new four-team playoff could someday inch toward a larger basketball-style tournament, we continue our Super 16 countdown, with No. 3, Alabama:
It is a testament to what Nick Saban has built that Alabama was picked by the media this summer to win the Southeastern Conference.
The Crimson Tide enters the season riding a two-game losing streak and needs a new quarterback.
Saban was quick to note the media is almost always wrong.
It is just assumed things will fall into place, because they always have.
“We have to reestablish our identity as a team at Alabama,” Saban said.
Part of that is performing a psyche check after coming so close to winning three straight national titles, falling short on a play that has been etched into college football’s history book.
USC was in a similar spot in January 2006. The Trojans were at dynasty’s door against the Texas Longhorns at the Rose Bowl.
USC needed two yards in the closing minutes to complete the three-Pete title trilogy en route to its 35th straight victory.
The Pete Carroll dynasty effectively ended when Texas stopped LenDale White inches short on fourth and two and took the title back to Austin.
It wasn’t just a defeat; it was a loss in which Carroll’s armor was punctured and his genius questioned. Why wasn’t Reggie Bush in the game? Why didn’t Pete punt?
It was USC’s last title-game appearance. Carroll coached four more years and the Trojans won plenty more games and bowls.
The magic, though, was gone. In 2006, USC finished 11-2 but suffered inexplicable defeats to Oregon State and UCLA. Carroll lost nine times after the Texas defeat.
Saban faces a similar challenge in that he left 2013 having to explain some things.
Saban’s decision to attempt a 57-yard field goal against Auburn became an instant fender-bender in his legacy. After getting one second back on the clock from instant replay, Saban took the gamble instead of playing for overtime.
Auburn’s Chris Davis, of course, returned the missed kick 109 yards for the game-winning score. The play knocked Alabama out of the title chase and the Crimson Tide answered with a lackluster loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
Alabama enters 2014 loaded with talent but also with some questions.
“We’re basically an unproven team in some areas,” Saban said. “In some cases, you know, they’re critical positions like quarterback.”
Alabama, less than a week before next week’s opener against West Virginia, still hasn’t named a successor to AJ McCarron.
It appears Saban may extend the competition between Blake Sims and Jacob Coker through opening kickoff.
This isn’t a new concept. In 2011, after Alabama lost Greg McElroy, Saban let McCarron and Phillip Sims split time in the opener. McCarron won the job and led the Crimson Tide to the national title.
“Somebody has got to take the job,” Saban told reporters last week.
Alabama is, otherwise, cocked and loaded. T.J. Yeldon returns at tailback to downhill run behind an upstanding offensive line. The Crimson Tide has one of the nation’s top receiving units led by Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones.
Alabama lost All-American linebacker C.J. Mosley, but the defensive line should be one of Saban’s strongest. The secondary was exposed in the Sugar Bowl by Oklahoma quarterback Travis Knight, but every team has some issues to resolve.
The bottom line is Saban continues to recruit great players who get better once they arrive on campus.
Still, the Auburn hangover will linger until, well, until the headache wears off.
The countdown so far: 16. Notre Dame, 15. Mississippi, 14. Stanford, 13. Louisiana State, 12. Michigan State, 11. USC, 10. Baylor, 9. Georgia, 8. South Carolina, 7. Ohio State, 6. Auburn, 5. UCLA, 4. Oklahoma.