’Bama means business. There’s no question Michigan was overrated, that coming off an 11-2 season and Sugar Bowl win too much was expected of these Wolverines who benefitted from a favorable schedule a year ago and got lucky against Virginia Tech in New Orleans when a controversial call went their way. There’s also no question that Michigan is good - not top-10 good, but good - and that the Wolverines were no match for the mighty Crimson Tide.
’Bama means business.
There’s no question Michigan was overrated, that coming off an 11-2 season and Sugar Bowl win too much was expected of these Wolverines who benefitted from a favorable schedule a year ago and got lucky against Virginia Tech in New Orleans when a controversial call went their way.
There’s also no question that Michigan is good - not top-10 good, but good - and that the Wolverines were no match for the mighty Crimson Tide.
What Alabama did against Big Blue last Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium said something about the defending national champions, represented a loud and clear statement.
The Tide’s 41-14 demolition of the Wolverines, despite losing seven starters on defense - Butkus Award finalists Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower among them - and five on offense - Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson among them - showed that complacency is not a problem in Tuscaloosa.
More than at any time since Southern Cal was running wild out west, there’s a legitimate chance for a team to take home the crystal football in back-to-back seasons.
Those Trojans ran into the sublime Vince Young and a terrific Texas team at the Rose Bowl in early January 2006 and lost out on a piece of history by the slimmest of margins.
No team has repeated since Nebraska won consecutive championships in 1994 and 1995, and like those Cornhuskers, who split the national title with Michigan in 1997, Alabama has a chance to win three out of four.
“I personally don’t think we were trying to send any type of message,” Alabama junior quarterback A.J. McCarron said after the game. “We’re just trying to do what coach (Nick Saban) preaches, and that’s to go out and play our game, do what we’re supposed to do.”
At first glance it seemed like all the personnel losses would be too much for Alabama to overcome. But with the way the Tide rolled over Michigan, there’s mounting evidence that the talent pool accumulated by Saban and his staff is so deep that even the absence of 12 starters won’t be a hindrance.
True freshman running back T.J. Yeldon torched the Wolverines for 111 yards on just 11 carries, but more than the raw numbers it was the way he slipped through tackles and gained yards after contact against a defense that will struggle on the line but was one of the better units in the country a year ago that impressed.
And though the Wolverines connected on two long pass plays - one that set up a touchdown and one that resulted in a score, both after the Tide had already gone ahead 31-0 - the manner in which the ’Bama defense swallowed up Denard Robinson and the dangerous Michigan offense was stunning.
Robinson, who has run for more than 1,000 yards and passed for more than 2,000 each of the past two seasons, could do little against Alabama’s swarm. He gained just 27 yards on the ground as Michigan was held to 69 rushing yards, and completed only 11 of 26 passes. Two of those throws were picked off, and one returned for a touchdown.
Beyond the superb substitutes, what Alabama showed was a will.
The Tide was in this same position two years ago, coming off its first championship since 1992. That team, despite high expectations, lost three games and played no role in either the SEC race or the one that ended with archrival Auburn beating Oregon in the final seconds for college football’s ultimate prize.
Many of the players on this year’s Tide were part of the team two years ago, but buried on the depth chart. They must have felt the sting, the ache, of watching Auburn of all teams take what they believed was theirs.
Perhaps part of what ’Bama showed on Saturday night was a lesson learned from what happened two years ago.
“Everyone thought that we were too young, too inexperienced and we couldn't handle success,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said on Tuesday. “Everyone was saying those things about our team. Now, people are saying something different. My question is, ‘What's different?’ Nothing. We are still young, we are still inexperienced and we still have things to work on. ... It's all about the progress that you make through the season. There’s plenty of room for us to make progress. Successful teams are willing to do what unsuccessful teams aren’t.”
The Crimson Tide served notice late Saturday night. ’Bama means business.
What We Learned
As the scores came in on Saturday, one after another, they raised eyebrows.
Georgia gave up 23 points to Buffalo. Wisconsin beat Northern Iowa by only five. Southern Mississippi put up 17 first-half points on Nebraska. Florida led Bowling Green just 17-14 after three quarters. Oklahoma trailed UTEP early and only managed to score 24.
Then there was Thursday night’s season-opener, when South Carolina barely survived Vanderbilt, and on Friday Stanford eked out a win over San Jose State.
Is there cause for concern from Athens, Gainesvile and Columbia, up through Madison, Lincoln and Norman all the way out to Palo Alto?
“It wasn't pretty,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said after his team’s win. “We better play better than that next week, or we'll be coming back sad.”
Meanwhile, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said, “I’m not disappointed, I’m just not satisfied that we didn’t play the way we’re capable of.”
First games are just that, first games. After not seeing a real opponent in nine months, even with all the preparation that takes place during fall camp, there’s going to be rust. Some of what happened will be addressed and eradicated by the time those teams take the field this week.
Georgia, for example, figures to be just fine. The Bulldogs have nine starters back from a defense that allowed only 20.5 points per game a season ago, so Buffalo’s success was likely an aberration.
But Wisconsin might be legitimately worried. Same goes for Florida.
The Badgers, coming off back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances, are replacing three starters on the offensive line and two on the defensive front. That can be problematic, because even with Montee Ball back, if the holes aren’t there he’s not going to gain yardage in chunks.
A trip to Corvallis this weekend won’t tell all, but if Wisconsin struggles against Oregon State it won’t bode well for the Big Ten portion of the Badgers’ schedule.
The Gators, meanwhile, bring back much of last year’s squad, but that squad struggled in 2011 so perhaps the players simply aren’t all that good. Road trips to Texas A&M and Tennessee the next two Saturdays will be revelatory.
No team has more cause for concern, however, than Oklahoma. The Sooners simply have more at stake. Ranked fourth in the preseason AP poll, they’re considered a contender for the national championship, but after last season’s defense proved subpar and the offense took a step back, overrated may be the best word to describe Oklahoma unless they show something more.
The Sooners will likely look strong Saturday against Florida A&M, but Kansas State in two weeks won’t be so simple, nor will Texas, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Oklahoma State as the season moves forward.
Game of the Week
There will be no soft openings for Missouri and Texas A&M.
On a weekend when there’s no matchup between two teams currently in the Top 25, the most intriguing games are the SEC debuts of the Tigers and Aggies. The conference could have allowed them to start small, playing Ole Miss or Kentucky, but instead Texas A&M begins life in the nation’s best conference by hosting Florida, while Missouri starts its existence in the mighty SEC by hosting Georgia.
Neither the Aggies nor Tigers are ranked, while the Gators and Bulldogs both are, but that doesn’t mean blowouts are in store.
In fact, there exists the possibility of a pair of upsets.
As already mentioned, both Florida and Georgia underperformed expectations last weekend. Missouri, meanwhile, dismantled its patsy, Southeastern Louisiana, scoring 62 points and letting up just 10. Texas A&M, on the other hand, had its game against Louisiana Tech postponed due to Hurricane Isaac.
Playing in the SEC, Georgia and Florida are used to hostile environments, but Missouri proved it can be a nasty place to play a couple of years ago when the Tigers took down top-ranked Oklahoma late on a Saturday night in October.
Those Tigers had Blaine Gabbert at quarterback and went on to win 10 games, and after winning eight times last year these Tigers stand a chance against Georgia.
“A week ago somebody asked if it was a good opportunity to shut everybody up,” said Missouri receiver T.J. Moe, “and I think if we come out here and play well we have a good chance. We will probably have a lot of people talking but not shut too many people up.”
As for Texas A&M, while last year was a disappointment and resulted in the firing of Mike Sherman, Kyle Field is as tough a place to play as there is in college football and new coach Kevin Sumlin had fantastic success at Houston. The 12th Man is always in full force, and even in a subpar 2011 season the Aggies managed to take down Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and Baylor in College Station.
“They have the ingredients to be very successful and they have been very successful for a number of years,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp, who saw Texas A&M up close as Texas’ defensive coordinator before moving on to Gainesville.
He added, “It’s a program that’s got a lot of tradition and history, and I’m looking forward to having them part of the SEC.”
The SEC debuts of Missouri and Texas A&M won’t be easy, but neither will this weekend’s road trips for Georgia and Florida.
My Top 10
1. USC (1-0): The men of Troy did their job.
2. Alabama (1-0): Statement made, and heard.
3. Oregon (1-0): If Chip Kelly didn’t have a heart, the Ducks could have hung 100 on Arkansas State.
4. LSU (1-0): Solid, but not spectacular.
5. Florida State (1-0): It was only Murray State, but the Noles looked nasty.
6. West Virginia (1-0): The Mountaineers could be poised to own the Big 12 off the bat.
7. Georgia (1-0): Much will be learned at Missouri.
8. Oklahoma (1-0): The Sooners struggled late last year, and didn’t start this year looking good.
9. Michigan State (1-0): A strong start by beating Boise State.
10. South Carolina (1-0): At Vandy was no easy opening.
Eric Avidon can be reached at 508-626-3809 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ericavidon.