Call it “GOAT fuel” as Lane Kiffin does, or call it “poking the bear” as Kiffin also does. But whatever you do call it, proclamations that Nick Saban’s Alabama college football dynasty is over do seem a tad premature.
Alabama has lost two games to two Top 10 teams, both on the road, both before 100,000 fans, both on the last play of the game. Alabama out-gained Tennessee in a 52-49 loss. The difference? Bama missed a field goal late; Tennessee made one. Bama also out-gained LSU Saturday in an overtime loss at LSU. Alabama is still a splendid football team. The Crimson Tide, which plays at Ole Miss on Saturday, remains one of the four or five best teams in the country.
That said, there are chinks in the Tide’s armor. They are not clearly the best team in the land or even the SEC, as they have been for most of the last decade. It’s not so much that they have weaknesses as it is they are not as dominant as they have been. It’s not just the close losses to Tennessee and LSU that show this. It’s also the narrow wins over Texas and Texas A&M.
Biggest difference? When Alabama lines up on third down and a yard or two to go on offense, they can’t just run it and know they will make it. It’s not automatic. Alabama simply does not run the football as effectively as they have in the past. They don’t get the push up front.
Conversely, Alabama does not stop the run as they have in past. Against really good teams – and both Tennessee and LSU are that – Bama isn’t dominant up front on both sides of the ball. LSU out-gained Bama on the ground 185-137. Tennessee out-rushed the Tide 182-114.
There are other chinks, perhaps most notably Saban’s current team doesn’t have the super natural ability at wide receiver it has had in recent seasons. There’s no DeVonta Smith, no Jaylen Waddle. Bama’s wide receivers are merely very good, they are not other worldly.
There’s also this factor: Other teams have caught up to Bama, most notably Georgia, which former Saban lieutenant Kirby Smart has patterned after Bama, using a replica of Saban’s system. Georgia, as Alabama has had, possesses four- and five-star talent stacked at every position. When Georgia takes the field, the Bulldogs look like an NFL team.
So what to make of Saturday’s matchup of 7-2 Alabama against 8-1 Ole Miss? Before we get into it, know that the last time an Alabama football team lost as many as three games in a single season was 2010. Ole Miss’s superb freshman running back Quinshon Judkins had just turned 7.
Oddsmakers have made Alabama a 12-point favorite, which seems, at least to this observer, more than a little out of kilter. Honestly, before I saw the betting line, I thought it would be between four and six points. Ole Miss has had an extra week to prepare. Bama is coming off a physically taxing, overtime struggle. Ole Miss is at home. There’s not a much better recipe for success than that.
Clearly, oddsmakers figure bettors will fixate more on the recent history of the rivalry. Alabama has averaged nearly 57 points a game in winning the last six meetings by an average of 32 points per game. Ole Miss has scored at a 25.5 per game clip over those six games. But the Rebels haven’t even slowed Alabama, much less stopped the Tide.
This Alabama team is averaging 42 points a game. This Ole Miss team averages 37. All that considered, seems the best bet of all might to bet on both teams to score plenty. The over-under is 63, which is a high number but not for these two offenses.
There’s another factor to consider: When was the last time Alabama played a game when the Crimson Tide had no chance at the national championship? This Crimson Tide team clearly does not. How will Alabama react? Will they lose their edge?
My guess is that Saban won’t let that happen. Alabama will fire back. Alabama will play well. Ole Miss will get Bama’s best shot. My point is, Alabama’s best shot, as good as it is, is not what it has been.