Fall is now near, which means college football is back. So is my team: Alabama. Whacking the No. 9 Clemson Tigers at a neutral site, 34-10, was very impressive. Dominating them on both sides of the ball, and finishing a game the way a great team finishes plays and quarters in football, was quite impressive to this Tide fan. Bama had 25 first downs to 11 and rushed for 239 years to Clemson’s 0. Pre-season observers said Clemson had the best running back duo in the US. Even if that proves to be untrue 0 yards rushing is a great night for a defense. On top of that Alabama had no turnovers and the much maligned QB, John Parker Wilson, was 22 for 30 passing. The new offensive coordinator seems to know how to use what he has, which is a talented interior line and a QB who is seasoned but needs to be kept within the boundaries of what he does best.
Several things stood out to me last evening. First, this team is a good balance of young talent and seniors who have endured a lot and clearly want to go out winners. There are enough "feel good" stories here to excite any true Crimson Tide fan. Second, Nick Saban knows exactly what he is doing. Much of the media may hate him, and ESPN loathes him it seems, but I guaranteed my friends that he would win. I expected this year to be a bit "slow" but I am not sure now. I think Bama could contend for the SEC West and then who knows? Yes, they have to play LSU on the road but it is a long season and they showed a load of talent and passion last night. They will, I think, improve with experience, especially since so many key players are young. Eleven, count them, eleven true freshman played last night. And Julio Jones, the No. 1 recruit in America according to many, scored a TD and played like he had already been there in the end zone before. And Mark Ingram, a freshman from Michigan, was awesome. (The story about how Ingram got to Alabama is a real credit to Nick Saban, since he befriended Mark’s father many years ago through their relationship at Michigan State and made such a deeply personal impression his son headed south to play for Saban.) Third, the SEC is a brutally tough conference. Alabama plays LSU, Georgia and Tennessee all on the road this season. Clemson was very likely rated much too highly. Time will tell. Either way, beating the No. 9 team in your opener is a lot better than beating Western Carolina or some similar school in the proverbial "soft" first game. Saban’s idea is to "get ’em ready" sooner than later. Last night he seemed to do it.
In my tip of the hat this week I have to say USC was very, very impressive, as they almost always are. They are the class college football university. I can only hope that Alabama and USC again become rivals as in the great days of John McKay and Bear Bryant. It could happen.
Pete Carroll is one of the finest coaches in the land, if not the very best. Hats off to a powerful team that is my pick for No. 1.
As a Bama fan I would love to win the West this year and see what happens from there. Another great year or two with several No. 1 recruiting classes and then I can say, without a serious doubt, "Alabama is back!" Then it will really be: Rolllllllllllllllllllll Tide.
For those readers who do not get this kind passion I do feel a tinge of sadness for you. There is nothing quite like a great stadium full of 94,000 fans cheering along with you for the team that you love because you shared this experience as a student on that same campus and in that same stadium so many years ago. It is great entertainment and marvelous fun. I have tickets for two different games this fall, Kentucky and Mississippi State. I can’t wait for a fall weekend in Tuscaloosa, with the sun up in the fall sky and Bama on a roll.
When I write for 6 and 8 hours many days, and/or travel to speak numerous times all across the country, and meet with churches and leaders for counsel and encouragement, I can get really, really ready for an escape now and then. This is how I plan find such an escape between now and Thanksgiving. But then there is a bowl game at year’s end, or maybe even in early 2009 this year. I have missed this for some years now. It will be a great delight to get it back.
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Alabama plays LSU, Georgia and Tennessee all on the road this season.
John, if they can MARCH through Baton Rogue [Tiger Stadium], Athens [Sanford Stadium] and Knoxville [Neyland Stadium] then they will be number one.
Top Six On-Campus Stadium Capacities
1. Michigan 107,501
2. Penn State 107,282
3. Tennessee 104,079
4. Ohio State 101,568
5. Georgia 92,746
6. LSU 92,400
Bryant-Denny Stadium at Tuscaloosa, Alabama, officially seats 92,138 and will be enlarged in the next few years to over 100,000. They have over 10,000 requests for season tickets waiting. I believe that a lot more than a thousand plus standing room seats are sold at each game so unofficially the crowd is closer to 94,000. Having been in several of the biggest “college houses” I can assure you it is one of the greatest and “loudest” venues in the land. Michigan and Notre Dame, both very fun places, do not compare. Knoxville, Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge are in a class by themselves really.
But even if they won the three road games they still have to beat Auburn and stop their awful six-year slide. And they will drop several road games for sure. I hope they go 9-3. I have no delusions but this season will be better than last, that much I am sure of. And it should only get better in the next two or three years. They already have verbal commitments from some of the best players in the land for the next freshman class. Recruiting is probably Saban’s greatest strength, along with managing the whole system. He sells a vision of the young man’s future, not of the football team. He doesn’t need to sell the team or the facilities if he can get a player to visit on game day. The place sells itself. Forbes made this point well.