Greetings! I am hosting this week’s edition of the Crimson & White Roundtable, featuring other Bama blogs from around the blogosphere. We also welcome the addition of CrimsNKentucky from RollCrimsonTide.com
This week’s question is as follows: Based on the rankings and our strengths & weaknesses, is there a team you can see Alabama upsetting this season? Likewise, is there a team that could upset Alabama? If so, please name them both.
Finally, how important is it for Nick Saban to win a bowl game his first season as head coach?
|Nico – Roll Bama Roll|
There will obviously be times that Alabama is an underdog this year and I have no delusions that we’ll go undefeated. That being said, I don’t see a single game on our schedule that can’t be won by a Crimson Tide team firing on all cylinders. As dreadful as we were last year we only lost two games by ten or more points. Those were to Florida and LSU who finished the year ranked #1 and #3 respectively. For as bad as we were, that’s not too bad. Look what those two teams did to Ohio State and Notre Dame.
We can compete with anyone. With better off the field discipline/training and infinitely better game management from Coach Saban, I’d say that some of those losses from last year could have been victories with him in charge instead of Shula. The other four regular season losses were by an average margin of 4.75 points. Coach Saban is good enough to turn one or two of those into wins.
On the other side of the coin, we are in an extremely tough conference and the bad teams are getting better. Vanderbilt beat Georgia last year and they lost to Florida, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss by a touchdown or less. Also, needless to say, we lost to Mississippi State last year. It can happen. Saban isn’t immune either. He lost a game to UAB in Death Valley. I see us as having six games we should win this year and six games that could go either way. After the debacle against Mississippi State last year and a loss to Northern Illinois a few years ago, I yearn to see this program return to a point where those teams expect to lose to us as much as we expect to beat them.
I don’t think winning a bowl game is terribly important for him in his his first year. Obviously you want to win any game you play in, but I think the primary objective in his first season as far as post season play is concerned is to get to a better bowl game than we went to last year. I know I’m not happy with the Independence Bowl and I don’t think Coach Saban will be happy with that either. If we made it to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl this year, I’d be elated. If we play in a January bowl game you’ll be able to see my smile from the moon.
I could definitely see us upsetting LSU this year. We have everything going our way, other than straight-up talent. We have the coach that still knows all the schemes they’re running (yes, even with Pelini and Crowton, they’ll stick to the same gameplan). He knows Matt Flynn’s tendencies and what puts him under the most pressure. Plus, LSU is a team that is very vulnerable to the pass this year. Their secondary, while talented, isn’t what it was last year, and our biggest strength on offense will be our passing game (along with our offensive line, which should slow down the big D-Line long enough to let JP throw it around a little bit). The game is at home, and there will be a LOT of attention on this one. And Coach Saban’s been in pressure situations before. So has Les Miles – but you remember the ’05 Tennessee game, right?
Sadly, I could see Vanderbilt sneaking up on us. The game is at their place, it’s early (11:30 kickoff), and it will only be Week 2, so we’ll still be working out kinks in the new system. I could see major mistakes being made. I don’t see us losing, but if anybody is going to upset this team, they’d have to do it early in the campaign.
I don’t believe it is of drastic importance that he WIN the bowl game, as much as he just makes it to a decent one. Another night in Shreveport is not what we envisioned when we hired him. Liberty Bowl or better this year and then shoot for the stars next season, but, again, this season a win is not that important. Just be competitive and don’t make stupid plays.
After watching Spurrier beat Florida, you would have to think that Saban could pull one over on LSU. Or, “would like to think.” Regardless, I don’t really see beating any SEC team as an upset, per se, because the top 2/3 of the conference can win the game any given Saturday. If LSU, Tennessee or Auburn goes on a tear and is undefeated when playing Bama, that would be an upset situation. But that will have to wait until the season starts to shake out.
I don’t know how important it is to win the bowl game, as much as it’s important to win any and every game. The regular season schedule is full of big games (Arkansas, Georgia, Florida State, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn), so unless the bowl game is for all the marbles, it probably doesn’t mean much.
|Alchemist – Eight in the Box|
Who can we upset this year? The third Saturday in October brings the Tennessee Volunteers to Tuscaloosa sporting an offensive line that is questionable, and an interior defensive line that is lacking depth. Tennessee is tinkering with the no huddle shotgun offense. Is this new offense part of a modernization strategy by offensive guru David Cutcliffe, or an emergency plan to try and generate some points for a young offense?
Tennessee is thin at wide receiver, the rushing game is anemic, and the defensive line is less than rock solid for the first time since Phil Fulmer took over the top job in Knoxville. The Tide’s run defense will be its weak spot, but the Vols won’t be able to exploit this weakness due to Tennessee’s inconsistent offensive line play. Alabama’s passing game will be the gas that makes the Tide’s offense go this year, and without a dominant inside pass rush the Volunteers will need to bring “extra” rushers to get pressure on JP Wilson. That will put the Tennessee defense in more man coverage situations giving the Tide’s experienced receiving core an opportunity to exploit the defense.
Tennessee will be physically tough and they will play over their heads since it is Alabama. However, this year Alabama will have more balance on offense than the Vols, and the Tide’s defense won’t have to worry about being run over by a power running game because Tennessee doesn’t have one. All things being equal the home crowd will play a big role in this game. I say Alabama by 10 points in Bryant Denny Stadium pulling away…get this…in the fourth quarter.
As for who can upset us, as strange as it might sound, Alabama can’t afford to overlook the Vanderbilt Commodores the second game of the season. This will be the Tide’s SEC opener, and the first road game for the Tide under Saban. Vanderbilt returns 18 or 19 starters from a team that gave Alabama all it wanted last year in Tuscaloosa. Vanderbilt has an athlete at QB, Earl Bennett will be one of the best receivers the Tide will face this year, and Vanderbilt brings all they have when they play Bama. Turnovers will be the key in Nashville. We need to coax turnovers from Vandy, and not help them out with mistakes from a young offensive coordinator and an offense still learning a new system.
Is it important for Saban to win his first bowl game? I think it is important that Saban make a solid bowl this year, and the importance of a win to me depends more on the opponent. If we end up in the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M then I think Saban needs to pull that one out. If he didn’t it wouldn’t be a big deal, but if he did win that would buy Saban some big points with the fan base. In truth, if he isn’t playing for the BCS National Championship game the bowl game is just an exhibition and extra practice for the young guys for the next year. Of course, we still want to win anyway.
I think Alabama can possibly win every game this year. But I’m not predicting them to win every game either. We’re going to be inexperienced at some key positions (defensive end, and defensive line) and it’s going to hurt us at some point in this season.
But to answer the question, who specifically can I see Bama upsetting this year requires a little more thought. For Bama to upset someone technically your considering us to be underdogs. I’m assuming we’ll probably be underdogs in the Georgia, LSU, FSU and Auburn games for sure. So out of those games, I think we can upset Georgia, FSU and Auburn. I predicted LSU to do great things this year, so I’m going to have to say that we’ll have a harder time upsetting them.
The next part of the question is who could upset Bama this year. I’m not really a big believer in big upsets, but after close calls against Ole Miss and Duke, and a loss to Mississippi State last year I now believe that this is possible. I will probably say that the team who could possibly upset us would be Arkansas for sure. Despite the recent turmoil at Arkansas this past year and a half, as long as they have Darren McFadden in the backfield, at the quarterback position, or at wide receiver…that team can upset anyone this year.
As for the last part, how important is it for Nick Saban to win a bowl game in his first season as head coach? I don’t know how to answer that question except with this. A bowl other than the BCS Championship bowl, is no where near as important as beating Auburn this year. Beat Auburn and who cares about the bowl game.
One team I can certainly see being a possible target for an upset is Georgia. They don’t have the strongest WR core I’ve seen, and our DBs should be able to take advantage of that. Their OL is also a question mark for them, so I hope our backfield will be able to shine, depending on how they look after the first few games. They will have a solid QB, but this will be the first road game of the season for him. Don’t forget about their stout running game; we will need our DL and LBs to play better than predicted on that day. We’ll certainly need to be focused since this will be the second game in our 3 game gauntlet (Ark, UGA, FSU). But, let me remind you that it isn’t a guarantee of any sort. I know that UGA will be a tough team. They always are under Mark Richt.
A team that worries me greatly is Vanderbilt. Not only has that program improved enough to pull out some big wins, but the game is in Nashville. We have to be prepared for their QB, WRs, OL,and LBs. Nickson gave us some problems last season, as well as Bennett. Let’s not forget the fact that they have 5 Seniors starting on the O-Line. Both teams will have a smaller school (Western Carolina and Richmond) as a warm-up before actually playing each other.
When it comes to a bowl games, I subscribe to the theory that they are always important. Maybe not in terms of making or breaking a season. I view it as something important for off-season momentum and giving the fans something positive to have for a few months. Plus, it is always good for recruits to see this, as it would be a good step forward for the program. It may not be the story of the season, but it is always important.
|The Capstone Report|
Alabama could be an underdog in every key game of the season: Arkansas, FSU, Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. I’m going to go out on a limb and say by the time Alabama plays Tennessee, an Alabama win wouldn’t be considered much of an upset—I think Tennessee will be down this year, and so would Arkansas.
That really leaves us with games against FSU, Georgia, LSU and Auburn. I think Alabama will lose to Georgia and LSU.
Alright, so that leaves FSU and Auburn. I’m going to pass on picking the easier game (FSU) and go for the big risk—I believe Alabama’s best shot at an upset this season is in its game against Auburn.
Quickly, this is why I see Auburn as the best chance for a major upset. First, Auburn’s special teams won’t be very good. When you lose the nucleus of your special teams (John Vaughn, Kody Bliss and Matt Clark) then the pieces are set for special team struggles. You can’t win the SEC with untested special teams. Second, Auburn’s defense will be solid, but I’m still not sold on Will Muschamp. Muschamp made several key errors in the Georgia game and the Alabama game (blitzing got AU burned for a TD late in the first half.)
When you combine weak special teams, with a questionable defense, I believe you have a great recipe for an upset.
With Alabama facing so many games as an underdog, there aren’t many games that jump out. As a fan, I’d worry about the game AT MSU. Sly Croom’s staff did a great job out-coaching Mike Shula. That won’t happen this year, but the Bulldogs know they can win, and that type of psychological confidence is half the battle.
As for Saban’s first bowl, whether a win is necessary or not would depend on what happens during the season. But my guess is Saban doesn’t need to win a bowl game to have a successful career at Alabama. I’ll never forget the disaster of Gene Stallings first season. Stallings loses the first three games, somehow rights the ship, and then gets blown out in the Fiesta Bowl by Louisville. Stallings came back the next year and only lost one game; his third campaign claimed a national title.
|Todd – Roll Bama Roll|
As far as who could upset us goes, considering the early date and the fact they always play us incredibly tough Vandy will give us fits all day and could pull an upset. I don’t think it will happen, but it’s a scary thought that I can’t seem to shake. Thankfully the D’s strength is in the secondary while the Vandy offense’s strength is in the passing game, so if the front seven isn’t as bad as everyone says and they can keep Nickson making bad decisions then we should be okay. Otherwise, that’ll be a hair puller. And as for who we might upset, just about anybody. We’re returning loads of offensive talent with a coaching staff that knows what it’s doing for once, so anyone that wants to beat us won’t be able to sit on the ball and know they’ve got a better than average chance of winning a slugfest ’cause they know we can’t move the ball when we need to. Georgia is a prime candidate (in Tuscaloosa, rebuilt O-Line, etc.), and Florida State will still be adapting to Jimbo Fisher’s offense while we’ve got the DC (w00t!) that kept them from being a total embarassment on the football field last season (sound familiar?).
And yeah, I think it’s important for Saban to win his first bowl. If the season shakes out like we all expect, we’ll be in a quality bowl (though we could get Irished and land in a bowl we have no business playing in ’cause the bowl wants all those crazy Bama fans to show up) and the team should be playing it’s best football of the season by then. Winning against a good opponent in a name bowl will be the springboard we’ll need into the next season, so I think it’s very imprortant for Saban to get a postseason win.
2007 will definitely be an interesting year for Alabama football fans. There has not been this much excitement surrounding the program since the arrival of Coach Bryant. Coach Saban’s arrival in Tuscaloosa has the Crimson Tide fan base reenergized and foaming at the mouth in anticipation of returning to the Tide’s winning ways. There seems to be little doubt in anyone’s minds that Coach Saban will have the Tide playing tougher and winning very soon; but are expectations too high? Is Saban really the battle scarred veteran coach capable of pulling out miraculous victories in very short periods of time like everyone makes him out to be or are Alabama fans setting themselves up for disappointment yet again? It reminds me of the scene from Brave Heart when Sir William Wallace is rallying his troops to fight the English and one of the soldiers tells him that he can not be William Wallace, he is too short, Sir William Wallace is seven feet tall; and Wallace replies “Aye, and if he were here he would consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse. I AM Sir William Wallace!” as he leads them to victory in a battle everyone had given them no hope of winning. Yes, I am drinking the crimson kool-aid and I am foaming at the mouth just as everyone else. Let’s take a look at a couple of games that could catch people off guard.
Coach Saban will lead his revamped Crimson Tide team into Nashville on September 8th to face Coach Bobby Johnson’s Vanderbilt Commodores. Last year Alabama won by a total of three points at Bryant Denny Stadium, but this time the game will be fought on Vanderbilt’s turf. I am picking this as a possible trap game (if there is such a thing) because Coach Johnson has his team playing at a whole new level and the Crimson Tide will be feeling its way through trying to learn Coach Saban’s new system on both offense and defense.
Vanderbilt has long been known as a giant killer and has always played Alabama tough, but BAMA usually pulls it out. Just remember there is a reason you play the game, because on any given day, one team can beat another, just ask Coach Saban. In his first year at LSU, they lost to UAB. Alabama leads the series 58-19-4 and have not lost on the field since 1984. (Alabama had to forfeit the 1993 victory.)
Vanderbilt’s defense is not aggressive, so it should allow Major Applewhite an opportunity to construct a game plan that gives the Alabama players time to ease into his new system. Don’t look for fancy plays in this game. What you will likely get are short safe plays that will eat up the clock. The Commodores are not a team to bring a lot of pressure, so John Parker Wilson should have plenty of time to dissect their schemes and keep the chains moving.
Vanderbilt’s Chris Nickson is a versatile quarterback who was also the team’s leading rusher last year and his passing abilities started to shine towards the end of the year with performances of 446 yards against Kentucky and 298 against Florida. Team him up with junior wide receiver Earl Bennett and you have a deadly combination. Bennett has a total of 161 catches for 2,022 yards and 15 touchdowns in just two years. Will Alabama’s new aggressive defense be able to operate smoothly enough to contain these two or will it break down a few times early on while they learn the new system? If they do, it could cost them this game.
Vanderbilt returns eight players on offense and nine on defense. Last year they nearly beat Arkansas and Alabama and they will be looking for revenge when the Crimson Tide comes to play on their turf. Watch out folks, this could very well be the trap game of 2007.
Now on to the more optimistic side of things; who is Alabama likely to upset? Wow, it used to be that Alabama was never the underdog, so this topic was not broached, but since it is, let’s take a look. I think Bama has the talent to hang with any team on the schedule. The toughest games in my opinion will be Georgia, Tennessee, LSU and the barn. Of those games we only play the barn away from Bryant Denny. That would leave conventional wisdom to say that Bama stands a better chance of beating one of the other teams, but I’m not a conventional kind of thinker. I say Coach Nick Saban will put an end to the barn’s winning streak in Sir William Wallace fashion. He stated early on “We have an opponent in this state that we work everyday, 365 days a year to dominate, that is our goal” and I believe he will have the team prepared to win this one. There will be no holding back, no conservative game plans. It will be war!
The barn is loaded with talent, but they just don’t seem to be able to play with consistency at times. Will QB Brandon Cox step up or will he be replaced? If he is replaced BAMA will be facing a less experienced quarterback who will likely falter under the pressure that BAMA’s new defensive scheme should bring. Their offensive line lost four starters last year and I am sure Coach Saban’s defense will take full advantage of it. The offense also lost running back Kenny “Give Me Candy” Irons and wide receiver Courtney Taylor.
Will Alabama’s offensive line step up? Coach Saban has been very complimentary of the offensive line so far, so that is encouraging. Folks this is a grudge match. This game will be fought and won in the trenches. Both team’s success will hinge on their offensive line play. There is no bigger rivalry in the game of college sports. Ears rekindled the flames with his unsportsmanlike “fear the thumb” stuff; now it is getting ugly. Everyone knows that come the Iron Bowl you throw all records out because it is going to be an old fashion brawl. I choose this as the 2007 upset by Alabama and the beginning of the end to Alabama being considered an underdog.
I also think Bama will not only go to a bowl this year, I think they will win it; but what if they don’t win the bowl game, or worse yet they don’t make it to a bowl? I think the Bama fans will be fine as long as they see progress and know there are good times on the horizon.
Roll Tide Folks!