Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It Happens: How Alabama Rebounds in 2014

The most telling moment of the 2013 Alabama football season didn’t come from an Alabama player.

As Chris Davis scampered into the end zone and all hell broke loose on the plains, Alabama QB A.J. McCarron walked over to his family and then-girlfriend, now-wife Katherine Webb. When McCarron approach, Webb cocked her head slightly to side, said, “I’m sorry,” and gave him a kiss.

nick saban shrugged
It was the same reaction my girlfriend would give me if I complained about being stuck on the Metro. It was not the reaction you would expect following one of college football’s most historic losses.

I was rewatched the replay of the ending and this really confused me. Maybe I missed it when watching it live, but why didn’t they seem more upset?

Quickly, the camera pans to Nick Saban taking his headset off and walking to shake hands with Gus Malzahn with the disgusted look of someone who has to stay an extra hour at work on a Tuesday.

Then it hit me – the Alabama/Auburn game was the ultimate, “Shit Happens” game and everyone associated with Alabama football knew it as soon as it happened.

There are all types of losses in sports. The “Shit Happens” loss – or “It Happens” for the families – is the rarest.

Stunningly, Auburn pulled off two of these in a row last year and the response from the felled was telling. When Georgia gave up a late miracle touchdown, its coaches famously crumbled to the turf because their entire worlds had been shattered. When Alabama did the same, Nick Saban essentially shrugged his shoulders.

It happens, right?

It’s a lot harder to get worked up about such circumstances as a two-time defending national champion. If that exact last second play was redone 1,000 times, it’s entirely likely Auburn would have won the game in regulation zero times.

The fallout from that game became a talking point this summer after Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, in a strange show of bravado, spent his offseason taking shots at the entire SEC based on the Sugar Bowl. Nick Saban countered, as only he can, by essentially saying his team didn’t give a crap.

I agree with Saban. And it’s why I think Oklahoma is this season’s most overrated in the preseason.

There is precedent with the Crimson Tide and Sugar Bowl no-shows. They infamously forget to show up for the start of the 2009 edition, falling behind 21-0 to a Utah team that was much, much better than they expected.

The following year, Alabama won its first national title in 17 years and ran off three in four years.

But the comparisons to the 2009 season pretty much end after the Sugar Bowl loss hangover. The 2009 Tide brought back its starting quarterback. That team was not the SEC favorite, an honor that bestowed on the Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators. And that team began the season in Atlanta against a Top 10 Virginia Tech team – this year’s team faces a 4-win West Virginia team.

So despite the two consecutive losses to end 2013 and the departure of A.J. McCarron, as well as the usual NFL migration of top talent, Alabama begins the season behind only defending champion Florida State in the polls.

Alabama is expected to make the first college football playoff. Personally, I don’t think they will but I’ve been wrong before and I’ll certainly be wrong again.

The plight of the Alabama football team this year will be one of the sport’s most eagerly anticipated storylines but it may not be one that has any interest until November.

Look at the schedule over the first two months and tell me who is going to beat Alabama. The non-conference slate opens with West Virginia, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss – three teams that combined to win as many as Alabama in 2013.

Of the first five SEC opponents, Florida and Arkansas are coming off of atrocious seasons, Tennessee remains a work in progress and Texas A&M returns to Tuscaloosa without Johnny Football. With the possible exception of the road trip to Ole Miss, there is a realistic chance that Alabama arrives in Death Valley on November 8 undefeated and untested.

For a conference that is supposed to be teeming with power teams, Alabama drew just about the softest schedule imaginable – no Georgia, no South Carolina, no Missouri and no non-conference tests.

Regardless of schedule or opponents, Alabama is must see television, particularly following the ugly end to 2013.

What will we see? Will Alabama be able to carry that offseason motivation through an early cupcake slate? Will Nick Saban be able to get his team championship-ready if the first SEC games provide little to no resistance? Will the lack of tough opponents become a talking point for their playoff possibilities?

It’s unfortunate that we may not get these answers for three long months. But you might want to hold off on making any plans the night of November 8. 

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