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» SDA: Rivalry Showdowns

Rivalry week has significant conference and Playoff ramifications. Should Alabama, Mississippi State, Oregon, or Florida State be worried about getting upset by their rivals?

04 Sep 2012

One Foot Inbounds: Alabama, Equal-Opportunity Oppressor

by Matt Hinton

It doesn't seem to reverberate quite as loudly or relentlessly as it used to, maybe because even many SEC fans are starting to find it kind of boring or played out. But even if it's strictly obligatory, the dreaded S-E-C! chant lives on: there it was again Saturday night, briefly wafting through the rafters of Cowboys Stadium and into living rooms and bars across America as Alabama's first half lead over Michigan climbed past the point of no return. In its original context, there is still nothing ironic about it. The call is aggressive; it's an ode to aggression. Yes, they're loud. Yes, they're obnoxious. Yes, they know you, stoic Big Ten fan, would love nothing more than for them to shut up. But what are you or your team going to do to make them?

For Alabama fans, whose greatest joy in life is informing a vanquished opponent "We just beat the hell outta you!" the stance comes naturally, especially after five years of dominant displays on Nick Saban's watch. Saturday was a classic of the genre: by the time Michigan finally got on the board in the second quarter, its first six offensive possessions of the night had produced 24 yards, four punts and two turnovers, and the Crimson Tide were shifting into cruise control up 31-0. Asides from two scoring "drives" as a result of big plays, only one of Michigan's other ten chances with the ball managed to cross the 50-yard-line –- and that one only barely, limping to the 'Bama 46 before fizzling out in a turnover on downs.

If that sounds familiar, it should: it's nearly a verbatim description of LSU's long, fruitless night against the Alabama defense in the BCS Championship Game in January, only without the big plays. In fact, it's a description of what Alabama does to pretty much everyone, the SEC included. All eight of the Crimson Tide's conference wins last year came by at least 20 points. Only one conference opponent (Arkansas) managed to score more than one touchdown on the 'Bama defense; no one scored more than two. On Saturday, the Wolverines were clearly overmatched and overwhelmed, and also gained more yards and scored as many points against Alabama's defense as any SEC offense in 2011. Under Saban, the Tide are equal opportunity overlords, and they may be selling themselves short in the name of touting the ongoing dominance of a conference the Crimson Tide continue to dominate.

So for all the Wolverines know, based on Saturday night, they may turn out to be the rough equivalent of the defending SEC champs. Anyway, it's not like the Big Ten covered itself in glory elsewhere Saturday. Minnesota opened its season with a vivid display of its ongoing futility, barely escaping a triple-overtime upset at the hand of lowly UNLV. The burly Wisconsin juggernaut wheezed its way past an FCS outfit, Northern Iowa, that took the Badgers to the wire. Iowa had to rally late to beat Northern Illinois by one. Penn State, wounds still fresh from the Sandusky scandal and subsequent NCAA sanctions, dropped its first game under Bill O'Brien to Ohio U. of Ohio, by double digits. Indiana… well, any win by Indiana these days is a kind of miracle, so we won't begrudge them a struggle with Indiana State.

As optimistic as Nebraska and Ohio State may be after reassuring blowouts, and as Michigan State may be after a solid win over Boise State that was not nearly as close in the box score as it was on the scoreboard, there is still almost certainly no team in the Big Ten that would have fared much better against Alabama in Michigan's shoes. But there may not be another one in the SEC, either.

TOEDRAGS

  • It didn't make a big splash, but the most shocking score of the weekend for anyone paying attention was Texas State 30, Houston 13, in the Bobcats' first game as a full-fledged FBS program. This is the same Houston that led the nation in 2011 in total and scoring offense, set a school record for wins, and came within one game of a BCS bowl. Then again, the Cougars were replacing their head coach, both coordinators, the most prolific passer in the history of college football, and six of their top seven receivers. So perhaps the 34-point line in their favor Saturday was slightly ... optimistic. At any rate, it's too late for offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt, who was promptly fired Monday after his first and only game on the job.
  • Don't hold me to this, please, but the most impressive debut in the SEC East came courtesy of the ostensible Sick Man of the division, Tennessee. While Florida and Georgia were trudging through uninspiring wins over MAC cupcakes, and South Carolina and Vanderbilt were bludgeoning each other with punts on Thursday night, the Vols successfully carpet-bombed N.C. State into submission in a wild, 35-21 win in the Georgia Dome, introducing America to electrifying juco transfer Cordarrelle Patterson in the process. Patterson scored two long touchdowns in his first quarter of major college action, both at the expense of the Wolfpack's All-American cornerback, David Amerson. With Patterson on one side and future first-rounder Justin Hunter on the other, quarterback Tyler Bray still has the conference's most dangerous 1-2 receiving punch at his disposal. This despite last year's All-SEC target, Da'Rick Rogers, managing to smoke his way off the team.
  • On the first leg of the "Big Shoes to Fill" tour, Baylor's Nick Florence put up alarmingly RG3-worthy numbers in the Bears' 59-24 obliteration of SMU on Sunday night, tempered only by the fact that he was, you know, throwing against SMU. By any measure, Florence's effort was miles ahead of his legend-following counterpart at Stanford, Josh Nunes, whose first game in place of Andrew Luck resulted in fewer points (20) on fewer yards (286) than Stanford earned in any of Luck's 38 career starts from 2009-11. Fortunately for Nunes, it also ended in a Cardinal win, although not by nearly the margin they've come to expect against the likes of San Jose State.
  • In the Pac-12, Rich Rodriguez's debut as Arizona's head coach was vintage RichRod in terms of moving the ball: The Wildcats racked up 600 yards of total offense against Toledo, with monster games from quarterback Matt Scott and tailback Ka'Deem Carey, both of whom would have looked right at home in one of the scorched-earth attacks Rodriguez assembled at West Virginia in the last decade. It wasn't quite as spectacular on the scoreboard, where 'Zona had to go to overtime to finish off the Rockets, 24-17, thanks to a handful of turnovers and other missed opportunities. But it was certainly a better coming-out party than disappointed Washington State fans saw from their new offensive mastermind, Mike Leach, whose offense was held out of the end zone entirely in a 30-6 debacle at BYU.

OFI TOP 25

1. Alabama
2. USC
3. LSU
4. Oregon
5. Florida State
6. Ohio State
7. West Virginia
8. Virginia Tech
9. Clemson
10. Oklahoma
11. Michigan State
12. Nebraska
13. Wisconsin
14. South Carolina
15. Arkansas
16. Georgia
17. Texas
18. Oklahoma State
19. Tennessee
20. BYU
21. Stanford
22. Florida
23. Louisville
24. North Carolina
25. Notre Dame

Posted by: Matt Hinton on 04 Sep 2012

20 comments, Last at 07 Sep 2012, 3:54pm by tsmonk

Comments

1
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 5:43pm

Other than the laundry, why did we think U-M was going to be good? They put up 184 yards of total offense on VT (and were lucky to have only one TO), and now only 269 (most of that garbage) on Alabama.

Seems that MSU and VT provided the blueprint for handling Denard Robinson, and Alabama used both.

2
by Thunderbolt of ... :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 6:18pm

Aside from those two games, remember that Michigan is returning almost everyone from an 11-2 team. While Michigan didn't have any signature wins last year, some improvement is to be expected, and you can be a top 10-15 team by beating the bad teams and losing to the really good ones (see, e.g., Georgia, or the ACC champ du jour).

5
by Subrata Sircar :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 7:26pm

Michigan isn't returning Mike Martin (NT/DT), Ryan Van Bergen (DT/DE) and David Molk (Rimington-award-winning C), none of whom would look out of place on a U of M All-Decade team (a line with LeMar Woodley and Brandon Graham plus those two would be devastating). If you believe that these games are won on the line of scrimmage, the only way to make this worse would have been to lose Taylor Lewan (LT, preseason All-American) to the NFL as well.

That said, they should be in the mix for a B1G title, but weaker lines and a brutal schedule will likely overshadow experience gained elsewhere and any continuing growth from Denard Robinson. I was hoping for 8-4 with wins over MSU and OSU myself.

3
by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 6:38pm

Michigan State might be able to play Alabama to a low scoring loss, which means on a lucky day they might be able to win.

6
by Subrata Sircar :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 7:30pm

MSU's defense is excellent, but their offense consists of a zero-experience passing game with good running backs and a reasonable O-line; Michigan's offense should be better than that (time will tell), and Alabama schemed superbly against their running game to make them pass the ball. It sure seems like that would work even better against Maxwell than Robinson.

That matchup seems likely to produce a turnover-filled evening where Alabama gets enough short fields to convert and inexorably grinds down the Sparty D. The score would be closer, but I'd have no doubt about the outcome.

7
by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 10:43pm

You really have not watched the game closely enough if you say you have no doubt about the outcome of a game between any two teams of quality. Yes, Alabama would be an extremely strong favorite. No, that doesn't mean that if they lost it would be an upset of historic proportions. This isn't a Soviet hockey squad filled with players who are NHL All-Star caliber, having the benefit of playing together for years, losing to a bunch of young guys who have played about 50 games together, with only a few who would be good enough to stick as professionals for more than a couple years.

If Michigan State had a good day on defense, and the Tide dropped the ball a couple times, the guys in the green shirts could win in a non-shocking upset.

4
by Heisman212 (not verified) :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 7:13pm

A close loss for MSU, are you serious? They got beat by 42 in the bowl game vs Bama!

8
by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/04/2012 - 11:16pm

You do understand that game was 21 months ago, right?

It always is a wonder to me when people believe in stasis with a near-religious Faith.

(edit) To add on, think about the implication of what you have written; it implies that it would be a stunning upset if Alabama were to lose a game this year. I couldn't find what the Vegas odds were for that proposition were before last week, but I doubt they agreed with your implication. Stuff happens, with regular frequency, that people opine on by saying, prior to it happening, "That won't happen".

16
by Jonadan :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 7:48pm

That doesn't make it not a "massive upset", though. MSU beating Alabama - even in a squeaker with insane luck and the refs on their side, let alone straight-up and/or handily - would be a massive upset. It's very unlikely. Obviously that doesn't make it impossible. But did anyone say it did?

---
"When you absolutely don't know what to do any more, then it's time to panic." - Johann van der Wiel

17
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Thu, 09/06/2012 - 12:16am

There's less of a difference between MSU and Alabama than there was between Texas Tech and Oklahoma last year.

18
by Will Allen :: Thu, 09/06/2012 - 12:42am

I think your defined parameters of "very unlikely" are quite different than mine.

9
by tsmonk (not verified) :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 10:37am

It'd be highly unlikely, but MSU's got promise. I'd never "shut the door" on a team with an opportunistic defense and a bull in the backfield (I think Bell got 6 or 7 quality runs where he had little or no push from the line). 90 penalty yds and 4 TO's isn't going to cut it, but if they can clean up and get proficient at the play-action I think they'll be dangerous.

10
by usernaim250 :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 11:50am

On a great day--collect all fumbles, get a lucky call or two, score a long td on a return--MSU might be able to keep within two touchdowns of Alabama. On a regular day, it would look much like the game Alabama just played.

That's the whole point of the article. Alabama does this to everyone on D. And now they have a passing game.

12
by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 1:54pm

Yes, we have such an overwhelmingly large sample size with which to conclude that they do this to everyone. Take a moment and listen to yourself, or, conversely, if you really believe your rhetoric, bet your entire net worth on Alabama every game this season.

15
by Roscoe :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 3:56pm

This is exactly correct. The ball has a funny shape and sometimes takes funny bounces. And injuries are a big factor and are always random. Alabama might be favored to win every game this year, but Vegas is putting the odds at them running the table at about 7 to 2 against. So some smart people are willing to put a lot of money on Alabama dropping one this year.

11
by bombastulin (not verified) :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 12:13pm

Sure it's possible MSU could beat Alabama, but I'd lay 10 and take the Tide in a heartbeat, and that's if they played in East Lansing. 15 in Tuscaloosa, and I only take bets that I think are very solid.

13
by Will Allen :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 1:58pm

That's eminently reasonable. It's just so ridiculous, that after year, after year, after year, of people claiming that "x" can't happen in a sportimg event, followed by "x" happening, that people still engage in this foolishness.

14
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 09/05/2012 - 3:50pm

Nick Saban might be the only person in Alabama who even knows where East Lansing is, given how rarely SEC teams come north of the Ohio river.

It's been... 26 years now since Florida last did it?

Incidentally, Alabama was lucky last year that FEI doesn't count FCS games, because Georgia Southern ran for 302 on them last year and was only down 24-14 at the half (31-21 halfway through the 3rd).

19
by Sam Miles (not verified) :: Thu, 09/06/2012 - 3:02pm

Bama actually has a home and home with Sparty coming up in the next few years i understand.I think we'll see better matchups with the playoffs coming.Roll Tide!

20
by tsmonk (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 3:54pm

What, Penn St isn't north of the Ohio River? Bama was just there last year.