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.
- 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.
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OFI TOP 25
5. Florida State
6. Ohio State
7. West Virginia
8. Virginia Tech
11. Michigan State
14. South Carolina
18. Oklahoma State
24. North Carolina
25. Notre Dame