Alabama?s Gauntlet Begins
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
EXTREMELY CHALLENGING CRIMSON TIDE SCHEDULE BEGINS SATURDAY AT ARKANSAS
If Alabama is able to run the table this year and win its second straight national championship, it might be the single most impressive feat we've seen in our lifetimes in college football.
Not because repeating as BCS champions is hard (though, it's plenty hard!). But, because Alabama has been cursed with a conference schedule this year the likes of which no other contender has faced.
Sure, contenders play a few tough games per year. But, there's not typically THIS many tough challenges, and they usually aren't stacked up consecutively.
Texas and Oklahoma have to worry about each other in the Big 12 South. They can schedule appropriately around that showdown. Ohio State always gets motivated efforts from its opponents. There just aren't that many dangerous opponents any more in the Big Ten in terms of great talent. And, those that come along usually aren't jammed together in the same month.
Here's what Alabama has to face in the coming weeks...starting tomorrow in a nationally televised tilt against an SEC West rival:
Arkansas has returned to national prominence under Bobby Petrino. They currently rank 10th in the nation in the AP poll, and 11th in the Coaches' poll thanks to a dramatic win over Georgia last week. Maybe the Hogs aren't really a top 10 team. They certainly have top 20 talent and a Heisman contending quarterback.
Any road game in the SEC is tough. A trip to Fayetteville is rarely a part for the visitors. Arkansas will be facing one of the best Arkansas teams in years tomorrow afternoon on CBS.
Hello! This is the new power rivalry in college football because we're talking about national championship contenders. These two teams won the last two championships, and had to beat the other team in the SEC championship game to get to the BCS championship game. THIS WILL BE A WAR!
Florida has currently dropped to #9 in the AP poll and #8 in the Coaches' poll because of sluggish efforts offensively earlier this season. The defense is still a national championship defense. Alabama will be favored, but is far from a sure thing to survive this game. Florida was favored with Tim Tebow last year on a neutral field and couldn't get the job done. Defensive dogs will play big in the most important games.
Okay...let's stop right here. Who else in the country will have a sequence like THIS in 2010? Playing on the road against a top 10 team one week, then coming home to face another top 10 team the very next Saturday. This is Texas and Oklahoma having to play each other two weeks in a row! Texas will face Nebraska after Oklahoma, but will have a bye week first. We've just started the discussion, and Alabama is already facing a tough challenge.
AT SOUTH CAROLINA
Whoa! This game got interesting this year because South Carolina has opened the season very well. They have a running attack that can move the chains. The quarterback is now a seasoned veteran rather than an erratic question mark. The defense hits people and hurts them. One reason Georgia couldn't beat Arkansas last week at home was because South Carolina had beat them up so bad the week before.
South Carolina is currently ranked 12th in the AP poll, and 15th in the Coaches' poll. If the polls are right, Alabama faces three top 15 teams in the next three weeks without a day off...with two of the games on the road...and the home game coming against a superpower. If the polls are wrong, we're still looking at top 20 or top 25 caliber teams most likely with Arkansas and South Carolina.
Wait, there's more.
You might think this will be easy since Ole Miss has been upset a couple of times already. Tim Tebow once thought an Ole Miss game was going to be easy, and he was crying in the postgame press conference!
Ole Miss won stats in those two surprising losses...and is far from a pushover. Maybe in a generic week. Certainly after a bye. Alabama's the much better team. But...after a three-week gauntlet that presents tremendous physical challenges, the Crimson Tide could easily have very little left in the tank when this game comes up on the schedule. Ole Miss is a VERY dangerous dog...talented...explosive...revenge-minded...and looking to atone for early season mistakes.
Again, no byes in the mix here. This is four games on four Saturdays against foes capable of beating a flat Alabama, and giving a tired Alabama a thrill.
Okay, the weakest of the bunch. But, it is the fifth game in five weeks...it's the third road game in five weeks...and it's the point in the gauntlet where the legs could be gone for Alabama. We've seen upsets like this all the time in college football. A motivated home underdog gets sky high for the big name opponent...and the big name opponent can't bring anywhere near that level of intensity.
Don't forget that Tennessee almost beat Alabama LAST year on the road!
Should Alabama have already lost somewhere in the gauntlet, Tennessee becomes much less dangerous. But...if the Tide beat Arkansas, survive Florida, outlast South Carolina, and dodge a bullet against Ole Miss, the stage will be set here for a headline-making result.
Now we get to a bye week. On Saturday, October 30th, the players of the Alabama Crimson Tide will be sitting on their couches like you watching other teams play games. It's exhausting just thinking about what the squad has to accomplish between now and then to stay undefeated and #1 in the country.
Is it smooth sailing after this? Can Alabama finally relax and coast through the remaining games on the schedule.
NO! The first game back is on the road at LSU. The Tigers are #15 in the AP right now, and #12 in the Coaches' poll.
You have to give Alabama credit for scheduling Penn State in non-conference action. If anyone could have used the WAY OVERUSED argument that they have to schedule soft in September because the conference schedule is so hard...it was the 2010 Tide. Mack Brown has been saying this at Texas for years as the league has raced downhill to near-extinction. Alabama lines up and hits people. And, their lead by a head coach who learned in the NFL how to develop that kind of week-to-week mindset.
Whenever you get into debates about the "greatest team of all time," you run into all sorts of obstacles about how the game has changed, how scholarship limits have shaped the landscape, how weightlifting has turned boys into supermen. We'll say this. If Alabama runs the table this year (which would include a rematch with either Florida or South Carolina in the SEC championship game, THEN a BCS contest with probably Ohio State or Boise State), it would be the single greatest team achievement in the history of the sport. Nobody else could even make a comparable case.
So, as you watch Alabama/Arkansas tomorrow on CBS...evaluate the Tide in regards to the challenges ahead. You'll be handicapping all of those other games too. You'll probably be watching them on TV. Where will the Tide stub their toe? Will they stub their toe? Will they break a leg somewhere instead? Perhaps the two biggest dynamics of the coming season will be:
- Can Alabama survive this gauntlet from a Hong Kong martial arts film of the 1980's to lift the trophy once again?
- Can Boise State keep winning by enough vs. weak teams to stay in the race? (Note: we'll preview Boise State's prime time battle with Oregon State in tomorrow's edition of the NOTEBOOK).
JIM HURLEY has some very strong ideas about this weekend and the rest of the season. He's also aware that teams besides Boise and Alabama will be making their presence felt. Maybe those OTHER teams are the ones to bet in the next month!
You can sign up for seasonal service right now online. Link up with the BLUE RIBBON, CLOSED CIRCUIT, or TOUCHDOWN CLUB...and tonight's TCU/SMU winner on ESPN will be your first big play. Alabama/Arkansas may be on our Saturday slate. There are so many options it's just too early to guess on a Friday. Other games of interest for us besides the two we've mentioned:
South Carolina at Auburn
Stanford at Notre Dame
West Virginia at LSU
California at Arizona
Oklahoma at Cincinnati
UCLA at Texas
And, as you've seen in the past, sometimes it's an "off the radar" game that makes the biggest splash for NETWORK because oddsmakers weren't paying enough attention.
If you have any questions about service, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.
JIM HURLEY knows what it's like to face a gauntlet. He's expected to win EVERY WEEK because of his 20-year track record in the industry. Well folks, THAT'S HOW YOU LAST 20-PLUS YEARS IN THE INDUSTRY!
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