It would require extreme tunnel vision for one to look upon the mess Nebraska finds themselves in currently and not think back to this time last season, when Alabama was also testing how long it would suffer mediocrity. The children of the corn now hope that we prove an object lesson.
For despite Alabama posting an identical record as last year’s squad through the first seven games, only those watchers guilty of athletics Docetism would argue that the Crimson Tide is not an improved product from the previous vintage.
Or perhaps, improving would be the more apt form of the verb.
To review, by this point in the season, last year’s team struggled to find a consistent offense, lost a conference game in overtime, lost to a road game in the state of Florida, won ugly against a weaker non-conference foe, and barely beat a miserable Ole Miss team.
This year’s team, by comparison?
Check, check, check, check, and check.
How then can the Alabama faithful sanely lay claim to improvement?
First, let’s be frank. No discussion of Alabama football should broach a foothold in sanity. We may adopt “realist” perspectives. We may display “due diligence.” We may, certainly, discuss “the Process” “relative to” “our commitment and desire to do well.” But the sane man is merely a timeserver, one who stands with the popular idea of the moment. I will show you sanity in a plastic shaker.
Second, and more on point, this year’s team does things that haven’t been seen in Tuscaloosa for a while. They finish strong. They come back when they’re down. They fight for their spot on the field, and then fight like hell to keep it.
So how good is Alabama?
To borrow an automotive metaphor, Alabama is not a hot rod nor a luxury model. There are teams that better fit those analogies, teams that were and still are on Alabama’s schedule, teams that reach the top 10 and then take their Sisyphean tumble to the other side. Occasionally, a few of these high-class rides even choke at the starting line. Such is the burden of complexity.
No, Alabama is, at best, a bit of a jalopy, perhaps an old muscle car that someone’s dad left out in the yard too long, always swearing he was just a part or two away from getting the ol’ girl back on the road.
Well, tell the old man to take the for sale sign off the dash. This new guy isn’t wishing his way through the parts catalog. His plan is to push her until she breaks, tighten whatever rattled loose, and then push her some more. He’s got a wrench in each hand, grease under his nails from when he used to pump gas for a living, and enough know-how to get her cranked up for one more ride.
And, brother, he may not win the race coming up but give him some time under the hood, and he’ll come back to blow your doors off.