I'm not sold on Alabama. This is a team that, more than any other in the conference, has benefited from the media's love affair with the SEC over the last two years; a conference that, for all of the praise it's gotten, had all of 1.5 good teams last year (Florida and occasionally Alabama). Let's look at the numbers:
Alabama 2008 numbers
2008 offense: 42nd in yards/game; 35th nationally in points/game
2008 defense: 3rd in yards/game allowed; 6th in points/game allowed
Those are good numbers. But they look more like the numbers that a team like Ohio State puts up every year. Alabama gets the nod here, however, because they play in the immaculate SEC, which, again, was pretty mediocre last year. Alabama's best win came in a road game at the hands of a 10-3 Georgia team that was also largely overrated because of their conference. Their other two marquee wins came in a road game against an 8-5 LSU outfit, and a road game in the first game of the season against a 7-6 Clemson team. This resume and their subsequent production does not scream "National Contender" to me.
But the story gets worse for Alabama 2009: The nine players they lost to the NFL Draft/NFL. The first was Andre Smith, their star-turned-bust left tackle, who, before he went haywire, was talked about as a possible #1 overall pick. Their quaterback, John Parker Wilson. Their running back, Glenn Coffee. And a whole messload of other critical players. But the fact remains: Alabama, who may or may not have been a legitimate contender last year, lost the core of their offense and a number of different key defensive players. And yet they're still in the national picture as title contenders. Let us not forget what happened to them in the Sugar Bowl (which was basically a home game).
In their three games this year (#7 [#11 now] Virginia Tech, North Texas, and Florida Internatinal) Alabama is:
2009 Offense: 5th in yards/game; tied for 12th in points/game
2009 Defense: 3rd in yards/game allowed; 24th in points/game allowed
Those numbers seem more indicative of a team that has national title hopes. (Don't forget though: These are the nonconference cupcakes everyone schedules. They've looked good against them, but watch their numbers when SEC play rolls around.) And Alabama even has a win over what looks to be a good Virginia Tech team. But that's exactly how it happened last year too, only last year, it was Clemson who was highly ranked and dropped off significantly as the year went on. So do they deserve to be the unanimous #3 in the country right now? (Or more importantly, did they deserve to be #5 preseason, given the losses on their roster and performance against Utah in the Sugar Bowl?)
Alabama will continue to win games, but look for them to lose a few that you thought they wouldn't. A tentative 9-3 record this year, with possible losses to Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU, and Mississippi State--and they don't even have to play SEC big dog Florida. This team is no where near as convincing as they might appear this early this season. Don't believe the hype.
A lot can be made about the SEC beating each other up and losing a lot of games to one another, and, well, fine. That happens in a lot of leagues. The SEC doesn't have too many push overs a la the Big Ten, necessarily, but there are also separate tiers of talent in the league; it's not quite as overwhelmingly great as the national media would have you believe. To this, I can only shrug my shoulders and say, Meh. The Big Ten, for example, may have been a two-man league last year (Ohio State and Penn State), but Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Northwestern were no pushovers--the likes of many of those SEC teams that had been uniformly praised. Big Ten bowl-game woes--while they can not completely be dismissed--can be explained by the conference's national tie-ins, forcing not-that-great Big Ten teams to face off against the elite of other conferences. A re-alignment this year could cure these ills.