College Football Coverage: Alabama’s Win Leaves Questions

Johnny Manziel looked the part of a back-to-back Heisman Trophy winner, as the Texas A&M sophomore quarterback shredded Nick Saban’s Alabama defense for 464 yards on 28/39 passing. But the Tide got a good performance of their own from quarterback A.J. McCarron and a lot from running back T.J. Yeldon. With the 49-42 road win, the Crimson Tide seem home free, at least for the balance of the regular season, but their performances both here and in the opener against Virginia Tech continue to provide more questions than answers.

We saw in the Virginia Tech game that Alabama had serious problems moving the ball against a team with a legitimate defense, with only special teams’ touchdowns and a defensive score saving them from a dogfight. With three new offensive lineman on a unit that was otherworldly in their 2012 title run, that was to be expected.

What was not to be expected is that the Alabama defense would be made to look impotent by a competent offensive team. While I certainly grant that no other quarterback the Tide will face is on a par with Manziel, giving up 42 points—including a 95-yard touchdown pass that got A&M off the ropes after they’d trailed by three touchdowns in the second half—doesn’t suggest that this Tide unit can carry a team.

Nor am I prepared to say that Alabama offense answered its questions. McCarron, 20/29 for 334 yards and no interceptions was excellent, as was Yeldon, who piled up 149 yards. But consider the competition—A&M’s defense has also been picked apart by Rice and looked shaky against Sam Houston State. The only “question’ the ‘Bama offense answered was whether they were at least as good as Rice.

Therefore, Alabama has clear vulnerabilities, but will it matter anytime between now and December? I’m saying no. It’s not that I think the Tide are a lock to go undefeated—Ole Miss is  playing some good football, as demonstrated by their 44-23 throttling of Texas, with a potent ground game taking over in the second half. LSU never plays scared under Les Miles and they’re showing some signs of offensive life.

But both Ole Miss and LSU are far from perfect—the Tigers are young, and the Rebels are both young and lack pedigree in a genuinely big game. Furthermore, both of these teams come to Alabama. And double furthermore, even if Alabama loses one of these games, it’s still highly likely that they finish the season 11-1, still win the SEC West and still go to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

And that’s the crux of this—the Alabama regular season boils down to a single objective—get in position for an Atlanta-Pasadena parlay to produce a third straight national championship. I think it unlikely that a one-loss SEC team will kept out of the BCS National Championship Game, even if there are two unbeatens from power conferences.

The league’s recent track record is too overwhelming, and given how bad a conference like, for example, the Big Ten, has looked, I think there would be a serious credibility problem if we were given an Ohio State-Stanford game, even if both teams were undefeated. Or Clemson-Oregon, or Florida State-Oklahoma, or any other combination you think likely. And while I hate saying it, because I like to give the huge benefit of the doubt to teams that haven’t lost, the recent SEC track record would lead me to argue on behalf of the conference in such a scenario.

TheSportsNotebook’s college football coverage updates the BCS bowl projections here.