February 06, 2009
I've spent the the second half of this recruiting-centric week talking about Alabama's second straight top-ranked class, and whether that's enough to move the Tide into the elite group of mega-talented teams in the year-in, year-out discussion for the national championship. In the short term, I think, it probably will, providing Nick Saban maintains his stranglehold on the state and the Tide can improve at quarterback.
But in the even shorter term, 'Bama has another obstacle to overcome to catch up in its own conference:
(Wait, remind me: Who were the top three teams in all those way-too-early top-25 polls last month? And which teams have accounted for each of the last six national championships?)
Despite 'Bama's enormous recruiting success -- even dating back to the last year of the Shula administration and a hastily-assembled debut effort by Saban in 2007, more four and five-star prospects have signed on for Tuscaloosa than anywhere except Florida and USC -- the Tide has struggled mightily to keep those players. Its roster this fall is going to skew very young; good for 2010 and 2011, not so much for now. The Gators and Trojans' Signing Days were as notable for the big names they somehow didn't land as for their stellar finishes, but make no mistake: For depth and sheer physical dominance, they still own the present.
On a similar note, the one team that looks "too good to fail" for a second year in a row is LSU, whose decline last year was not quite on the level of what we've seen recently from Notre Dame, Miami, Michigan, Tennessee and Auburn, and which seems to be well-equipped to come tearing back. Off the top of my head, knowing LSU returns a quarterback who's played and Alabama doesn't, I'd peg the Tigers as the West Division favorite next year, and would fully expect them to be back in the national title discussion if not for the matter of facing Florida -- possibly twice. You don't even have to account for the Tebow Child to know this team, on paper, should be embarrassed for anyone to even speculate on its potential defeat until (if/when) it runs into USC in a bowl game (I know everyone loves the underdog and Texas is very, very good, but please, god, give USC new quarterback the strength to make that game happen). The Alabama insurgency needs another year before it can reach that level across the board.