Sunday, October 14, 2012
Tide top BCS ranks despite weak slate
By Alex Scarborough
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama is back in a familiar position, holding onto the driver's seat as the No. 1 team in the country after the release of the season's first BCS rankings on Sunday night.
Despite a relatively weak strength of schedule, the undefeated Crimson Tide were able to overcome a third-place vote in the computer rankings to earn the top spot in the BCS. The poor quality of opponents can be traced to a down season from both Michigan and Arkansas, both of whom began the reason ranked in the top 25 and have since fallen out of the rankings. Past opponents have combined for a 15-13 record, giving Alabama the 23rd toughest schedule among FBS schools.
Alabama has been ranked No. 1 in both the AP and coaches' polls since Week 2. The Tide have taken advantage of a stingy defense and an equally effective offense to jump out to a 6-0 start. Alabama is No. 1 in all four major defensive categories (passing, rushing, scoring and total defense) and is tied for 17th in scoring offense at 40.5 points per game. Junior quarterback AJ McCarron is fifth in the country in passing efficiency with 12 passing touchdowns and no interceptions.
"We have a young team and I think the most important thing for our team to do is to continue to develop the kind of team chemistry, to play with consistency," coach Nick Saban said on ESPN. "I think we've played extremely well at times, but not as well as we need to at time. I think consistency in performance is the most important thing."
Ironically, this is only the second week Alabama has been No. 1 in the BCS since the start of the 2009 season. The Tide never finished above No. 2 last year and had to beat Florida in the SEC Championship to claim the No. 1 spot in 2010.
Alabama has not faced a top 25 team in the BCS this season, but is scheduled to face three ranked teams:
No. 6 LSU;
No. 12 Mississippi State;
No. 18 Texas A&M;
Starting with the Bulldogs at home in two weeks.
Alabama travels to Tennessee on Saturday, followed by the home date against Mississippi State, a road trip to LSU and, finally, its first SEC matchup against conference newbie Texas A&M. Western Carolina and Auburn round out the regular season for Alabama, in that order.
Road trips at Knoxville, Tenn., and Baton Rouge, La., will strain what is arguably the Tide's biggest deficiency -- experience. The UA defense lost three-quarters of its starters from a season ago. Meanwhile, the offense lost a Heisman Trophy candidate at tailback and its top four pass-catchers. The replacements have fared well, but their experience handling success and starting in big games is lacking.
"The big thing is you have to get them to focus on the next game, the next play, the next practice so they don't focus on the external factors," Saban said.
Health might threaten Alabama's spot at No. 1, too. The Tide have lost their starting receiver and two contributing tailbacks to season-ending knee injuries. On Saturday, starting running back Eddie Lacy suffered a bruised hand, adding to his already long list of ailments. Even McCarron was bitten by the injury bug, going down in the third quarter with what Saban called a "bruised knee" which doctors will evaluate further. He returned to the game with a brace on his knee and a hitch in his gait. Saban said on ESPN that "he'll be fine in a day or two."