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College Football 2010: Roll Tide?
by Larry Ness - 09/01/2010
Nick Saban's Alabama team of 2008 entered its SEC championship game showdown with Florida ranked No. 1 in the nation sporting a 12-0 record but as 10-point underdogs to then-No. 2 Florida. The oddsmakers, not the polls, had it right as the Gators won 31-20. Florida would advance from there to beat Oklahoma 24-14 in the BCS title game and claim the school's second national championship in three years. As for the Tide, Alabama would finish its 2008 season in the Sugar Bowl where it was soundly beaten by Utah 31-17, a nine-point underdog. The 2009 season had a much different two-game ending for the Alabama program.
Saban's team was again 12-0 at the time of the 2009 SEC championship game on December 5 but this time it was ranked No. 2 behind No. 1 Florida. The Gators were again favored, but this time by just five points. This time around, the Tide were the much better team. Alabama jumped out to a 9-0 lead and led 19-13 at the half. The Tide controlled the entire second half, eventually winning 32-13. Alabama outgained Florida 26-13 in FDs and 490-to-335 in yards( Ied in TOP by just under 40-20 minutes). QB McElroy was 12-of-18 for 239 yards with one TD and zero INTs plus RB Ingram ran for 113 yards and three TDs plus caught two passes for another 76 yards.
The following Saturday, Mark Ingram (227 first-place votes) would become the school's first-ever Heisman Trophy winner, edging Stanford's Toby Gerhart (222) and Texas' Colt McCoy (203). Then, just over a month after winning the SEC title, Alabama beat Texas 37-21 in the BCS championship game (January 7, 2010 in the Rose Bowl). The national championship win was the fourth straight for the SEC, as Florida won in 2006 and 2008 with LSU winning in 2007. It was Saban's second national championship (he won at LSU in 2003) and it marked Alabama's first-ever BCS national title, as well as its first national title since 1992. The legendary Alabama program can now claim eight national championships since the advent of the polls in the 1930s and last year's title was its seventh AP championship all-time (won the AP title unanimously in 2009).
The coaches' preseason poll was released first and Alabama got 55 of 59 first-place votes, easily claiming the No. 1 spot. The AP poll followed and similarly, Alabama came out on top. The Tide garnered 54 of 60 first-place votes and just like in the coaches' poll, was comfortably ahead of No. 2-ranked Ohio State. It marks the first time since the 1978 season in which Alabama opens a season as the AP's No. 1 team. Is that good or bad news? One can't ignore this history. Just 10 of the previous 60 preseason No. 1 teams in the AP poll have gone on to capture the AP national championship (only Florida State in 1999 and USC in 2004, led the AP rankings wire-to-wire).
Alabama enters this season with an offense which returns eight or nine starters (you decide?), including the defending Heisman Trophy winner (RB Mark Ingram) plus a QB in Greg McElroy who is 30-0 as a starting QB going back to his high school career. The defense lost nine starters, including three All-Americans (Arenas, Cody and McClain), but is anybody seriously concerned that Saban won't field and awesome defensive unit in 2010? Alabama hosts Penn State on September 11 and Florida on October 2 in its first five games. The Tide plays at dangerous Arkansas (9/25) the week before Florida and must travel to Baton Rogue to face LSU on November 6.
This could be quite a year for Alabama. The school hadn't produced a single Heisman winner until last year and now Ingram has a chance to become just the second two-time winner in the award's history (joining Ohio State's Archie Griffin who won in 1974-75). A second straight national championship in 2010 would allow Alabama to join Oklahoma and Nebraska as the only schools to have won back-to-back AP titles, twice. Oklahoma won consecutive titles in both 1955-56 and 1974-75 while Nebraska "double-dipped" in 1970-71 and again in 1994-95. Alabama won AP titles in 1964-65 and now can repeat that feat by adding one in 2010 to last year's championship. Will this be the fifth consecutive year in which an SEC team wins the BCS title? Florida opens No. 4 in the AP preseason poll and four other SEC teams populate the top-25 (Arkansas at 17, LSU at 21, Auburn at 22 and Georgia at 23), giving the conference the most top-25 teams (six).
The ACC has five teams in the preseason top-25, with Virginia Tech leading the way at No. 10. Miami-Florida checks in at 13, Georgia Tech at 16, North Carolina at 18 and Florida State (sans Bobby Bowden) at 20. Boise State's current head coach Chris Peterson has put up a remarkable 49-4 (.926) record in his first four seasons with the Broncos (2005-09), as Boise ended the decade as college football's winningest program (112-17, .868). Petersen's starting QB these last two seasons is now-junior, Kellen Moore. Moore's led the Broncos to a 26-1 record in 2008-09, including a 17-10 Fiesta Bowl win over TCU which gives the WAC school (soon to be MWC school) its second BCS bowl win since 2006. Think that's not impressive? In comparison, the entire ACC owns just two BCS bowl wins since 1998! The Broncos finished last season ranked 4th in the AP poll and have opened at No. 3 in its preseason poll, the school's highest preseason ranking ever.
If Boise State wins its season-opener vs preseason No. 10 Virginia Tech (at FedEx Field, home of the Redskins) on Labor Day night (September 6), in what is will be the biggest regular season game in school history, the Broncos have a realistic chance to "run the table." If that happens, it is not inconceivable that Boise State could be one of the two teams playing in this year's BCS championship game. Oklahoma, just 8-5 in 2009, is ranked No. 7, the highest preseason ranking of any school which did not finish among last years' top-25.
I'll return Friday with teams "streaking" into the 2010 season.