It only seems like Alabama obsessed all offseason about facing six SEC opponents coming off bye weeks.
The SEC schedule wasn't finalized until late summer as the school and league tried to move opponents around to keep from the dreaded six-pack. The Tuscaloosa News had revealed that over a three-year period Alabama had faced more bye-week opponents (17) than any SEC school. The best Bama could do was move Georgia State from a Saturday to a Thursday in November, thus allowing nine days before the Nov. 26 Auburn game.
That doesn't help things now. The Tide are on the brink of falling out of national championship contention after Saturday's loss to South Carolina. Their fall from No. 1 to No. 8 in the AP poll is the second-biggest fall for an in-season No. 1 since 1996. (Nebraska fell to No. 8 that year after losing to Arizona State). While Bama can still win the SEC and compete for the national championship, the final six conference opponents are going to be well rested. At least one columnist said the schedule already has caught up to the former No. 1.
Meanwhile, Nick Saban is trying to turn that offseason obsession into an in-season footnote. After 19 consecutive victories that included a national championship, Saban said this week his team may have believed a bit too much in itself.
"It's drinking the Kool-Aid, thinking that just because they say it on ESPN, it's so. Reading the newspapers all week. Just because you beat Florida 31-6, people start talking about you being the best team in the country. We're not the best team in the country. We had the best team in the country last year, and we proved it. We proved it over 14 games.
"This team hasn't proved s---."
Rhymes with spit.
Hey, that's the best Sabanator outburst since my question led him to the famous "pimp" line in July.
"Excuse my language," Saban immediately told reporters on Monday. "That's how I feel about it. I'm really upset that I used bad language."
Anything colorful from Saban is always appreciated. It beats "behind-the-scenes" mini-docs where the only thing behind-the-scenes is what you don't see. This was raw emotion, a glimpse at Saban's soul at this point in the season. The message got through. Saban won't be taking bye weeks as an excuse going forward. It's clear that playing three consecutive top-19 opponents (in the AP poll) took something out of the Tide. Now they have to play Mississippi, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn coming off byes. Both teams will have a bye coming into the Nov. 6 meeting at LSU.
"Everybody out there assumes that having a bye week is an advantage," Saban said last week. "I've always answered that question by saying, 'I don't know if it's an advantage or disadvantage.'"
Maybe we're starting to find out.
**There is a dicey situation developing at Penn State where Joe Paterno is approaching his 400th career win.
The Nits are 3-3 after a depressing home loss to Illinois. Joe needs three more wins to become the third coach ever to win 400. There is growing doubt, though, that JoePa doesn't reach that mark this season. And what if he doesn't? What does that do to the program if Joe holds on (or is held over) for 2011?
In one sense, a 5-7 season can be written off as rebuilding year. Quarterback Rob Bolden is a true freshmen and has loads of upside. In other sense, there has to be concern. This is the first time in a long time, Penn State hasn't had at least one playmaker on either side of the ball.
The (mostly) cushy non-conference schedule has gotten Joe halfway to those six he needs, but the road ahead is littered with broken glass -- or at least formidable Big Ten opponents. Penn State still has to play the Big Ten's top three teams -- Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. Assuming losses in those, Joe will have to win at Minnesota, at Indiana and at home against Northwestern to get to 6-6, 400 wins and a bowl game.
Is that a sendoff or a rebuilding year?
**I'm starting to get intrigued by Oklahoma State. Coach Mike Gundy has ridden new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen to a 5-0 start, the team's third such beginning since 2004.
The problem with OSU is that its schedule is typically backloaded with second-half meetings with Big 12 South heavies Texas and Oklahoma. In fact, Gundy has never beaten the LongSooners, or is it the SoonHorns? (Combined 0-10 against the two schools and 21-23 after Oct. 1.) Holgorsen has been the difference this year with his version of the spread option, getting the most out of new quarterback Brandon Weeden, established tailback Kendall Hunter and breakout receiver Justin Blackmon.
The problem remains a defense which has finished above 89th nationally only once in Gundy's previous five seasons. This season's unit is marginally better in its second year under coordinator Bill Young. It is No. 88 nationally allowing more than 400 yards per game.
The difference is Holgorsen, a 39-year-old Mike Leach discipline who spent eight seasons at Texas Tech as an assistant, the final three as offensive coordinator. Holgorsen came to Okie State after a couple of seasons tutoring Case Keenum at Houston. Keenum is out with a season-ending injury but is seeking a sixth year of eligibility in 2011 during which he could become the NCAA's career passing yards leader.
Weeden, who turns 27 this week, is a former minor-league pitcher who is finding a new career playing pitch and catch out of the shotgun. Almost halfway through the season, Weeden has the fourth-most passing yards in the country leading the No. 2 scoring unit.
"[Weeden] was just a poor practice player," Gundy said. "There's a reason why we changed offenses. He can't execute [OSU's 2005-09] offense. It wasn't set up for him. ...We thought he could function at a high level, but we didn't know."