Three weeks in, Alabama already facing impossibly high standard set for the team

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- What's wrong with Alabama?

OK, so it's a rhetorical question. On the surface, nothing is wrong with the era's reigning dynasty. For the 19th time in the last 20 weekly AP Top 26 polls, it is ranked No. 1. That's after coming off a school-record 16 consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the 2015-16 polls.

The Tide have won their first three games by 17, 31 and 18 points, respectively.

Alabama has been steady, if not spectacular this season. The Tide's biggest impact may have been knocking out Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois in the opener thus affecting both the ACC and national title races.

Nothing intentional, mind you, but we know sometimes bad things happen to good people playing against Nick Saban's defense.

That's why it was out of Alabama character when linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton told the Associated Press that Bama's defense was going to have a "come-to-Jesus" meeting on Monday.

"That was just pathetic," he told AP after a 41-23 win over Colorado State. "We were just on the field entirely too long. We've got to get back and work hard because we're fixing to get into SEC play."

The Rams did run up almost 400 yards on the Tide. Some of that could be attributed to a garbage-time fourth-quarter manning up by Colorado State.

Hamilton saw it as something more. One of his teammates agreed.

"Come-to-Jesus meeting," All-American defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick repeated to himself. "I agree with him on that. I feel like it was just a lot of different things. We're not playing terrible, but we're playing to our standard …

"We've got a lot of young guys in there who just need help, you know what I'm saying? They need to understand and realize what it means to play at Alabama, defensively. I don't want to blame it on the young guys, but I think we sometimes put the young guys in a little bit too early.

"Like you said, a lot of people are going to nitpick. I feel like if we just keep some of our older guys in there, just blow them out then they won't have nothing to say."

Fitzpatrick went on to say, "These are small things [like] making sure everybody stays in the right gap [that] the DBs are looking at the right things."

Tailback Bo Scarbrough knew nothing of a meeting but agreed that Alabama is sometimes held to a higher standard.

"You have to ask Shaun Dion. I have no idea what he meant by that," Scarbrough said. "With this team, the expectations are so high you don't want to be one of those guys that are playing underneath that."

Whatever the case, even Alabama, it turns out, is not immune to injuries. It was missing five linebackers last week. Two of those -- Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis -- have been lost for the season.

There has even been some national conversation as to whether Alabama should even be No. 1. Clemson has played a stronger schedule and taken out ranked teams Auburn and Louisville in back-to-back weeks.

Alabama's first-place vote lead has shrunk in the last three weeks from 59 to 56 to 30.

The SEC season kicks off Saturday against a suddenly-formidable Vanderbilt. The nation's No. 1 defense resides nowhere near here. Bama is an uncharacteristic 37th nationally in total defense, 64th in passing defense and seventh overall in the SEC.

Vanderbilt has the nation's No. 1 ranked total defense, allowing fewer than 200 yards per game after an impressive win over nationally-ranked Kansas State.

Some player at Vandy named Nifae Lealao called out his upcoming opponent after the K-State win: "Alabama, you're next."

"Technically, he's right," quarterback Jalen Hurts said this week.

That certainly lightened the mood in what has suddenly become a game of national relevance as the SEC on CBS Game of the Week.

Whether it was adrenal exuberance or Lealoa sensed an actual weakness, when was the last time you heard a Commodore trash talk about anything?

Then again, when was the last time you heard a member of Saban's buttoned-up Process speak out about anything?

"I still think there are areas we have to clean up to become a complete team and play a complete game," Scarbrough said, "to get all our athletes on the field because we have multiple weapons at multiple positions." 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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