Like all teams, the Alabama Crimson Tide have questions, but not enough to have prevented AP and coaches' poll voters from anointing them the team to beat in 2010. They're the defending champs until proven otherwise, and the consensus No. 1 team in the land.
If all that's true -- if
It's not that the Nittany Lions are patsies. On the contrary,
But the truth is, none of us -- not even Saban -- really knows whether this year's Crimson Tide deserve the hype. Saturday, we should find out.
"It's these kinds of games that define who you are," Saban said Wednesday, and the Tide's recent history bears that out.
Going into its 2008 opener against then ninth-ranked Clemson, Alabama was an under-the-radar team coming off a 7-6 season in Saban's first year. In manhandling the Tigers 34-10, the Tide made it clear they'd be a factor in the SEC that season -- and they were, winning their first 12 games before falling to Florida.
A year ago, 'Bama entered its opener against No. 7 Virginia Tech as a top five team, but one with questions at quarterback (with
Saban's 2010 team may be his most talented yet, but it's got its own questions, none of which were answered with any certainty in last week's 48-3 rout of San Jose State (2-10 a year ago). Penn State is different. Behind the young but talented Bolden, two-time 1,000-yard rusher
In anointing the Tide the preseason No. 1, pollsters were operating under the assumption that 'Bama wouldn't suffer much of a drop-off on that side of the ball despite losing stars like
The Tide held San Jose State to 175 total yards, but Saban, ever the perfectionist, wasn't entirely pleased with his inexperienced secondary.
"We had some guys that played pretty well, and we had some guys that need to play better," he said. "We made too many mental errors in some cases."
If 'Bama is truly the No. 1 team in the country, its defense will blow up Penn State's oft-maligned offensive line and suffocate Bolden. Defensive end
Alabama's loaded offense has far fewer concerns -- though, as you may have heard, the Tide will be likely be playing without the reigning Heisman Trophy winner,
McElroy, a fifth-year senior, and receivers
"When you play a team that is very sound and very fundamental, it makes you earn the yards," said McElroy. "So it's a little more enjoyable. It makes things a little more fun."
And then there's the element that always gets overlooked, yet is vitally important to a championship run: Alabama's new kicker (
Still, given the choice, most coaches would rather rely on a freshman kicker than a freshman quarterback. Penn State's Bolden, a 6-foot-4, 208-pound specimen, drew raves throughout fall camp and jumped over two older candidates to become the first true freshman ever to start an opener in Paterno's 44-year reign. He looked sharp in his debut against Youngstown State, going 20-of-29 for 239 yards. "You would never know he was a freshman, that's for sure," said Saban.
That's all well and good, but if a true freshman quarterback finds success against Alabama's defense while playing under the lights in front of 102,000 hostile fans, then we might have to redefine our expectations for the Tide in 2010. Even Paterno admitted, "I feel like we're outmanned in this one."
It was around this same time last season that then-defending national champ and preseason No. 1 Florida played its first big game of the year against a perceived-to-be-overmatched Tennessee team. Fans expected a bloodbath, particularly in light of Vols coach
As it turned out, that game served as a harbinger for a season in which Florida struggled to find its offensive identity and, despite finishing 13-1, was ultimately viewed as a disappointment for finishing second in its own conference.
The hype surrounding this Alabama team is nowhere near that which enveloped the
Or, the Crimson Tide will go out and back up their ranking with another one of their early-season smackdowns. So far, those have been pretty good indicators of future success.