‘Bama loss wouldn’t be end of the world

Published 10:12 pm Tuesday, October 21, 2008

An Alabama loss to Tennessee on Saturday would leave half the state in disappointment and the other half giddy. How bad would it be if Alabama’s perfect record was blemished by the team and the coach most synonymous with the Tide’s fall from the kind of program that was used to competing for championships on an annual basis?

It seems Alabama fans are still a little uncertain about the position they find themselves in. After bouts with probation, coaches skipping out of town and coaches being fired, does this program finally have a good coach with a good staff teaching good players? Maybe Tide fans have come to expect things to fall apart and so are reluctant to celebrate their team’s success or the struggles of the other team in the state.

If Alabama fans have to wake up and pinch themselves every morning, a loss to Phillip Fulmer’s Volunteers would be a bucket of cold water to the face. Because of his role as a secret witness for the NCAA in its case against the Alabama program, Fulmer has been cast as the embodiment of ‘Bama’s misfortune the past 10 years, which is possibly the worst decade in the history of the program.

The scary thing is that Tennessee just might give Alabama problems. The Vols’ 3-4 record is far from impressive (and their play on the field even less impressive), but Alabama’s visit could be the kind of game that turns Tennessee’s season around. After all, Fulmer’s flock was 4-3 at this point last season but finished strong and made an appearance in the Southeastern Conference championship game. Don’t hold your breath for that again, but the Tennessee defense is good enough to hold an inconsistent Tide offense to few enough points to be within striking distance.

But how catastrophic would a loss, either in this weekend’s game or any game other than a bowl game, be for the Crimson Tide? Not very. A one-loss Alabama team would likely still make the Bowl Championship Series championship game in Miami on Jan. 8 as long as it wins the conference, maybe even jumping over an unbeaten Penn State squad.

Thinking big picture now, a loss would mean even less. Two or maybe even three losses wouldn’t be enough to spoil the momentum the Tide has built this season. The most common prediction for the team before the season began was 7-5 or 8-4, but Alabama has emerged into a national contender in coach Nick Saban’s second year in Tuscaloosa.

That status is unlikely to change in years to come because ‘Bama is one of the youngest teams in the country with only nine scholarship seniors (tied with Middle Tennessee for fewest in the country) and 16 true freshmen that have seen playing time (tied with Arkansas for third in the country behind Florida State and Miami).

An Alabama loss would be a letdown at this point, but don’t expect that result for Alabama too many times this year or in the foreseeable future.