Many Capital One Bowl story lines have already been repeated ad nauseam, and it's not even the week before the game yet. "Nick Saban against his old team!" "Will MSU be motivated after its BCS snub?" "Why the hell are three 7-5 Big Ten teams playing January 1st at 1 PM?" All valid questions, and all have been asked to death (except for the last one - seriously, what's up with that?). To change the news up a bit, we'll be doing a review of Alabama's season to date.
GAME 1 - ALABAMA 48, SAN JOSE STATE 3 in TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA
The Crimson Tide's national title defense began exactly as planned. Although Mark Ingram had to miss the first two games of the season due to a knee injury, Trent Richardson and freshman Eddie Lacy were more than enough to conquer the Spartans (hopefully not an omen), with the two combining for 181 yards on 23 carries for two touchdowns. In a performance that will quickly become a theme throughout these previews, Julio Jones is really, really good. On this day he caught 6 passes for 93 yards from Greg McElroy, who was a near-perfect 13-16 for 218 yards and a score. The defense was solid - 'Bama only had two tackles for loss on the day, but held San Jose State to 185 yards of offense. It's hard to get a better opening game performance than this.
REASONS TO BE ALARMED - Apparently you and I can get behind the Crimson Tide offensive line and run for 100 yards, the secondary is everywhere (five pass breakups on 19 Spartan pass attempts), Julio Jones will eventually leave 'Bama for the job he was meant to do: protect John Connor.
REASONS TO HOPE - Um...Cody Mandell averaged 40.7 yards a punt. Seriously, that's all I could find.
GAME 2 - ALABAMA 24, PENN STATE 3 in TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA
For their first real test Alabama faced a Penn State squad coming off a 44-14 victory over Youngstown State with a solid contribution from freshman quarterback Robert Bolden. It's an understatement to say Alabama > Youngstown State, and it showed here as Bolden was hurried six times, had five passes broken up and threw three interceptions. In the immortal words of Chief Wiggum, "That's some good defense there Lou." The offense was diverse - on the Crimson Tide's first touchdown drive McElroy didn't hand off the ball once, completing all four of his passes for 79 yards. On the second TD drive 'Bama used six runs to get inside the Penn State red zone before two McElroy passes to Jones and Preston Dial put the Tide up by two scores. From there Alabama cruised to a win.
REASONS TO BE ALARMED - Alabama's secondary was really good against a decent (albeit with a green QB) team, Trent Richardson is just as good as Mark Ingram, both the passing and running game can be relied on to move the ball down the field.
REASONS TO HOPE - The Crimson Tide punting game still leaves something to be desired (37.0 yard average), Penn State did average over four yards a carry on the ground, but that was with a Shawney Kersey reverse for 24 yards - like MSU has a receiver that can run reverses! This last sentence paid for by the "Don't Tell Alabama Keshawn Martin Exists Foundation".
GAME 3 - ALABAMA 62, DUKE 13 in DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
Mark Ingram is back with an adamantium meniscus. He only had nine carries on the day, but he made them count for 151 yards and two touchdowns; even though it was against Duke, the performance is still impressive. The ground dominance didn't stop with Ingram as three other Crimson Tide backs averaged over seven yards a carry. Greg McElroy was as accurate as ever completing 14 of 20 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns, but was apparently so bored after four touchdowns drives to open the game he threw an interception. It happens. In all Alabama had 626 yards of offense on the day compared to Duke's 302, and although a team finally scored a touchdown against the Crimson Tide, the defense was still very good. The Blue Devil quarterbacks completed less than half of their passes, but halfback Josh Snead was able to average more than five yards a carry. Yay?
REASONS TO BE ALARMED - Mark Ingram is back with a vengeance, Trent Robinson can return kickoffs for touchdowns as well, in case you forgot Julio Jones is still a cyborg (5 receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown).
REASONS TO HOPE - Duke's offense was not ineffective (albeit long after the game was out of reach), McElroy threw an interception, punting still needs work, albeit the sample size is very small.
GAME 4 - ALABAMA 24, ARKANSAS 20 in FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS
Alabama's Starman finally faded in this game, and Ryan Mallett was utterly on his game for the first half. The Razorbacks needed only two plays to go 74 yards for the first touchdown, both on passes of 30+ yards. Mark Ingram would shake loose for a 54 yard run to tie the score in the first quarter, but the rest of the half belonged to Arkansas. In the second half however, the Hogs floundered. Trent Richardson caught a 20 yard touchdown pass towards the end of the third quarter, and Jeremy Shelley hit a 36 yard field goal to get within three. What happened next was something all too familiar to MSU fans - Mallett throws a pick that's returned to the Arkansas 12, and Alabama runs into the end zone on three straight handoffs to Ingham. Arkansas has a chance to drive for the win, but Mallett throws yet another interception to kill Arkansas's chances. Alabama wins. The Crimson Tide fans didn't know it at the time, but this most likely was the high point of the season.
REASONS TO BE ALARMED - MARK INGRAM WILL NOT SLOW DOWN FOR NO MAN OR BEAST (160 yards on 24 runs, two touchdowns), Greg McElroy is still very accurate (18-26, 194 yards and a TD, but with 2 INTs), the defense can make big to very big plays, and for once, the punting was very good (45.7 yards per punt average).
REASONS TO HOPE - Ryan Mallett (25-38, 357 yards, 1 TD) was able to move the ball consistently both away and to the Crimson Tide defense, somehow the Tide only scored 24 points on 421 yards of offense, Alabama finally looks human.
Next up: the Crimson Tide lose to...Stephen Garcia?