There is something refreshing about seeing a superhero without his or her powers. It’s a story arc most comic books dabble with at some point: a moment when the immortal become vulnerable. The expectations and the response shift dramatically and without much warning.
Alabama is this superhero. And Alabama has lost its powers.
Over the past decade, the success has been undeniable. Nick Saban is the greatest coach to ever walk a sideline, and his successes in Tuscaloosa will be difficult for any team or coach to replicate as the transfer portal, NIL and playoff expansion change the way the sport is perceived.
This Crimson Tide team? It’s one of the most vulnerable groups Saban has ever had since arriving at his current school.
Oh, the list of deficiencies is long. The wideouts and offensive line have yet to find a rhythm. The defense, which has some great individual players, has not been the group we thought we were getting. The penalties are endless. The list goes on …
Alabama’s blueprint has been as such: let QB Bryce Young create when there isn’t much to create. It hasn’t always been effective, although it is fascinating to watch.
On Saturday, a mortal, scrappy Alabama beat Ole Miss on the road. Saban’s team did not cover the 11-point spread. In fact, the Crimson Tide have covered just one game since Week 5.
Alabama should have lost to Texas. It could’ve lost to Texas A&M, which says a lot. Heck, Saturday certainly could have been a loss. It’s been that kind of year.
Now, Saban’s team is out of the SEC Championship Game. The win over Ole Miss clinched LSU’s spot in that matchup. It is strange to see this program play without that honor on the line in the middle of November, but here we are.
And yet, there was something charming in seeing Saban lift up his arms toward the sky following Alabama’s win on Saturday. It was the kind of joy and emotion we don’t see from a coach who has done so much.
“Scrappy” Alabama is weird and unfamiliar. But as the postseason focus turns elsewhere, one can’t help but marvel at how the greatest threat in the sport has endured and evolved.
The next question, however, is even more interesting. With Bryce Young and Will Anderson Jr. destined to leave for the NFL in the coming weeks, are the powers gone for good?
The Appetizer: Football Tidbits and Observations
1. The Pac-12 had a very bad Saturday. It’s hard to sugarcoat it. Both Oregon and UCLA lost as double-digit favorites, and the conference’s playoff hopes (and depth) took a tremendous hit. USC, still with one loss, is 40/1 to win the title. With the two losses, however, Oregon and UCLA both dropped to 200/1. Oh, and Bo Nix’s Heisman campaign? That’s all but done as well. Oregon’s QB had gotten down in the 8/1 range. He can now be yours at 80/1. Rough, to say the least.
2. TCU is a fun, tough football team. One of my favorite racehorses of all time was Ghostzapper, an uber-talented stallion that could win at any length. TCU has sort of adopted this mold, winning in all sorts of ways no matter the opponent or venue. On Saturday, as a 7.5-point underdog, TCU’s defense essentially shut down Texas entirely. The offense struggled, and the offensive line, in particular, did not play well. The Horned Frogs have still lost only once against the spread all year, and they’re three wins away from a playoff berth. Remarkable run.
3. Let’s hear it for Vanderbilt. The Commodores beat Kentucky outright as 17-point underdogs on the road, which is massive in a few different ways. For Kentucky, this is bad. Mark Stoops is a tremendous coach, but this year has been pretty underwhelming considering the QB they have and expectations that came with it. For Vanderbilt, which had lost 28 straight games against Power 5 teams, this is massive. Head coach Clark Lea has this team headed in the right direction, and he deserves the utmost credit for doing so.
4. If you’re looking for a defensive player capable of winning the Heisman, look no further than Harold Perkins Jr. The true freshman delivered four sacks for LSU against Arkansas. He also forced two fumbles. While he has been excellent all year, he pretty much carried the Tigers to an ugly win. With two years of eligibility remaining, Perkins seems capable of making a push for the award in the future. Crazy talent with an absurd ceiling.
5. Could Texas A&M find a way to fire Jimbo Fisher? We’re about there. The Aggies have lost six games in a row for the first time in decades. In that stretch, they have covered just once. While Fisher continues to recruit, A&M recently saw a decommitment from one of the best defensive players in this upcoming class. And, well, losing to Auburn in this type of year is a hugely concerning development. His contract, one of the worst in sports, would guarantee him $86 million if he’s fired. Perhaps they could negotiate a buyout of some kind, although it’ll be a small fortune. Very few programs have the resources to even consider a way out. This is one of those programs.
6. The Big Ten West is hilarious. Iowa — the same Iowa that owns the nation’s 124th-ranked scoring offense — could wind up in the Big Ten Championship. Purdue, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin could all still win the division. Oh, and all the teams mentioned have at least three conference losses. It will be weird — and fun.
The Buffet: The Five Best Games of the Weekend
1. No. 7 USC (-3, 73.5) vs. No. 16 UCLA
A game we have been looking forward to for weeks has certainly lost a little juice. UCLA’s defeat to Arizona as a 20-point favorite was a massive blow. Despite that loss, this rivalry brings a great deal in terms of stakes. The Bruins have been excellent outside of this game, although one can’t help but be concerned with the defense in this game given what we saw last weekend. Still, UCLA is still 7-3 ATS. USC, meanwhile, overcame a very slow start against Colorado. The Trojans covered the 34.5-point spread, but they lost starting running back Travis Dye for the season with an injury. Early on, I actually lean UCLA. The Bruins were bitten by the ultimate lookahead game, although the possibility of a response, plus the early number, is calling to me.
2. No. 12 Oregon (2.5, 62) vs. No. 10 Utah
On the topic of Pac-12 games losing juice, enter Oregon-Utah. The Ducks were unable to rally against Washington, losing outright as a 12-point favorite. For a team with such momentum, it was a crushing blow. It was also the first time this year that the Ducks failed to cover the spread at home, which feels noteworthy for this game. Utah has rallied since its loss to UCLA, winning four consecutive games. The Utes, however, are just 1-3 ATS on the road this year. My biggest concern for Utah is simple: Beyond the road woes, can the offense duplicate Washington’s pass-heavy, space-friendly attack? I’m not so sure. If the Ducks are motivated, I think they cover.
3. No. 4 TCU (-2.5, 56.5) at Baylor
Despite TCU’s impeccable record against the spread this season, the oddsmakers still don’t appear dazzled by the performances and the unbeaten mark. As highlighted above, TCU’s tremendous performance against the spread continued on Saturday with an ugly, critical win over Texas. Now, the Horned Frogs are only a small favorite on the road, taking on a team that was obliterated last week. Baylor had been on a run, winning and covering the spread in three straight, then the Bears played Kansas State, and they lost by a lot as a short favorite at home. Still, I can’t help but be intrigued by Baylor as a small dog. Full disclosure: I feel like I’ve faded TCU plenty, and it hasn’t gone well.
4. No. 3 Michigan (-17, 44.5) vs. Illinois
A few weeks ago, Illinois looked like a potent challenge for Michigan. The Illini were rolling through the Big Ten West, and it looked like this group was bound for the Big Ten Championship Game. They have since lost consecutive games at home to Michigan State and Purdue, two teams we thought Illinois was better against. Now, Bret Bielema’s group must hit the road to take on undefeated Michigan, hoping the Wolverines are looking ahead to Ohio State and not directly at this matchup. Perhaps that’s possible. At the very least, Illinois has been excellent against the run (No. 6 nationally). Michigan, behind running back Blake Corum, is fourth in rushing on offense. This feels like an under game. Michigan wants to get to Ohio State, and Illinois wants to run clock. Simple as that.
5. Texas (-9, 64) at Kansas
Picking a fifth game this week was, well, a challenge. There was no natural fit, so we settled on a matchup that has created some drama in recent years. While Texas has dominated the series, Kansas has won two out of the last five matchups, including last year’s 57-56 thriller. Kansas, of course, has been a wonderful story this season, especially early on. More recently, however, the Jayhawks have lost four of the past five games. Texas has also delivered mixed results of late, losing two of the last three games while failing to cover in three of the past four. Most concerning for the Longhorns is just how rough last week was for QB Quinn Ewers. If that performance is repeated, Texas could be in trouble again.
Last Call: Parting shots on other games of note
No. 14 Ole Miss (-3, 59) at Arkansas
Both teams had chances to win last year, and one can’t help but wonder how that will linger. For Arkansas, the absence of QB KJ Jefferson was sizable. We’ll need to hear more on that front this week before pouncing.
Oklahoma (-7, 65) vs. Oklahoma State
With the Sooners’ move to the SEC coming and this rivalry in jeopardy, we need to talk about Bedlam. Oklahoma has been really disappointing, although the Sooners are an early lean for me.
Minnesota (-3, 33) vs. Iowa
Neither team is ranked, but the impact on the Big Ten should be sizable depending on the victory. If you like your football games served with points, you might want to go elsewhere. This total is pristine.