KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Alabama has reached its open week — a time to nurse its bone-weary players back to full strength, work on self-scouting and install small tweaks to make itself better and, if all goes according to plan, emerge from a brief hiatus as a happier, healthier, better football team.
Yes, “better” is possible. Perhaps it will be needed against LSU. Time will tell.
Over the course of the next two weeks, there will be all sorts of speculation about how good this Alabama team can be. Some people will argue that, so far, it’s been a bit like Bitcoin in its glory days — there was no real way to measure its worth, even as people are paying phenomenal prices (or, in this case, piling on princely praise) for all they can get their hands on.
On the other hand, there is a measure you can use — history. If what Alabama is doing in a function of “an easy schedule,” then why has no team ever done it before? Even if you concede the schedule is historically easy, and there is no strong evidence to back that argument, has there never been a soft schedule before? Has every team in college history played nothing but road games, or ranked opponents?
Somewhere, out of the 25,000 or so schedules in college football, there must have been a few easy ones. Yet no team ever has dominated its opposition like Alabama has so far.
You can accept that the pendulum has gone far in one direction for the Alabama program and far in the other for Tennessee. But Alabama scored more points than either team has ever scored in the 101-year history of the series on Saturday — and took less than three quarters to do it.
Alabama suspended one starter (Raekwon Davis) for a half, limited the playing time of another (Damien Harris, for what head coach Nick Saban called “internal matters”) and left a third (DeVonta Smith) at home in Tuscaloosa because of injury. All should be available for the next game. Plus, to the relief of itchy Alabama fans everywhere, starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will now get the two weeks of rest that most, medical school or not, deemed necessary.
Again, there is a chance for “better,” even from Tagovailoa. He was his usual spectacular self — although he had a Heisman-level highlight misfire when he spun away from three Tennessee rushers, lost a shoe and then fired a cross-field pass to Harris, who could not hang on for the catch. On a few other passes, though, the ball seemed high, or at least not up to his usual between-the-number standard. A ridiculously high standard, to be sure, but his standard nonetheless. What if he comes back from a two-week break at his September level?
This isn’t yet the time to turn to incessant LSU talk. That happened in 2011, before the Game of the Century, to a mind-numbing degree. This isn’t quite No. 1 vs. No. 2, but there will be a feeling across the Bama-fatigued nation that this may be the roadblock, or the measuring stick, or something. So there will be talk.
Perhaps there is an upset in the future. That doesn’t change one thing — this season has been historic to this point, something that mortals have never seen before. The last chapter has not been written, but this is still something to be appreciated. Alabama and Tennessee have played 101 times. That means something. There is continuity there, and never has it been like this, not for a game, not for a decade. And that has to mean something.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225