Turns out Arkansas, considered one of the nation’s top three teams at the end of last season, is at a loss.
As for the top-ranked Crimson Tide, it has now rolled through two teams that once held the No. 8 spot in the polls in this young season. Alabama backed up its 41-14 throttling of Michigan two weeks ago with a 52-0 crushing of depleted and unranked Arkansas on Saturday.
The scary thing?
“What we’ve really been fighting with this group ever since the Michigan game is, allowing ourselves to accept average and getting them to demand more of themselves,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I think we started the game a little bit average today.
“But as we got into the game, I was really pleased with the way we played.”
CBS no doubt wishes Alabama had played average a little longer. The network picked Alabama-Arkansas for its 2:30 p.m. game.
Who knew the home team would turn out to be anything but the Arkansas team everyone thought could challenge Alabama in Razorback Stadium this season.
The comeapart started with Bobby Petrino’s April firing for an ill-fated ride with a female employee half his age. Interim coach John L. Smith now calls the shots, and he’s no Bobby Petrino.
That much became obvious a week ago, as the Razorbacks blew a 28-7 lead en route to an overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe --- a loss that caused then-No. 8 Arkansas to take the second-longest tumble ever out of the Associated Press poll.
Arkansas also lost quarterback Tyler Wilson to a head injury midway through the ULM game. He became a game-time decision this week, warmed up game Saturday then watched as Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell scrimmaged against Alabama’s dominant defense.
“Everybody should have a tremendous amount of understanding for Arkansas’ circumstances,” Saban said. “Tyler Wilson is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and the whole program is built around the guy.”
Given how easily Alabama’s offense cut through an Arkansas defense that gave up a combined 58 points to Jacksonville State and ULM, Wilson have had to play a great game for Arkansas to keep pace.
After a slow first quarter against an Arkansas defense that stacked the box, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron began passing on first down and found embarrassingly open receivers. Then Alabama started running out of spread formations, and running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon walked through gaping holes.
For that matter, so did reserve running back Kenyan Drake and reserve quarterback Blake Sims, who ran for touchdowns of 12 and 27 yards, respectively.
Things became so easy that Alabama tried defensive tackle Jesse Williams at fullback in a goal-line situation. He went the wrong way, but Arkansas’ defense followed him, and Lacy waltzed into the end zone to make it 24-0.
Alabama lead 24-0 at halftime and 38-0 by 11:27 of the third quarter.
By that time, the sixth-largest crowd in Razorback Stadium history (74,617) had turned into an hour-before-kickoff crowd. Actually, that happened at halftime, after the band played.
Why stick around amid intermittent downpours while the visiting team plays its homecoming game?
Arkansas played so poorly that Wilson walked into the team’s postgame news conference then walked out, after delivering the “it sucks” speech.
“It wasn’t very pretty to watch,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty to sit on the sideline and watch as a player. It sucks I can’t do anything about it.
“Do I feel that we, at times, gave up out there? Absolutely. As a leader, it sucks to see people not do their jobs and to see things go wrong.”
That’s how far one team that was supposed to challenge Alabama has fallen.
So, three weeks in, let’s compare the season that is to the season we thought would be.
That marquee opener against Denard Robinson and then-No. 8 Michigan in Dallas? Turns out an Alabama team with lots of new faces looked like the Alabama team that humbled LSU in the BCS title game nine months prior, and Michigan looked meh and blue.
That marquee SEC opener at Arkansas? The one that ESPN’s College GameDay had on its itinerary until Arkansas lost to ULM? Yeah, that one crumbled before Alabama got here.
Looking ahead, it seems this season has quickly become last season. It looks likely to come down to that first Saturday in November, when Alabama plays LSU.
As strong as LSU has looked, injuries and other issues have left even LSU a depleted team. The Tigers dismissed 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu before the season then lost five more players for the season, four to suspensions.
How much will it impact them by Nov. 3? It’s hard to say, but Alabama is quickly running out of mystery in 2012. Until Nov. 3, Alabama’s biggest opponent looks to be Alabama.
“I just think that this group has to continue to challenge themselves and to demand more,” Saban said. “We didn’t manage the situation well, didn’t improve very much from game one to game two. We need to continue to improve as a team.
“… This group is still learning how to motivate themselves every week and demand to be the best that they can be.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.