The Crimson Tide looked just a week removed from its domination of LSU in last season’s Bowl Championship Series final while opening this season with a 41-14 handling of No. 8 Michigan, and one wonders how voters on the Associated Press and USA Today panels will see things now.
What to think of the Alabama team that jumped on Michigan 31-0 and didn’t let the Wolverines cross midfield until late in the second quarter?
What to think of the inexperienced defense that held Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson to 227 total yards — just 27 rushing?
What to think of an offense that showed almost a full poker hand of running backs and a flash of the explosiveness that Nick Saban said he wanted when hiring new coordinator Doug Nussmeier?
Think Michigan was overrated. Suspensions of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and defensive lineman Frank Clark shouldn’t have mattered that much.
Also think Alabama picked right up where it left off last season, never mind all of those personnel losses.
“I was very proud of the way we competed in the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I thought this was a big win for us against a very good team.”
Voters seemed to have personnel losses in mind when they voted the defending national champs No. 2 in the USA Today poll before No. 1 LSU dismissed Tyrann Mathiew then No. 2 in the AP poll afterward, behind Southern Cal.
After all, how many programs can withstand losses like Donta Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron on defense and stay on top?
It sure looks like Bama can. The Tide kept Robinson behind the line of scrimmage almost all Saturday night and made him throw accurately against over-under coverage down field. He managed completions of 71 and 44 yards, the latter for a touchdown, and not much else.
Go ahead and join Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo in the fog of conspiracy theories. Go ahead and believe that Michigan coach Brady Hoke held Robinson back, hoping to save him for Big Ten Conference play.
It didn’t look like it when Robinson tried to run for a fourth-down conversion in the third quarter and got hurt, and Hoke said he wanted Robinson to run more.
“There were some reads in there that maybe he could have kept it,” Hoke said. “I’m sure he kept it once or twice, but we couldn’t establish the line of scrimmage.”
And this against Alabama’s retooled defense.
Cornerback Dee Milliner and linebackers C.J. Mosley and Dillon Lee intercepted Robinson passes — Mosley returned his for a touchdown — and Michigan crossed midfield in the Jerry Dome about as often as LSU did in the Superdome.
On offense, how many programs can withstand losses like running back 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson and still look every bit as formidable in the running game?
It sure looks like Alabama can. Four running backs carried the ball, and true freshman T.J. Yeldon looked like Richardson’s second coming with 137 total yards (111 rushing) and a touchdown in his first college game.
Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide showed explosiveness when quarterback A.J. McCarron hit DeAndrew White in stride for a 51-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. McCarron went play action, White went out and up, and Alabama went for a 3-play, 67-yard and 45-second touchdown drive.
McCarron went 11-for-21 for 199 yards and two touchdowns, including a nice play-action toss over a sucked-in Michigan defense for a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Michael Williams.
And scary part?
“I think we’re capable of throwing the ball more effectively,” Saban said. “… If we’re going to be the kind of team we’re capable of, we’re going to have to be able to create balance on offense, because AJ is really too good of a quarterback for us not to utilize his talents in throwing the football.”
Well, Alabama did gain 431 total yards and showed balance, with 140 yards passing and 140 rushing in the decisive first half.
Alabama also showed variety, with empty backfields and two-back sets.
It showed unpredictability, scoring on play-action pass on second down and goal from the 2.
Overall, things went so well for Alabama on Saturday that long-distance kicker Cade Foster made a 51-yard field goal.
In the marquee game of the season’s opening weekend, Alabama showed that personnel losses don’t matter so much for a program that produces top-ranked recruiting class most years under college football’s best active coach.
The Tide also showed no signs of the self-satisfaction that played a role in its three-loss 2010, the time Alabama entered a season as the defending national champion.
“This team had a challenge of trying to create an identity for themselves, in terms of how they competed and how they played,” Saban said. “I think we took a step in that direction, but that’s something that happens over time and happens with consistency and performance.”
Still, Alabama answered lots of questions emphatically. Maybe enough voters will flip in today’s AP and USA Today balloting — enough to make up 34 points in the AP poll and four in the USA Today poll.