Perspective time for Big 3 after season’s mystery one-twelfth solved
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Sep 03, 2012 | 2388 views |  0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The breathless arrival of college football season has come and gone. Fans are living or dying with week one results, and it’s perspective time.

We are talking week one results, after all. We’re talking games with months of buildup in a part of the country where fans count the days between the end of a season and the beginning of the next.

Now, it’s time to think long haul.

There was No. 2 Alabama’s 41-14 rout of No. 8 Michigan — a game that seemed to show a reloaded Crimson Tide after losing so many stars from its second national-championship team in three years.

There was Auburn’s 26-19 loss to No. 14 Clemson in Atlanta — a rare season-opening loss for a retooling Auburn team, but a loss with moments of promise against a good team.

There was Jacksonville State’s 49-24 loss at No. 10 Arkansas in a game the Gamecocks led 14-7. The game came complete with always-up-talking JSU coach Jack Crowe citing signs of a championship-caliber team and the emergence of freshman Anniston product Troymaine Pope as a college-ready running back.

The mystery of a new college football season is one-twelfth solved … no less but no more. Some day-after thoughts for the teams we call ours:

Alabama: So far, so good

The biggest question facing Alabama this past offseason was whether the Tide learned the lessons of 2010, the last time it entered a season as the defending national champion.

A satisfied, entitled team lost three regular-season games after spending the first six weeks of the season atop the polls, and a lot of current players were around then. Did they learn from it?

The answer from Alabama’s rout of No. 8 Michigan on Saturday was an emphatic yes.

The Cowboys Classic left no hint of an Alabama team needing a syringe of urgency. That 31-0 run to start the game spoke volumes.

As if constant reminders of 2010 weren’t enough, scheduling a neutral-site game against a name-brand opponent clearly helped focus Alabama’s offseason.

The question now becomes whether the Tide can carry that kind of focus forward throughout a season that will take them on the road to play Arkansas and LSU.

“It definitely was a step in the right direction,” senior center Barrett Jones said. “We have high hopes for this team, and it shows the nation this is not the complacent team that people were expecting.

“We’re hungry and we’re coming for another national championship.”

Auburn: So far, maybe not so bad

OK, so does anyone remember the last time Auburn opened with a loss? Yeah, 2005 turned out to be a decent year.

In fact, that was the Auburn team that no less than Steve Spurrier called the best in the SEC on more than one occasion, the one that came one miserable night for kicker John Vaughn short of a return trip to Atlanta.

That was the team that ended up with the SEC’s top offense despite a new sophomore quarterback, Brandon Cox, and new running back, Kenny Irons.

That was also a team that opened with a frustrating, sack- and interception-filled night against an ACC team, Georgia Tech, losing 23-14.

This year’s Auburn team probably doesn’t have the 2005 team’s potential. Then again, opening with a seven-point loss against No. 14 Clemson in a neutral-site game with two new coordinators, a new quarterback and running backs hardly portends the rapture.

Just like season-opening wins against Louisiana-Monroe in 2008 and Utah State a year ago didn’t exactly signal great things.

All of that said, red zone issues are worrisome for a team that made physical football its goal, and 528 yards hardly befit a brand new, brand-name defensive coordinator, Brian Van Gorder.

At least Auburn is past Clemson, which gained nearly 1,200 yards in two games against Auburn this season and last. Auburn’s defense actually improved by nearly 100 yards this season.

JSU: Pope for a day

One can’t help but smile for Pope, the former Anniston High star who made his mark in his college debut against a top-tier program.

He earned Ohio Valley Conference co-newcomer of the week after rushing for a team-high 65 yards and catching a 19-yard touchdown pass against Arkansas, and his performance took those who have followed his story back to this time a year ago.

It was then that folks in these parts asked why Pope wasn’t getting serious major-college looks. He spoke openly about his disappointment, saying he was holding out for big-boy offers.

He signed with lower-subdivision Jacksonville State and, on Saturday, got his shot against the upper-subdivision Arkansas, the nation’s No. 10 team. He showed he belonged on the field.

We’ve heard tales this offseason about how veteran running back Washaun Ealey has taken Pope under his wing, commanding him to mature. Assuming Pope stays focused and hungry, his performance Saturday could mark the beginning of a fun match between the local university and a local standout.

Pope needs to spend four years proving the big schools wrong, but one Saturday erased any reason to doubt his potential.

Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576

or jmedley@annistonstar.com. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.

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