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September 22, 2009

Column: Forget the first 3 games, Tide' season starts now

Are you one of those serious University of Alabama football fans who carries around a season schedule in your wallet? Do you pull it out each and every day and look at the list of teams, relish that each individual line represents a potential conquest and can consequently recite it faster than your mother's phone number?

If so, take it out now, rip off the top part that reads Virginia Tech, Florida International and North Texas, and toss it away.

The prelims are over. This is when the Crimson Tide's 2009-10 regular season really begins, with the start of Southeastern Conference play.

"The intensity has been turned up a notch,” junior quarterback Greg McElroy said. "It's important to understand that the past three weeks have been preseason for us. We played good teams, but none of those teams moved us toward any of our goals, of win a conference championship. In order to do that we have to beat Arkansas this week.

"They will come to play."

Saturday begins a five-week stretch in which Alabama plays Arkansas, at Kentucky, at Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee. While only one of those teams is currently ranked, the No. 4 Rebels, it's still brutal run against teams off to a combined 8-4 start -- with all but one of the losses coming to a conference opponent.

That's right, lest there be any doubt the
SEC is still the undisputed king of the college football world, with the 12 teams already 20-2 against the collective field. The two defeats were Tennessee gagging against UCLA and Georgia coming up short against Oklahoma State.

We may be looking at 10 teams playing in the postseason, with two in the Bowl Championship Series practically a given.
If that wasn't enough, it boasts three teams ranked in the top five (No. 1 Florida, No. 3 Alabama and Ole Miss), and even though the SEC is still the best conference in the country when it comes to defensive play last Saturday the membership scored a staggering 393 total points (33.3 average), thanks to three teams banking more than 50 and eight scoring 31 or more.

Among those leading the way has been Arkansas, and it's easy for Razorbacks fans to tout the offense which is ranked second in the nation in passing offense, total offense and passing efficiency. In two games, the Razorbacks have already scored 89 points and are already drawing comparisons to Coach Bobby Petrino's potent Louisville teams.

The thing is, Alabama's defensive numbers are just as impressive, which makes that matchup more than compelling.

"They're a good offense and they score a lot of points," Tide junior linebacker Rolando McClain said. "But they haven't played us."

Additionally, UA scored 49 points last season against Arkansas, en route to an 8-0 regular season and the Western Division title. Like usual, it was a benchmark game for both programs, only this time with Arkansas's defense having already been exposed by Georgia it's Alabama's turn to find some answers -- especially about the offensive line and secondary.

"Probably the two things about the SEC is the skill-guys are going to be better and the defensive lineman are going to get better, that's what kind of cuts the SEC out from other conferences," Coach Nick Saban said after last week's 53-7 victory against mismatched North Texas. "The SEC has defensive ends who can rush, defensive tackles can thump you inside and everybody's got people who can run, but the skill people on offense are a lot better and so are the coverage people. That's probably what makes this league what it is. In my opinion, we're going to be much more challenged and we're all going to need to ramp it up a notch in terms of what we do, how we play, how we continue to improve, to be able to be competitive in our division and in our league."

He later added: "The offensive line has done a good job, but we're going to be challenged in the offensive line in the future by better fronts."

A 3-0 start including a solid win against No. 7 Virginia Tech, 1,537 yards of total offense and 10 sacks by the defense. It was all just a prelude, and won't mean a thing if the Tide doesn't win this week at Bryant-Denny Stadium.


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