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September 3, 2012

HURT: Early verdict for Tide is positive

It is the end of Week One of college football, at least as far as Southeastern Conference football is concerned, and time for our favorite dance - the Extrapolation Shuffle. In other words, let's take what we saw from teams - most notably, Alabama - and see what we can surmise about them from one game, then apply to every other opponent on the schedule.

In Alabama's case, that is risky. The Crimson Tide dominated a top 10 opponent, but let's be honest about something - it was a top 10 opponent asking to be dominated.

Michigan, for what were probably perfectly justifiable personnel reasons, decided its best chance against Alabama was to use Denard Robinson as a pocket passer, and he just isn't good enough to beat an Alabama defense that way.

Perhaps it was the Crimson Tide defense that caused that. Over the past four years, no team in college football has been more assertive in dictating to opposing offense what they can, and, more to the point, cannot do. Making another team play on your terms is two-thirds of the battle.

Michigan mortgaged its offensive soul before the game ever kicked off, and quickly found itself upside down in the mortgage, with Alabama extracting higher payments than the Wolverines could make.

But will Alabama be able to keep commanding the same terms?

Perhaps. The Crimson Tide is about to face quarterbacks who really are pocket passers - Tyler Wilson at Arkansas, Tyler Bray at Tennessee and maybe others, passers who will be able to execute throws that Robinson could not make, not with consistently adequate accuracy or velocity. In those games, Alabama will have to pressure the passer, which it hardly bothered with against Michigan.

Spring standout Adrian Hubbard, a pass-rushing specialist, didn't show up much against Michigan, because his specialized services weren't what the game plan required. For the same reason, there was little in the way of esoteric blitzing.

Alabama will have to do more of that in other games - although there is no reason to think they can't. It will also help to have Jesse Williams and Robert Lester healthy again, at least by the Arkansas game.

The safe extrapolation, though, is that Alabama will be a tough herd to wrangle - to use up some leftover Texas vernacular - for anyone.

As for the rest of the league, the first week probably clouded more things than it revealed, other than the fact Alabama and LSU are good. In the East, people are selling off their future investments in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida (even though they all won) and suddenly wondering if Tennessee and Missouri might be contenders.

That division is a jumble, although it isn't complete anarchy since Kentucky and Vanderbilt remain Kentucky and Vanderbilt. In the West, maybe Arkansas can change the Alabama-LSU dynamic but giving up 24 points to Jacksonville State doesn't allay any concerns about the Hog defense.

As usual, Week One brought a few answers but more questions, but at least we can now extrapolate rather than speculate - until Week Two changes it all around again.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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