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Welcome to this week’s installment of the Roundtable. You can find the other responders and a wrap-up post right here. On to the questions:

1. What is the biggest lesson we learned in the win over Arkansas last

The first thing that comes to mind would be resiliency; Alabama did what they had to do late in the game to win. Sometime in the third quarter, when Arkansas was up by two scores, thoughts drifted back to a few previous Alabama experiences: at Auburn last season, against a Saban coached LSU team in 2000 and against the eventual national champion, LSU, in 2007 (which still had some Sabanistic toughness now missing in Baton Rouge). All three of those games were won, eventually by the better team (two of them were Saban-led) despite the fact that they trailed in the fourth quarter.

This team has confidence and a belief in what it is doing.

The second thing that was learned, and perhaps just as important, is that this defense still has a lot of work to do. This shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone at this point. They were atrocious in the first half. If there is a silver lining it is that they did appear to grow up some in the second half. Now, let’s see if they can keep the intensity and effort up for a whole game.

2. What is the biggest concern going into the game with Florida next

The defense’s ability to stop Florida is the biggest concern. Granted, despite the production against Kentucky last week, Florida has not appeared to be the offensive team we’ve come to expect from a Meyer led team but there is potential for Brantley to find some success with the deep ball – two other opponents have and Florida is more than capable.

This weekend’s game appears to be a case of strength on strength (Florida’s defense versus Alabama’s offense) and weakness on weakness (Florida’s offense and Alabama’s defense). The talent gap you can count on with most of Alabama’s opponents is almost non-existent. It’s going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes.

3. Will this contest be a preview of this year’s SECCG? Why or why

At this point, due to obvious weakness in teams from the East, Florida is without a doubt your odds on favorite. South Carolina is the only team that could conceivably beat them, but that would seem to be a long shot at this point.

The West, however, is a different story. There are three teams that have a shot. LSU has holes, yet they’ve remained unbeaten.  The same could be said of Auburn. At this point Alabama has to be the favorite, but there are some holes there, too.

If Alabama can make it through the next two weeks unbeaten (or even with one loss) it stands a good chance of beating Ole Miss and Tennessee and making it to  the bye week in position to get it legs under it and focus on fundamentals for a week before preparing for the always tough trip to Baton Rouge.  Auburn could very well stumble down the stretch but right now they’ll be the favorite in every contest now except for one. The gmae on the day after Thanksgiving could very well decide the West’s representative in the championship game.

If this does indeed turn out to be a copy of the bill for the title game, it would stand to reason that both the Alabama defense and Florida offenses would be better.

4. What part of this week’s gameday experience are you most looking forward to?

While this appears to be one of the most perfect combinations possible in the football world – a top-ten match up of the conference elite, a clash of cultures and some of the best football weather imaginable – I find that I’m excited about this contest more than any other this season for other reasons.

For the past twelve consecutive seasons, I have gathered for at least one game with two of my closest college buddies. The core three have stayed the same, but without fail at least two more join us and it becomes an annual celebration. This might not seem like that big of a deal, but these guys  travel from at least 1,600 miles away. While they have definite Alabama ties – one’s grandfather played with Paul Bryant on the ’31 National Championship team and later worked for the Athletic Department for years – it’s their passion for Alabama in distant, heathen lands that has brought new converts into the fold. We now have a group of several guys from western states that make a yearly trip to the Capstone to watch Alabama play, despite the fact they have no ties to the University or SEC football. It’s going to be a big weekend for me.

All that we’ve been hearing in the build up to the game tomorrow, at least as far as Arkansas is concerned, is Mallett. Mallett, Mallett, Mallett…

If Mallett had been hurt last week, would anyone give Arkansas any chance tomorrow?

If Mallett gets hurt in the first series tomorrow, ala Colt McCoy, would Arkansas be able to even stay on the field?

Sure, the Razorback receivers are good – then again, any group of receivers that gets thrown to that much is going to be good – and Alabama’s secondary is young, but the Razorback ball carriers don’t seem to be a huge threat; Arkansas will attempt to establish to run, only to give Mallett more opportunities. There again, beyond Ryan Mallett, what is the real threat on this team. It isn’t power running and it isn’t stifling defense.

Is there anyone who says that outside of the arm of Ryan Mallett, the Razorbacks have any chance?

That being the case, the game plan becomes pretty simple. Don’t let Ryan Mallett beat you.

Do you think Nick Saban hasn’t thought about that all week?

Great football teams don’t rely on just one player. Therefore Arkansas really shouldn’t be a great football team. Or should they?

1.What is the most important thing we learned about the Alabama team in the wake of the Duke game?

There are three lessons that were learned this week. None of them are new and all are equally important. There seems to be further evidence that this version of the Alabama Crimson Tide shows up to play every week regardless of who the opponent is. That’s the first lesson and it is a carryover from Week 1 when the opponent was hapless San Jose State. The second lesson is that this offense only seems to get more impressive. A new week, bigger offensive production. The final lesson is that the defense still has a lot of room for improvement. It might turn out that it is a good and capable defense, but at this point it is certainly not a dominant one.

2.What is the biggest area of concern in respect to Alabama’s performance in the upcoming game against Arkansas?

Without having read anybody else’s weekly answers, it is safe to say that this is a big ditto: the defense. It would seem that tackling, coverage and run stopping all need to improve for the upcoming contest with Arkansas. There will be legion Alabama fans grimaced in agonizing butt tensioning when Mallet and company take the field.

3. Which is more dangerous: Ryan Mallett and the Razorback offense or the Arkansas defense?

Giving credit where it is due, the Hogs stop unit appears much improved (when you’re at the bottom there aren’t many other places to go than up) but without question it is their ability to score points. Georgia is not playing good football and seeing the same quality of offense from Alabama as the Bulldogs this week would be really surprising. The Hog D is in for a much stronger test. The defenses for both teams will be tested as they have not been this weekend.

4. How important is the Arkansas game for Alabama’s prospects both in the SEC West and the conference as a whole?

The most apparent answer is huge, but if you take a deeper look it’s not that simple. Arkansas, like Alabama, is basically untested at this point. After Saturday there will still be eight conference games to play (seven for the Hogs) and that is a lot of opportunity for both good and bad to happen. A win by wither team will take some pressure off but that’s going to be the same for every divisional foe each team faces. You always hear about “controlling your own destiny” and wins make that easier, but all hope is not lost with a loss by either team.

What is the most important thing we learned about the 2010 Alabama Crimson Tide in the wake of the San Jose State game?

I think it’s safe to say that we didn’t really learn anything. SJSU was clearly out manned and Alabama was never really tested. CJ Mosely looks like he’s got some talent and McCarron did a pretty decent job as well. So, in that regard I guess we learned that we have some talent in reserve, but I think we were all pretty clear on that anyway. Let’s all agree that the Spartans amounted to a pre-season scrimmage game that actually counts on the record.

What is the biggest area of concern given the upcoming contest with the Penn State?

The laundry list of concerns I’ve had all year: Will the secondary make it through without being scorched on a regular basis, will the offensive line gel, will the tight-end position provide production, will this team have the fight in them that last years team had? In my mind we might as well be starting the season this weekend.
Which Alabama player is most likely to have a breakout performance against the Nittany Lions?

It would be very nice to see Lester back his performance last weekend up with a great game. On the offensive side, I’d like to see McElroy have a really big day.
What part of the gameday experience are you most looking forward to on Saturday?

Now that we got the first week tailgate kinks worked out, I’m looking forward to getting to the Quad early and taking in the revelry. The atmosphere should be up there with LSU last year and Auburn the year before. The other thing I am really looking forward to is seeing, or rather hearing, how loud 101,000 plus can get. There was a great atmosphere last week, this week it should be unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.

1. What are your expectations for the coming season?

I don’t want to sound like Negative Nancy here, but the odds point to an outcome that we are not going to be happy about. Anything less than running the table again would be, from this pre-season vantage point, a disappointment; I’m either going to leave the stadium or turn off the television after Alabama has lost a game this season. The thought of that just sucks. There certainly is the possibility that at the completion of the season the one or two inevitable losses will be alright in light of something else that happened – finishing as SEC Champion, punishing Auburn, a great non-championship bowl win – but it’s hard to predict that right now.

For the last three years we were looking for improvement. There are statisticians and tacticians out there that will say, as a team, Alabama can improve this year. I’m not an ician, I’m a fan and my logic says that there is nothing better than a championship. I believe that the odds are against that happening again this season and thus improvement is an impossibility. How do I live with myself everyday? I’m going to focus on enjoying the season for what it is, not what I want it to be.
2. What players to you most expect to stand out?

I’d like to see Julio, McElroy and Ingram stand out on offense. I’m not sure who, but there is also a defensive back that will be a household name by the end of the year.

3. What do you think will be biggest difference between this team and the 2009 squad?

That is a very tough question. The party line is a great offense and an improving defense for this season which was the opposite of last year. If I had to guess, recognizing that my expectations cloud my objectivity, I’m going to say that this team will show huge potential from young, unheralded (outside of recruiting services) talent.

You can view links to all Roundtable Participants here.

This evening the 2010 college football season kicks off with a slate of Thursday night games.

And so it begins.

College Football may not be recognized universally as the best sport, but you know what? It is to me. There is nothing else that gets me as excited in the sporting world. If asked why this is the case; other than the fierce loyalties we have to schools we grew up cheering for or the actual university we attended and thus served as a backdrop for our transition from childhood to adulthood, and the passion that these places and teams invoke, it would be hard to put it all into a concise statement. It probably has to do with the fact that there is enough time between games to decompress, float down from the high produced by winning or the low generated from losing to truly anticipate the next game. Also, it’s the mixture of huge, emotionally charged contests with traditional rivals that churn your blood with vitriol or the Goliath you know your David can defeat contrasted against the contest against hapless East Nowhere State where the joy comes from the fellowship and pageantry only found in rooting for your team. Finally, it’s the relatively short season; I can think of few other sports where there isn’t time to get worn down with the tedium of a long season. Just as things are getting good and the excitement builds to crescendo the season is over and there are eight to nine months to contemplate what might be.

Which brings me to today; the waiting is over (or almost over in the case of Alabama fans).

While I’ll certainly be the first to tell you that there are many things that could be better about the great state of Alabama, like the unrelenting, oppressive heat and humidity, the lack of importance placed on education, or the overall lack of desire to improve and grow as a people, I will also be the first to say that on the last few days leading up to a big football game, there is no place in the world I would rather be.

Sure, the Rocky Mountains are breathtakingly beautiful, as is Yosemite Valley and the Grand Canyon. Sunrise in the desert or sunset over the Pacific are surely awesome spectacles. But in my mind, this town revving up to host football is a thing of beauty that is perhaps more rare. There is no way to accurately describe the palpable energy that permeates the air. It’s just something you have to experience.

Thirty-three years ago, my father took me to an Alabama game. More than anything else about that day I remember the hair on my neck standing up when the crowd raised its voice in unison. It was just something about that many people united and directing energy toward the same thing. I can’t predict how the team will perform but I can tell you without a doubt that the exact same feeling will come upon me in a little more than 48 hours.

It is good to be in Tuscaloosa, Alabama as football season begins.

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