The college football season goes live this week, with top-ranked Alabama playing Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, Auburn playing host to Washington State to open the Gus Malzahn era as head coach and JSU starting the Bill Clark era at Alabama State.
A team’s stock and the crest of its fans can rise. Alabama’s already considerable stock rose after its surprisingly easy rout of then-No. 8 Michigan in last year’s Cowboy Classic.
Or stock and crests can fall with a loss. Nothing blunts off-season hope like disappointment.
It’s not hard to pinpoint the intrigue for three colleges we follow most closely. Will the challenge of becoming the first three-peat champion keep Alabama hungry? Will Auburn’s defense and, therefore, Auburn improve after a 3-9 crash in 2012? Can Clark get it done for JSU in his first year as a college head coach?
Enjoy the last days of result-free enthusiasm. The reality of your favorite team begins to emerge Saturday.
Alabama: Avoiding complacency
It’s no longer a matter of whether Alabama has the talent to line up and win. Instead, it’s whether that talent plays with 2011-12 urgency or 2010 complacency.
The latter is the only way 20-point underdog Virginia Tech scores an upset Saturday, and one wonders.
Last season, Alabama showed the urgency to become the first repeat national champion in the Bowl Championship Series era, but one senses that kind of focus has flickered this off-season. There have been arrests, suspensions and the occasional Saban quote about “entitlement.”
Then came Saban’s compliment to running back Dee Hart, complete with message to the rest of the team.
“If we had everybody on our team that was as competitive as Dee Hart, we wouldn’t be too much worried about complacency or being selfish or accountability or any of that stuff that we talk about and worry about all the time because we have success,” Saban said last week.
Auburn: From ‘A’ to ‘D’
What’s a good grade for Malzahn’s first game as Auburn’s head coach? Try a ‘D,’ as in defense.
It’s been a minute since Auburn had a good one, and a Mike Leach-coached opponent can make a bad one look bad.
Auburn is a 16-point favorite against Washington State, a spread that must presume the Tigers will stop the Cougars at some point. That means an already bad secondary, depleted by injuries and the dismissal of safety Demetruce McNeal, must cover four- and five-receiver sets all day and cover well enough to allow Malzahn’s hurry-up offense to outscore Washington State.
They’ll have to do it without injured pass rusher Dee Ford to make things easier from the front end.
Auburn first dabbled with a hurry-up spread in 2008, the last year Auburn had a representative defense. Since then, Auburn has finished 29th (2008), 68th (2009), 60th (2010), 81st (2011) and 79th (2012) nationally in total defense.
Auburn’s 2012 ranking came in a year when former Auburn coach Gene Chizik made an ill-fated attempt to return to pro-style offense with spread personnel.
If Malzahn is a miracle worker, he’ll find a way to have his offense and representative SEC defense at Auburn.
JSU: Bill comes due
Clark has enjoyed an optimal first off-season on the job, featuring a transfer quarterback, apparent buy-in throughout the roster and open arms from a fan base that ready for change, let alone a JSU guy.
Now, he must coach a game.
Come Saturday at Alabama State, the coach who has taken advantage of the opportunity for secrecy will have to show his cards. JSU fans will see what kind of hand he can play.
He’ll do it against a team with lots of top-division transfers and a touted recruiting class, and he’ll do it on the road.
First games have a way of turning those upside-down frowns upside down, and Clark knows what’s at stake. He wants to keep things all smiles headed into the first of six home games in his first year.
That’s not to say he must win. The first-time college head coach does, however, need to look up to the job.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.