Is it *gulp* ... tainted?
The answer, of course, is no.
But would you believe that five people asked me that question on the Friday following the Tide's 37-21 victory over the Texas Longhorns?
Look, what else can you say about Colt McCoy? He seems like a really good kid. He's an outstanding quarterback. It's truly a shame that he couldn't coax the feeling back into his arm in time to compete in the biggest game of his life on the biggest stage in college football. But should Alabama's accomplishment last Thursday be somewhat diminished because the kid's arm went dead in the first quarter? Of course not! Just as Tennessee's 1998 national championship shouldn't be diminished because Marcus Outzen started the game for Florida State instead of Chris Weinke. Just as Ohio State's 2002 title run shouldn't be called into question just because Willis McGahee's knee exploded during crunch time. Injuries are a part of the game; a cruel part, but a part nonetheless. Sure they can change the complexion of a game, but for both teams.
Realistically, McCoy's dead throwing arm forced almost as many adjustments from Alabama as it did from Texas. Would the Tide have sat on the ball for the duration of the third quarter had Colt McCoy still been slinging it in the pocket? You would assume not. Would they have defended the pass a little better if a more experienced signal-caller had been under center? Probably. Instead, backup QB Garrett Gilbert's inexperience lulled Alabama into complacency, allowing the Longhorns to steal momentum in the second half and turn a potential blowout into a nail-biter.
The fact is, Alabama won this game the same way they've won every other game this season. They pounded the football between the tackles, schemed well defensively and forced their opponent into making game-changing mistakes. And hey, they got some lucky breaks on top of that, like every national champion does. They are legitimately the best team in the nation and now they have the hardware to prove it. The question is: Will they be the nation's best team again in 2010?
A national championship repeat is rare, to say the least. It hasn't been accomplished out-right since Nebraska claimed back-to-back crowns in 1994 and 1995. Prior to that, Alabama was the last team to capture consecutive titles, winning it all in 1978 and 1979. When you take into account the rampant parity that has blossomed in the game since the mid-'90s, my earliest guess is that Alabama will have a terrific season in 2010, but won't win a second-straight Coaches Trophy. It is beyond all conceivability that a team (especially one that competes in the SEC) can finish three regular seasons in a row without a loss in major college football.
At first glance, Alabama's 2010 schedule doesn't appear to be too difficult. Three of the four non-conference opponents (San Jose State, Duke and Georgia State) are sure victories. Penn State will be challenging, but the game being at Bryant-Denny should give the Tide an automatic advantage. Florida rotates onto the SEC slate next season, which is a dramatic upgrade from Kentucky.
What is going to be difficult for Bama is replacing most of its starters on defense and special teams - players like Terrence Cody, Javier Arenas, Rolando McClain and Leigh Tiffin. Not only will the Tide be losing a ton of All-America talent with this graduating class, they will be losing a significant part of their team's leadership as well. Conversely, the offense will stay mostly intact next season. Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Juilo Jones all figure to return, which should keep Alabama more-or-less afloat until the defense gets its act together.
On the other side of the state, things are looking up for the Auburn Tigers in 2010.
Auburn has managed to parlay Gene Chizik's inaugural season success into big dividends on the recruiting trail, already capturing verbal commitments from top players like RB Michael Dyer and QB Cameron Newton. Newton figures to factor prominently in the Gus Malzahn experiment, as the Tigers are looking to fill the void left by Chris Todd's graduation. Newton, Tyrik Rollison and Neil Caudle seem to be the leading contenders to fill Todd's vacancy. Auburn will also need to find a running back to replace out-going senior Ben Tate, as well as build some depth along both the offensive and defensive fronts.
Speaking of the defense, fixing the depth issues that plagued Ted Roof's boys from the season opener through the bowl game will have to be a top priority. That problem will only be compounded by the graduation of top lineman Antonio Coleman and top defensive back Walter McFadden.
Like Alabama, Auburn's non-conference schedule consists of three easy victories (Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe and Chattanooga) and one marquee home match-up (Clemson). Tennessee rotates off the board in favor of Kentucky, which makes things a little easier for the Tigers. Speaking of easy, Auburn won't be traveling much during the 2010 season. In fact, of the Tigers' 12 regular-season games, only one does not take place in either Alabama or Mississippi (Kentucky on Oct. 9).
Depth and inexperience will once again be the bulkiest roadblocks along Auburn's path to success in 2010. However, a fresh infusion of young talent on signing day and another year of familiarity with Chizik and Malzahn's systems will go a long way toward building the program back to national prominence. Are the Tigers ready to make run at the SEC Championship next season? That seems a little premature. But hey, eight or nine wins in 2010 sounds about right, don't you think?
I want to use the limited space I have remaining this week to pass along a little personal news.
This column, No. 56 (I think) if you've been keeping count, will be my last for Birmingham Weekly. Last week, I was offered and accepted a marketing position with UAB athletics and, due to the fairly obvious conflict of interest, that means our weekly conversation must come to an end.
There are a number of people I need to thank in this circumstance. Chuck and Lynn Leishman for bringing me to the paper in the first place. My editor, Glenny Brock, who never once shot down a single one of my column ideas. Jesse Chambers, my pal and sounding board, who collaborated with me on a number of our paper's sports adventures. Kyle Whitmire, Madison Underwood, Mark Kelly, Courtney Haden, Phillip Jordan, Molly Folse, J'Mel Davidson, Carey Norris, Brent Thompson and Alyssa Mitchell - whose own brilliant pens challenged me each week just to keep up. Naomi McLarry, without whom no one would have ever seen a single word of my copy. And of course, Brad Cook and Ted Perry - my great friends - who have never once let me down. I lift my glass and salute you all. I am honored to have shared the masthead with you and I consider each day we spent together a blessed one.
Thank you readers, for making one of my life-long dreams a reality. When I was a boy, back in the day when Nick-at-Nite used to broadcast classic television programs, I fell in love with The Odd Couple (Randall/Klugman, not Lemmon/Matthau). Oscar Madison: New York Herald sports columnist. Could there be a better gig than that? What a privilege it must be, I imagined, to have your opinion published each week and absorbed into the talking points of the day? I figured I would never get a chance to walk in Oscar's slovenly footsteps, but hey, I guess some dreams do come true. You should know that I have enjoyed the aforementioned privilege to its fullest extent.
Thank you, once again, for supporting this column and this paper each week. Come see me in 2010 at Bartow Arena, Young Field and Legion Field and help me cheer Birmingham's team on to victory. God bless you all.