TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The evidence mounts that this Alabama football team is under-ranked, and what an injustice.
The voters and computers will whinge that they already have Alabama at No. 1, and blah, blah, blah, and that it isn't their fault that they could not manage to locate a superior numeral -- but that is so lame. Any country resourceful enough to invent the vacuum cleaner, the popcorn maker, the pipe wrench, certain cogs of the Internet, certain versions of the rabbit corkscrew, WD-40, defibrillation, the clothes hanger, the Ferris wheel, the beach ball, the zipper plastic storage bag and the TV remote control so that we all could become even fatter, well …
That country ought to be able to concoct a ranking above No. 1 for a team this competent, this tough, this good and this steeped in the championship knowhow of recent legacy.
This would be no normal No. 1, this Alabama team that streams above college football like an impenetrable frigate, led by the mirthless cruise host Nick Saban, whom nobody ever mistakes for Gavin MacLeod. (Kids, ask your parents.) The 101,821 cruisers on Saturday night, in a 38-7 win over a perfectly good Mississippi State team that entered at No. 11 and 7-0, felt none of the turbulence of another wacko Saturday nationwide.
Not a single dish fell off a shelf.
So with all the drama in the Top 10 alone, with Florida spilling six turnovers and losing, Oregon State falling in the wee hours (or so word has it), Southern California being up 28-13 at Arizona and blowing it, Oklahoma succumbing at home to a higher-ranked side, and with Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame looking plenty stout if not quite deserving of rankings higher than 1, Alabama hums on.
And while a stunning story creaks 160 miles away at Auburn, while that team lost 63-21 on Saturday to go 1-7 only 21 months and 17 days after winning a national title at 14-0, and while the Alabama public-address announcement of, "Early in the second quarter, Texas A&M 28, Auburn 0," causes a huge swell of cheers, indicating that the denizens of Bryant-Denny might just prefer an Auburn at 1-7 over an Auburn at 2-6 …
Alabama hums on, with this passing for drama: Saban yelled at the second team.
Saban seemed to know that people might ask him about yelling at the second team, so he donned the role of proactive interviewee and said, "I got upset with the backup players because they're better than that, they can play better than that, they've got to play with poise and confidence and compete like everybody else competes."
Instead, they let Mississippi State move 63 yards in nine plays to narrow the score from 38-0 to 38-7, but no, you could not reasonably call Saban a lunatic. His defense just lost six players to the NFL draft last April, three in the first round, and three starting linebackers all told, yet the remodeled edition has allowed 65 points in eight games, five of those in the paramount SEC. He knows how to shore up. He does not figure anytime soon to give up 63 at home 21 months and 17 days after a national title.
Lulls do come. As tight end Michael Williams put it, "Our offense took a step back in the second and third quarters," after a 21-0 lead, but even this has value. It enables Saban to bemoan lulls, and Saban reputedly is a world-class bemoaner of lulls.
Otherwise, it's football being played at a rarefied level, so it does just have a look about it. "It just depends on what your standard is, and we're not working against other teams, we're working against ourselves," said Outland Trophy winning offensive lineman Barrett Jones. The aggregate first-quarter score is 104-3, and while I'm no football scientist, that does seem to indicate that the coach might be good at his job. Come Saturday is the annual big bout with LSU -- and in Baton Rouge -- but if Alabama plays as Alabama can …
The junior quarterback, A.J. McCarron, has combined 18 touchdown passes with zero interceptions, clearly a feat of management. As Jones told it, "It's not an Alabama ball-control offense," and when defenses commit the rude, up-to-no-good act of trying to ruin your day by crowding the box, McCarron has improved at exacting sanction. For his 57-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Bell in the first quarter on Saturday night, the band should have undergone a momentary replacement by violinists.
In a world in which it's much nicer to play against self-assured slackers, the defense thinks it has something to prove. It's averse to surrender enough that it treated the patrons to an extreme rarity, a 97-yard drive from a visiting team that yielded no points. Here's one of the lavish comparisons around Alabama these days: These players want to do better than that other team that came off a national championship, that 2010 team that went a ghastly 10-3.
"Confidence-wise," Williams said, "I don't think this team's confidence ever varies at all."
Alabamians long since know all-around, crazy-solid, fundamentally fabulous football when they see it. From time to time through a football weekend here, you do hear the phrase "second golden era." With two national championships in the last three seasons and another plausible, these frigate-riders revel that Saban and staff have restored Tuscaloosa as the national headquarters of tail-kicking. They probably should not obsess over their thoughtless slighting in the rankings.