- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2007

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If value is measured in sheer drama, then Alabama is well on its way to getting its money’s worth from $32 Million Man Nick Saban.

In an SEC West debut for the ages, Saban’s Crimson Tide scored on a 3-yard jump-ball pass from John Parker Wilson to senior wideout Matt Caddell with eight ticks left on the clock to stun No. 16 Arkansas 41-38 last night before a delirious packed house at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

“That was incredible,” said Saban, who already has the Capstone faithful channeling Bear Bryant and selecting campus locations for banners and bronze statuary. “That was as exciting as it gets.”

The score capped a nine-play, 73-yard march that began with 2:13 remaining in a wild game in which the visiting Razorbacks (1-1, 0-1 SEC) twice rallied from 21-point deficits behind a surreal performance from Heisman Trophy favorite Darren McFadden.

Bama (3-0, 2-0 SEC) might be back, but McFadden is the back. The 6-2, 215-pound junior from Little Rock gained 195 yards on 33 carries against the traditionally stingy Crimson Tide defense, punishing an Alabama scheme designed specifically to slow him and backfield sidekick Felix Jones (96 rushing yards).

“I don’t know what your opinion of a good back is, but I’m going to tell you mine: Nos. 5 [McFadden] and 25 [Jones],” said Saban, who coached former Heisman winner Ricky Williams while with the Miami Dolphins the last two seasons. “If those guys are first-round NFL draft picks, I don’t know what is.”

McFadden spent all night running over, around and through crimson-clad defenders with his 4.3 speed and extraordinary leg drive. The first sophomore to win the Doak Walker Award, McFadden rushed for 1,674 yards last season en route to finishing second in the Heisman voting to Ohio State’s Troy Smith. Given last night’s performance, McFadden is a lock to make a return trip to New York in December.

But in the final analysis, last night belonged to the Tide, who parlayed a career night from Wilson (324 yards passing and four touchdowns) into the first semi-signature win of the Saban era.

Circle Nov. 3 on your college football calendars; that’s when current No. 2 LSU (3-0) must visit Tuscaloosa and the coach who carried the Tigers to the BCS promised land just four years ago. Saban, the prince of Baton Rouge from 2000 to 2004, guided LSU to SEC titles in 2001 and 2003 and earned a share of the national title in 2003. In fact, the Tigers are still reaping the benefits of Saban’s outstanding recruiting efforts in the bayou state. And while new LSU mentor Les Miles has maintained the high standard of success established by Saban, the Tigers’ trip to Alabama looms as the ultimate hurdle standing between LSU and a date with No. 4 Florida in the SEC Championship.

Alabama has a bye week preceding that date with LSU, and nobody should have a better idea than Saban of how to attack the Tigers on both sides of the ball. And while last night’s victory required both fourth-quarter heroics and a suspect Arkansas secondary, it’s clear Saban already has the Alabama program headed in the right direction after last season’s 6-7 debacle under ousted Mike Shula.

In fact, the balance of power is shifting by the second in the nation’s perennial powerhouse conference.

Alabama is in. Auburn is out.

Hours before the Tide’s coming out victory over Arkansas, Tommy Tuberville’s Tigers dropped a second consecutive home shocker, following last week’s galling loss to South Florida by stumbling over SEC doormat Mississippi State 19-14. Given that Auburn (1-2) still has trips to Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia before hosting revenge-minded Alabama, the Tigers could finish the season with a sub-.500 record.

Tuberville’s perfect run in 2004 might not mean much if he can’t get to a bowl this season with a senior quarterback (Brandon Cox), not with folks on the Plains already antsy about the rising Tide in Tuscaloosa. But Tuberville might not be the only tenured SEC coach in search of a realtor come January.

Over in the SEC East, No. 4 Florida might have smashed the great pumpkin otherwise known as Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer for the last time yesterday. Golden boy Tim Tebow and the Gators trounced the Vols 59-20, closing the game with 31 unanswered points to humiliate the Knoxville neons. The Vols (1-2) have given up 104 points in road losses to Cal and Florida. Urban Meyer is now 3-0 against Fulmer. And Tennessee looks likely to languish through a ninth consecutive season without an SEC title after being spoiled in the 1990s.

If Fulmer falls to Saban’s Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa next month, don’t be surprised if Fulmer, the dean of the SEC’s coaches (16 years at Tennessee), gets a pink slip in his stocking. Fact is, the SEC already was considered the nation’s premier league before Saban arrived at Alabama. With sideline sharks like Saban, Meyer and Spurrier (South Carolina) added to the conference ranks in recent years, perhaps the BCS should simply consider forwarding the SEC champion to the national title game.

“We’re not expecting a title yet,” lifelong Alabama fan Wanda Howell said. “We just want things back to the way they’re supposed to be.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide