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Alabama’s state of mind: Is the sky falling?

Cedric Mason- Touchdown Alabama Magazine

White clouds… A reminder of how beautiful the sky is, a gesture of a bright sun approaching and a sign representing a great day for football. Depression comes from a mindset of regret, fear and wasted dreams. Tears inside of that depression represent anger and frustration, to which makes an ominous cloud. A cloud of darkness, a situation of despair, a cry for help.

A six-year time period (2001-06) saw the worst of minimal to no success for Alabama football. Inconsistencies ran rapid for a trio of coaches with the first name “Mike” and another one that fled to Texas A&M in 2003. Brodie Croyle, Tyrone Prothro, DeMeco Ryans and others painted a season of dreams in 2005; however, NCAA sanctions seemingly ripped it away.

Coach Nick Saban’s rare mixture of discipline and details effectively moved mediocrity from Tuscaloosa, Ala., from 2008-present. Three national championships, three Southeastern Conference titles and a boat load of No. 1 recruiting classes is enough to swoon fans, but even in success outsiders take shots. One comes to find who is there for them when adversity hits.

Is Alabama’s reign as college football’s “elite” over? Is Saban officially behind the 8-ball?

Both of these questions along with others were proposed after Alabama’s 37-43 loss to Mississippi last week. To be honest, the landscape of college football has changed.

Recruiting is tougher, coaches are wiser and the scheme is favoring offenses more.

Grammy-award winning artist and Toronto, Ontario (Canada) native Aubrey “Drake” Graham has a song from his album Views from the 6, entitled “0 to 100/The Catch Up.”

The former has nothing to do with this topic, on the other hand, the latter does.

What the catch up entails, is that the SEC has started to cannibalize itself. Four to five years ago, a team like Alabama or LSU could expect to handedly defeat an opponent like Ole Miss or Arkansas. Nowadays, the middle-tier of the conference is nearly as wise as the upper echelon.

So how has Saban combated this? In recruiting, it has been leaner and faster on defense and explosive playmakers on offense. With teams adopting the styles of Auburn, Oregon and Texas Tech, it is very hard for defensive coaches to substitute effectively in certain situations.

Saban has had success despite these issues, averaging just one to two losses per year since 2007. Not seeing Alabama beat teams by 50 points as opposed to recent years has caused mainstream media to fire up their computers with questions, such as Is the sky falling at Alabama? The answer is “No,” regardless of the team’s failure to finish in the last two seasons.

It has lost a lot of talent and experience to the National Football League since 2008, and no matter how well Alabama recruits, one can’t put a price on experience on the field.

Doubters of Saban, Alabama and the SEC stuck their heads up last season, prior to opening weekend for college football. The preconceived notion was that Blake Sims lacked the ability to throw, could not make quality decisions and simply could not run a team. Alabama rallied behind Sims, he put the team on his back and the Crimson Tide won an SEC title in 2014.

Quintessentially, this year’s team is the same as last year’s team that loss to Ole Miss.

A few players are no longer at Alabama, but the core group that played in 2014 came back this season. Senior quarterback Jake Coker is in the same spot as Sims. Doubters came in fall practice and some continue to linger now, but Coker’s responsibility is to play to his strengths.

Alabama can’t replace Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones, but it can motivate a fresh group of wide receivers to emerge. Richard Mullaney and Calvin Ridley have been involved on offense so far. O.J. Howard has been productive and Cam Sims is healthy.

More consistency from sophomore ArDarius Stewart will help and finding ways to use Chris Black should bode well. A healthy Bo Scarbrough transitions Kenyan Drake to receiver too.

Alabama’s Lane Kiffin did not call his best game last week, but his record with quarterbacks can speak for itself. To settle with Coker gives Kiffin’s game plan a shot to sink in.

Alabama’s defense was pretty good against Mississippi, aside from two plays. Its front line held the Rebels to 92 rushing yards on 2.9 yards per carry. Turnovers were the lone issue.

If it works with Coker and finds its identity on the offensive line, the Crimson Tide should be okay. Defensively, the secondary needs to continue facing the ball and tackling well.

A loss is bad, but an early loss is easier to come back from. Some teams have yet to grasp the concept of finishing a season. Alabama still controls its destiny if it wins out.

Appreciation is something that’s needed. Alabama is in a national title conversation every year, while other program rarely sniff five wins a season. The sky isn’t falling for a team that drops one to two games a year. Some areas need to be adjusted, but it isn’t anything detrimental.

Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.

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