The narratives are clear. No one can topple the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide. But if you stand any chance, you must play perfectly. No turnovers, perfect playcalling, pure 50/50 run/pass split with absolutely zero playcalling tendencies, because Saban will sniff those out and destroy you. In short, to beat even an average Alabama effort, you need absolute perfection. Except, none of that is true.
Everyone is beatable. Including the mighty Crimson Tide of Alabama. As human beings, we tend to drown our perceptions of reality in our most recent experiences. It makes sense. They are easiest to recall. Endless amounts of statistical data prove this to method of thinking to be foolish. In sports, we tend to believe the next outcome will replicate the previous outcome (within reason). The trouble is, that's not true. They are completely unconnected variables. A player can go 0 for his first 15 and then hit a 415-foot bomb. A player could go 15 for his first 15 and then strikeout without ever so much as fouling off a ball. The previous out, or even the previous 15 outcomes, impressed no meaning on the 16th outcome, an independence occurrence in and of itself.
Thus explains the narratives entering this game. When Kirk Herbstreit says "A&M presents more of a challenge to Alabama than LSU," I know we are dealing with someone who is buying into his own story lines. You see, Herbstreit's logic is fairly straight forward (don't get me wrong, I generally think Herbstreit is outstanding at his job). But his logic goes like this:
1) Nick Saban is the best coach in America.
2) Nick Saban coaches Alabama
3) Alabama destroyed LSU in the MNC.
4) Alabama destroyed every opponent to date.
5) Alabama will destroy LSU again.
He'll cloud this logic with an array of statistics so that his opinion appears informed. "You see, Alabama already beat LSU a few months ago and they haven't lost since, so clearly A&M, a team they haven't played in years, will prove to be the greater challenge."
It's not that Herbstreit is biased against LSU. Equating his opinions with a simple "bias against" is message-board mentality. Herbstreit earnestly believes Alabama will beat LSU (and there is plenty of merit to that opinion).Yet, it's also very base reasoning. Many writers and analysts will cite last year's National Championship as why Alabama will surely beat LSU again. The trouble is, that game, those teams, have zero bearing on what happens Saturday.
Sure, there are consistencies between the two teams, but there are such stark differences the variables are completely altered. Football is not as simple as a mathematical formula, but any time you alter the variables, the results are likely to change.
The reality is, Alabama is yet to face any team near the quality of LSU. Through the fortunes of scheduling, Alabama gets to avoid Florida, Georgia AND South Carolina, the three best teams in the SEC East. LSU already squared off against two of these teams. When you look at all the impressive stats compiled by Alabama, it should be noted that the level of competition is modest, at best. This is not to say that Alabama isn't as good as we all think they are. The point is... we just don't know.
The 2012 emanation of this Alabama team, though clearly excellent, is not the same at the 2011 version. Although they feature many of the same attributes, the variables are changed. Alabama is good, but our knowledge of recent history, should not lead to illogical illusions of their greatness. They've played exactly one top 25 opponent this season, Mississippi State. That team, in all likelihood, will tumble to the bottom half (if not out) of the top 25 in short order.
Further, Alabama is yet to face any sort of real adversity. I suppose A.J. McCarron's near injury is the highest adversity point for this team. That's really nothing at all. I'm a firm believer that championship teams need to endure some measure of adversity. Adversity =/= a loss. But they need a challenge; they need to respond when the chips are down. To date, this version of Alabama has endured none.
There are two pieces to that. The first part is mentioned above, they've simply played very few quality teams. The second part is credit to their own accomplishments, they've just handled their business. They can only play the teams put before them, and they've destroyed them all.
But LSU is a different animal. However good A.J. McCarron is (and he's really good), however great the Tide offense continues to be, it's hard to envision them rolling into Death Valley on Saturday Night and steamrolling LSU. LSU's defense is too good. The crowd is too influential. The talent is far too great to simply get rolled over.
LSU will be ready. LSU can beat Alabama. But the narrative continues, as if they will just surrender. Not on their home turf. Not in Baton Rouge. Not on Saturday. This is Death Valley. This is where opponent's dreams come to die.