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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

There's no opening against Alabama

Give Manny Diaz credit for one thing. Two days after throwing his overmatched Miami football team in front of the bullet train with bad intentions known as Alabama, Diaz admitted what no fan base wants to hear after ending up on the business end of a beatdown. The truth.

Alabama, he admitted, was too good top to bottom and start to finish. Per usual.

"They've been doing this to pretty much everybody," Diaz said. "They won the national championship game by 30 points."

Actually, Alabama owned Ohio State by "only" 28 last January to win its sixth big ring in 12 years, but that's small consolation for a fan base that remembers when the Hurricanes regularly delivered knockout blows instead of absorbing them. Of course, Miami has no one to blame but itself, and the recriminations extend far beyond alleged Alabama slayer Rhett Lashlee's uninspiring play-calling and Diaz taking over his own defense to no avail.

In a sport where shock pops up routinely during the regular season, you should have your head examined for scheduling a non-conference payday against the Crimson Tide - and expecting anything less than pain.

The last time Alabama lost a non-conference regular-season game was the catastrophic event known as Louisiana-Monroe, which occurred late in Year One under Nick Saban. The last time Alabama lost a non-conference regular-season game at a neutral site happened during that same anything-but-auspicious debut season when Bobby Bowden and Florida State handled the Tide in Jacksonville, Fla.

The next time Saban and company lose one of these neutral-site season openers - or any opener anywhere - will be the first. They ran their record in such so-called marquee matchups to a perfect 11-0 with Saturday's 44-13 undressing of Used To Be The U.

It is the surest thing about the surest thing in college football, and it doesn't matter how many first-round draft picks or offensive gurus depart. You might find a corn dog in a haystack and beat the machine with a Heisman winner and/or No. 1 overall draft pick at quarterback. Or with an extra helping of Jordan-Hare juju. You have no prayer of even annoying Alabama if you give Saban an entire off-season to prepare to whip your ass.

If you volunteer to open the season against Alabama at a neutral site, the experience won't necessarily wreck your season, but based on a sample size of 11 such games since 2008, here is what you can expect:

You won't win the game. You won't come close. You will lose by an average score of 39-13. You won't score more than 24 points or allow fewer than 24. You will bounce back to finish with an average record of 7-5. You will not win your division or your conference.

You might regain enough of your pride to win a bowl game, as four Alabama opening-day Classic opponents did, but like four others, you're just as likely to lose a bowl game. You're almost as likely to end the season with a coaching search. And for what? Money and exposure? Is a few million dollars guaranteed worth getting exposed on national television?

You want to give yourself the best chance to beat Alabama? Join the SEC.

Even that's a longshot, and the first full extended weekend of college football 2021 portends more of the same. Who's going to keep Alabama from winning its eighth SEC title under Saban? Georgia, which couldn't score an offensive touchdown while strangling Alabama-lite Clemson? LSU, which got run over by UCLA and its, ahem, sissy blue shirts? Texas A&M, whose new QB1 threw three picks against Kent State? Florida, where some Gator fans already are clamoring for Tim Tebow Anthony Richardson to take over for Chris Leak Emory Jones?

Or will odd-year Auburn and the treacherous trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium be the only real threat? In his first game under the tutelage of Bryan Harsin and Mike Bobo, junior Bo Nix completed a ridiculous 20 of 22 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns, which would be good against air. Which might be favored against woeful Akron. But still.

Sure, someone like Georgia with its relentless pass rush might force new Alabama starting quarterback Bryce Young from his spot in the pocket, as Miami did, but he might find new alpha receiver John Metchie running free. Someone like Auburn with its fresh attack might drive Alabama deep before stalling, as Miami did, only to have Young shoot a laser to a streaking Jameson Williams for a 94-yard score.

If 27 of 38 for 344 yards, four touchdowns and no picks is how Young is going to start under new OC Bill O'Brien, imagine where he might finish.

One game is one game, as Saban noted in an early rant after this Classic tradition began with Alabama clapping Clemson in 2008, but the first game of 2021 demonstrated that the T-town supply chain remains intact - and infinitely stronger than that Miami turnover chain interrupted. When the still-driven head coach enjoys himself the way Saban did Saturday, cheerfully playing along with the postgame leather helmet clowning, look out below and beyond.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban and offensive lineman Evan Neal enjoy their opening win over Miami. (Alabama Athletics)



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