Tennessee won't think it's playing the No. 2 team in the country after it completes its video homework this week. Alabama looks better than that.
I won't argue that LSU deserves to be No. 1 based on its strength of schedule, and I'm mystified that the coaches would vote Oklahoma ahead of either LSU or Alabama. But neither the Tigers nor the Sooners looks as thoroughly dominant as the Tide.
In fact, of all the outstanding teams UT has run across since its program went south in 2008, this Alabama team could be better than any of them. The Tide can't prove that Saturday against UT. That's a topic for debate Nov. 5 after the Tide takes on LSU.
"This is (Nick Saban's) best team," UT coach Derek Dooley said of a coach who already has two national championships on his resume. "It's probably as physically dominating of a defense as I've seen in the modern era of football. I know that's a strong statement. But I believe it.
"You catch yourself watching them, not studying them."
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt probably wouldn't argue with Dooley's glowing critique. He said last week that he thought Alabama was better now than when it won the national championship two years ago. The Tide backed up his assessment — at the expense of his team — in a 52-7 victory Saturday. It more than quadrupled Ole Miss' yardage (615-141), didn't commit a turnover and performed so flawlessly that its No. 1 critic was grasping for minutiae afterward.
"The kick coverage was not good," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "That's something we need to get better at right away."
So now we know the Tide's point of emphasis for this week: kick coverage.
Saban's demand for excellence is a familiar theme. But there are other striking similarities between the unbeaten Alabama team of two years ago and the one that is unbeaten through seven games: great defense, great running games and great motivation.
This team might have even more motivation.
The 2009 Alabama team was motivated by a last-minute loss to Florida in the 2008 SEC championship game. This team de
rives incentive from the 24-0 lead it blew in a 28-27 loss to arch-rival Auburn, which proceeded to win a national title of its own.
Maybe that helps account for Alabama's thoroughness. It has left little to chance in averaging 39.7 points per game and giving up 7 per game. The closest it has come to off days were a 27-11 victory over Penn State and a 34-0 victory over Vanderbilt, which it led only 14-0 at halftime.
Alabama has outscored four SEC opponents, including two who were nationally ranked, by an average of 37 points. Its 2009 team didn't beat an SEC team by more than 28 points.
"It's a combination of everything," Dooley said. "Incredible talent at every position, great coaching and just a relentless, physical, dominant style of play. A Heisman Trophy runner. You look at their three running backs ... Every one of them is averaging around 6 or 7 yards a carry."
His reference to running back Trent Richardson was a reminder that the Tide also has star power going for it. The value in that is evident in the SEC's last three national championships, all won by teams with a Heisman Trophy winner on board.
Richardson leads the SEC in rushing and touchdowns. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw leads the conference in tackles for loss. They're Alabama's equivalent of Auburn's Cam Newton and Nick Fairley last season.
Other statistics reflect the Tide's balance. Marquis Maze ranks third in the SEC in punt returns, pass receptions per game and all-purpose yardage. First-year starting quarterback A.J. McCarron is fourth in passing yardage per game. As a team, Alabama leads the conference in 12 statistical categories.
But its kick-coverage unit needs a lot of work.