Column: Could Bama be in for a big surprise?
There's not a lot to like about it, maybe because it seems so inevitable and Nick Saban always seems so crabby.
Root for Alabama to win a third straight national title in football? Please, let's just get it done and move on to 2014 when Saban will still be crabby but at least the BCS will be no more.
Yes, Saban is a great coach and he recruits great players. It's a tough combination to beat, and the reason Alabama has won two straight national championships and three out of the last four. It's why Las Vegas handicappers are giving this year's squad the highest power rating of any college team ever, and why all but two voters in The Associated Press Top 25 poll made the Crimson Tide No. 1 to begin the season.
Joyless, maybe. Efficient, yes. Ruthless, surely.
But what if things aren't exactly what they seem for a team that could easily run the table?
Here's a look at how it just might play out:
VIRGINIA TECH: The season begins in Atlanta, for reasons known only to ESPN. It's officially the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game because 382 postseason bowls with even dumber names are apparently not enough in college football. Expect to see commercials with cows parachuting into stadiums, and expect AJ McCarron to put up enough points on the board in the first half to easily cover the 19-point spread in this one. That will leave the second half wide open for plenty of gratuitous shots of McCarron's girlfriend, Katherine Webb, in the stands.
TEXAS A&M: A year to remember and two weeks to prepare for the SEC interloper that ruined Bama's perfect season last year. This game couldn't come quick enough on Alabama's schedule, even if it has to travel to College Station to take on the Aggies in the game of the, you pick `em (month, season, decade). Johnny Football is off suspension for this one for some reason and he shreds the Tide defense on way to a 35-7 halftime lead that has Saban looking as if he ate some bad shellfish on the sidelines. But Manziel is caught selling his game jersey at halftime to a wealthy booster, and Alabama comes back to win 38-35.
ROLL TIDE ROLL: It's the middle of the season and the Tide does roll. Names like Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU look good on the schedule, but Saban knows better. ''How dare they challenge me with their primitive skills,'' he crows, channeling his inner Mike Tyson.
CHATTANOOGA: The Mocs travel to Tuscaloosa for this one, trying to avoid a letdown after back-to-back big games against Wofford and Samford. They do a bit of sightseeing on the trip, and make sure they pat the 9-foot-tall statue of Saban outside Bryant-Denny Stadium for good luck. With a game against erstwhile rival Auburn the next week, Saban rests his regulars and suits up a collection of walk-ons along with the entire trombone section from the band. They win 62-3, but a scowling Saban kicks them all off the team for dishonoring both Alabama football and Bear Bryant by not covering the 73-point spread set by Vegas oddsmakers.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Alabama is still undefeated heading into in SEC title game, and with Manziel now suspended for the next two years for operating a superstore selling signed apparel, the Heisman is now a two-man race between McCarron and South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney. The Ol' Ball Coach has a few tricks up his sleeve for the big game, but Clowney disappears like one of Manti Te'o's girlfriends in the second half and Alabama punches a ticket to its third straight BCS title game. Saban celebrates by smiling, but only once.
STANFORD: Yes, Stanford. The place where Google was invented and the only school with a tree for a mascot. Takes so many brains to get in there that most football players don't even try and go play in the SEC instead. But in this, the most glorious football season in the history of academia, Stanford has beaten everyone and earned a spot in the BCS title game. Saban and his assistants spend the holidays watching game film 20 hours a day and are confident they have a plan to win. But Stanford pulls a fast one, putting in a brand new playbook that takes the entire squad only two days to memorize. Saban watches hopelessly as the Cardinal run plays he has never seen before, then is forced to watch as Stanford players dance with the tree at midfield to celebrate their national title.
Meanwhile, the bookies in Vegas close up shop. Because even they won't give odds of that happening.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg