Ole Miss Rebels vs. Alabama Crimson Tide, 6:30 pm ET, ESPN
Imagine football enjoyment being like a circular dial that corresponds with team quality. It's not fun at all when your team is going 0-12. As the team gets better, it gets more fun. Eventually as the team gets better and better, the dial goes all the way around and it resets. Suddenly, you have a great team that's no fun at all.
That's what the monster of expectations does. Anything short of perfection gets labelled a failure. If the team does achieve perfection, or at least as close to it as fallible humans get, then it's not cause for celebration. The team merely did its job. Win by 30, and the story is that you didn't win by 40. It's a terrible place to be, because you should be enjoying all of the success. I went through this with Florida's 2009 team, which more or less set the expectation for itself that it would go 14-0 or bust. It was the most miserable 13-1 year you can imagine.
Sometime between last January and now, Alabama's dial reset. Nick Saban even addressed this fact during the week:
"There's a lot of anxiety on our team because of the expectations that everybody has for the team," Saban said on his weekly "Hey, Coach!" radio show. "I think rather than having all these expectations, I think we should turn the expectations into just being supportive."
This is Nick Saban we're talking about here. The Nicktator. The originator and perfecter of The Process. The guy who supposedly keeps his team insulated from exterior pressure. He's asking the fans to just be positive and dial back on the crush of expectations. If he's willing to address anxiety on the team publicly even in this relatively understated way, then it must be worse than any of us know on the inside.
This will end, more likely than not, in a spectacular blowup. I don't know when it will be, but I do know that you'll be able to see the fireball for miles.
Could Ole Miss be the fuse that lights it? Perhaps. It has a better defense than A&M does, and it certainly has the wideouts to challenge Bama's underwhelming options at cornerback. Bama has lost a home game in each of the past three seasons too, so this being in Bryant-Denny doesn't necessarily mean anything.
If only it was next year's Rebel team playing this year's Bama team. Hugh Freeze has brought Ole Miss a long way in a short time, but I'm not sure they're ready to win this kind of game just yet. Sure, they beat Texas on the road two weeks ago, but the Crimson Tide plays just a wee bit better run defense than Texas does. This year's Tide team might not represent Saban at the height of his powers, but it's better than a Mack Brown-in-decline team.
I do expect Bama to win this game. I don't expect them to leave the stadium happy with it. Whether they'll be happy about much at all this year remains to be seen.
Year2's pick: Alabama 33, Ole Miss 23