Believe it or not, there are some things that can be learned from Alabama playing a New Mexico State. There are opportunities there for a staff to learn things, for young players to get experience. But once again, after Alabama dispatched New Mexico State 62-10 on Saturday, the question was asked of Nick Saban:
“What do you get out of a game like this?”
That question isn’t automatically an assumption that Alabama is intentionally scheduling lesser opposition — and with all due respect to New Mexico State, which kept on trying for 60 full minutes in grueling heat — they aren’t a Top 25 team. They were blown out by Washington State and now by Alabama. But since the summer, in the buildup to the opener against (Power 5) Duke, Saban has probably fielded 999 questions about scheduling. He can be forgiven for thinking that the 1,000th question was aimed in that direction.
At a certain level, there is no pleasing a segment of non-Alabama fans whose sole interest is seeing someone can beat Alabama. The Crimson Tide could schedule non-conference road games at Ohio State, Oklahoma and Clemson, then reserve a November spot for the leader in the NFC South. They could also refuse to participate in the SEC schedule rotation and demand instead to play Georgia or Florida (on the road, of course) and there would still be critics.
For one last time, Greg Byrne’s cellphone isn’t buzzing madly with calls and texts offering Power Five home-and-homes. When he does get a text like that, he answers it — from Texas, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and so on. As we said from Atlanta last week, Alabama is looking for a 2025 Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game that would give UA a total of 10 Power Five games in that year. Any time the legislation for a nine-game SEC schedule is proposed, Alabama will vote for it. So far, such proposals have been scarce in Destin. There simply isn’t much more anyone can say.
But if the question isn’t a schedule assault, but a query about what Alabama learned, there actually were some things that were revealed on Saturday.
For one thing, while Alabama has plenty of young talent, that talent is far from having formed a cohesive group. Yes, the offense is explosive because few teams, Top 25 or not, can cover Alabama’s receivers or stop Tua Tagovailoa from finding them. The running backs looked better than in Week One, whether it was Najee Harris, Brian Robinson or eye-catching freshman Keilan Robinson, who outran every Aggie defended on a lightning 74-yard touchdown. The offensive line was jumbled because both regular centers (Emil Ekiyor and Chris Owens) were out, so work continues there and will still be needed at South Carolina.)
The fourth quarter, frankly, was a mess, not in any “affect the outcome” way but in terms of competing hard on a hot day. When Saban says that he didn’t like “the approach” on either offense or defense after Alabama began substituting, those words are a warning. But at least Saban knows now. He’s seen Mac Jones, who shockingly looked better with Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III in the game. He knows that there are situations when the backup defense might put 13 players on the field. He learned things, just as Jim Harbaugh learned them against Army or James Franklin learned things against Buffalo.
Was it the most exciting, memorable game of the weekend? No.
Is it a step to playing in exciting, memorable games at the end of season? Probably so.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt