Point the spotlight anywhere… even the bench

Jason Galloway

How could you develop a team so deep that the absence of a reigning Heisman Trophy winner would hardly make a difference?

We’ve only seen tragedies in the past. We saw it when Texas quarterback and Heisman finalist Colt McCoy went down against the Crimson Tide in the 2010 BCS National Championship game, only to watch freshman Garrett Gilbert commit five turnovers in a 37-21 loss.

Oklahoma quarterback and 2008 Heisman winner Sam Bradford tore his shoulder in his first game of 2009, leading to a 7-5 record in a year the Sooners had legitimate national championship hopes.

And who could forget Dennis Dixon, the 2007 Heisman front-runner before tearing his ACL against Arizona State. The 8-1 Ducks lost their last three games and concluded the season with a meaningless Sun Bowl appearance.

But Alabama’s case is quite different. You could hardly tell 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram was injured during the Tide’s 48-3 victory over San Jose State last week.

Part of the reason is because San Jose State is San Jose State. But a bigger reason is that Alabama’s third-string back, Eddie Lacy, could start just about anywhere else in the Southeastern Conference, and its second-string back, Trent Richardson, could start just about anywhere else in the nation.

It even appears the Tide could take this kind of loss at nearly any position on the field. Defensive end Marcell Dareus didn’t play Saturday due to a suspension, and the defense still didn’t lose a step. Head coach Nick Saban said redshirt freshman quarterback AJ McCarron was going to get playing time early in the second quarter regardless of the score, and he performed about as well as starter Greg McElroy.

With Ingram and Dareus out again for this week’s game against Penn State, Saturday’s game will truly determine whether this unprecedented theory is actually valid. Can the loss of a Heisman Trophy winner still be just an afterthought when Alabama plays a ranked opponent?

That is what makes this game so intriguing. To see a rivalry renewed this week is great, but to discover if a team with repeat-or-bust expectations really even needs two of its best players to accomplish that feat – I believe that’s the real meat behind College GameDay coming to Tuscaloosa.

To have the premier college football show on campus when other matchups like Ohio State-Miami are lingering on Saturday’s schedule means a great deal to me. It should to any Alabama fan.

College GameDay symbolizes that the majority of the country would rather watch your school’s game than any other game in the country that week. The frequency of Tuscaloosa trips by the GameDay crew over the last few years is a representation of the success Alabama has rediscovered.

In just a few years, Saban has lifted the Tide to a level many have never been to. Alabama is undoubtedly the No. 1 team in the country and could very well repeat as national champions this season. Saturday will paint a better picture of whether the Tide can still make those claims without one of its best players on either side of the ball.

Don’t let this spoil you, Alabama students. Make sure to relish in the luxury of being a student during this sudden transformation, and enjoy the presence of the College GameDay crew outside Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.

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