Sports

Perennial underdog Alabama set to take on Cincinnati

When have the Crimson Tide ever won anything?

When have the Crimson Tide ever won anything?
Photo: Getty Images

After his comments yesterday, I have to wonder whether Alabama linebacker Will Anderson has considered a career in comedy. I mean, only if this whole football thing doesn’t work out for him. It’s only the Crimson Tide he plays for, after all, so I wouldn’t really be putting all my eggs in one basket if I were him. At least Anderson is aware of that reality — as he told reporters yesterday, “I still feel like we’re the underdog in this game. All year we’ve been disrespected. I’m pretty sure we’re probably getting disrespected out there.” Yeah, I’ve been saying for years that Alabama’s biggest issue is dealing with all the disrespect out there.

The most impressive thing about this entire situation is honestly the reporters’ ability to keep a straight face after that comment and not assume that he was doing some sort of convoluted joke that only half landed. Unfortunately for the academic standards committee at the University of Alabama, Anderson was dead serious. Yes, he actually claimed that the preseason No. 1 and current No. 1 team with a Heisman quarterback, a team going into its eighth CFP appearance as a 13.5-point favorite, is the underdog.

Alabama’s whole thing is that they’re never the underdogs. They’re not humble about winning. They expect to win. Nick Saban doesn’t even do the whole Dabo Swinney aw-shucks-God-is-good-we’re-just-a-little-football-team-from-nowhere act. He knows that we know that he expects to win. So I’m not really sure where this narrative is coming from — especially when we recall that the Crimson Tide are playing Cincinnati on New Year’s Eve, a Group of 5 team that barely made it into the playoffs after, you know, actually being disrespected all year (and in years previous).

It could be that the team finally got around to watching The Last Dance and decided to take some cues from Michael Jordan’s choice to perceive nonexistent slights and rivalries in order to motivate himself. Anderson’s comment was a follow-up to another teammate’s comment, made last week, that Alabama was adopting an “underdog mentality.” And Tide quarterback Bryce Young, who (very predictably) won the Heisman, said in his acceptance speech that he “had always been ruled out and doubted.” As the starting QB at Alabama?

These comments are harmless, if a bit confusing, and pretty funny. But here’s where I have a question: Why take this tack now? Bama’s been winning without needing some false “underdog” mentality for years under Saban, and as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So is there something that needs fixing? All season, Saban was insisting that this team was young and unprepared, and that the other shoe would drop if they didn’t get their act together. And it did, against Texas A&M, which Saban has acknowledged was a much-needed wake-up call. But after taking care of Georgia with shocking ease and coasting into the playoff with the top seed, what good does the underdog narrative do for a program built on sheer, unapologetic confidence in their own strength and ability to win? It could also be that they adopted the underdog position against Georgia and it worked for them, so they’re trying it again. Who knows?

The interesting thing about this matchup is that Cincinnati actually seems to be rebelling a bit against the much more accurate “underdog” label for themselves. Junior lineman Dylan O’Quinn told the press, “We’ve heard a lot about this David versus Goliath talk, but the fact of the matter is everybody puts their pants on the same way. Everybody plays football, so we just want to go out and be us.”

The Bearcats will face Alabama in the afternoon slot on December 31. 

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