Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Coming off Saturday night's 20-6 victory over South Carolina, maybe it’s premature to call Alabama the best team in the country, the No. 1 team in the country or even the team that deserves to be No. 1 in the country.
But there’s not a team in college football right now that has mastered the art of winning any better than the Crimson Tide.
They beat you when junior quarterback Greg McElroy is on top of his game. They beat you when he’s not on top of his game.
They beat you with senior starters (Javier Arenas) watching from the sideline. They beat you with budding sophomore superstars (Mark Ingram) having the best rushing performance Bryant-Denny Stadium has ever seen.
They beat you despite uncharacteristic turnovers and penalties. They beat you when maybe they weren’t as focused as they needed to be.
And they always beat you with defense -- suffocating, in-your-face, bone-crunching defense.
“It’s all about winning games,” Alabama senior offensive guard Mike Johnson said. “I remember against Arkansas that we weren’t that successful on the ground, and Greg (McElroy) picked us up through the air.
“However we’ve got to do it, we’ll do it.”
The truth is that McElroy hasn’t been real sharp throwing the football the last two weeks. He’ll be the first to tell you as much.
"I just wasn’t seeing it real good. I haven’t been playing real good," McElroy said. "I’ve haven’t been playing real confidently and stepping into my throws the way I have been. But we’ll get it figured out, I promise. I promise the fans, promise the coaches and promise the players that I will get it figured out and get it straightened out."
Against South Carolina, he had a hand in all four of the Crimson Tide’s turnovers – two interceptions and two fumbles.
But Ingram was there to romp for a Bryant-Denny Stadium record 246 yards rushing, and the Alabama defense has now gone eight quarters without giving up a touchdown.
In fact, Alabama’s defense actually outscored the Gamecocks on Saturday. Safety Mark Barron’s tackle-breaking 77-yard interception return in the first 62 seconds of the game was the Crimson Tide’s only touchdown until Ingram bulled across the goal line with 4:54 remaining.
“You can say it’s winning ugly or whatever, but it’s still winning,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “There was a tremendous amount of heart, character and competitive spirit in terms of how our defensive players played out there to keep them off the board on several occasions. They hung in there and scored on defense and hung in there and did what we needed them to do to help us win the game.
“There’s going to be another game sometime down the road where we’ll be going up and down the field on offense and we won’t be able to slow them down on defense, and we’ll have to win that way, too.
“But that’s the sign of a good team, when you can pick each other up and do what you need to do to come out on top.”
Indeed, there’s something to be said for winning when you don’t have your best stuff.
Every championship team has a game like this where maybe it’s not as mentally sharp as it needs to be coming into the game and not as crisp as usual during the game … but still finds a way to win.
Saban will tell you that his 2003 national championship team at LSU won a game at Ole Miss it probably didn’t deserve to win.
Was this that game for Alabama?
Only time will tell, but there’s something about this team that screams out that it’s championship material … even on a night when the offense kept putting the defense in tough spots.
“The defense was spectacular,” Ingram said. “The offense wasn’t clicking for a lot of the game. They did a great job of being stubborn and only giving up field goals. I think they’re the best defense in the country. I’ve got to practice against them every day. I feel bad for offenses that have to go against them.”
The first BCS standings come out on Sunday afternoon, and depending on whether Alabama passes No. 1 Florida in the polls, the Crimson Tide may find themselves atop the BCS standings.
Ultimately, it’s not going to matter who’s No. 1 and who’s No. 2 if Alabama and Florida keep winning. They would meet in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta for the right to play in the BCS National Championship Game.
Then it gets down to a one-game playoff.
It’s looking like Dec. 5 can’t get here soon enough.