TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -Not so fast, Alabama.
The Crimson Tide's early surge back into the national rankings had all the makings of a dramatic turnaround, a 3-0 start that included a stirring comeback win over Arkansas. But back-to-back losses to Georgia and Florida State have brought a heavy dose of reality: This program might be on its way back, but it's not there yet.
And that comes as no surprise to coach Nick Saban, who said he undertook a ``building process'' upon his hiring in January, not an overnight turnaround.
``That's been the case with just about every experience that I've ever had,'' Saban said Monday. ``But the expectations here, especially after winning three games, are we're going to win the national championship.
``Well, I don't know how realistic that is. All I know is that we're not playing as good a football as I feel we're capable of playing.''
The Tide (3-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) have start similarly to last season's 6-7 team: three wins, followed by two losses. But the two defeats came in overtime to No. 12 Georgia and 21-14 to Florida State - not exactly reasons for panic.
``There's no thoughts of last year's season,'' safety Rashad Johnson said. ``This is a whole different level, the way things are getting done around here. That's not going to creep into anybody's minds.''
In fact, Saban's first two LSU teams had back-to-back losses after 2-0 starts, and he wound up leading that program to one of those national titles Tide fans covet so much.
The last two games since that win over Arkansas on Matt Caddell's touchdown catch in the final seconds have unveiled some problems for the Tide.
The offense has converted just 9 of 35 third-down situations, and quarterback John Parker Wilson has completed only 51 percent of his passes. He was sacked three times against Florida State.
The defense also gave up a late 70-yard touchdown catch-and-run by De'Cody Fagg, a 58-yard reception by Greg Carr and an FSU touchdown drive to start the third quarter in a scoreless game.
Saban frequently talks about his team's ``identity.'' He thought it had one before that game. He defines that as having qualities like toughness, effort and consistent execution.
``That's what I call an identity,'' he said. ``You all call it winning and losing and what your record is. I don't think we had that identity in the last game, but I thought we did have it in four other games. I know that doesn't count for you.
``It's only whether you win or lose. You can play a bad game of checkers, but if the other guy plays worse, I guess that's OK?''
The good news for Alabama? The Tide were in both games going into the final minutes.
``It's definitely good to know that we could have won those games,'' Johnson said. ``It wasn't that those teams were just better than us and we don't have a chance the rest of the season. That would definitely kill the confidence. We have a lot of confidence going into the next games and into the future.''
The Tide are hoping to get another boost with a win in Saturday's homecoming game against Houston. Like Johnson, Saban prefers to take an optimist's outlook about his team's two losses.
``We have good enough players here to play winning football,'' Saban said. ``When we don't do it, it's more what we did than what the other team did, or what we didn't do than what the other team did. When you constantly see that, there should be a lot of positives in that.''
Just not the tangible positives that came from that win over Arkansas, including a No. 16 ranking after more than a year's absence from the poll. That followed easy wins over Western Carolina and Vanderbilt and fueled plenty of euphoria among fans who were already worked up over Saban's hiring.
``We've been kind of on a roller coaster, but there comes a time when there's less talk and more action,'' defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. ``That's definitely what time it is.''
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