CFB thoughts: Is it Alabama, everyone else? FSU, OSU flex, others rise

1. Alabama is for real. Again. The SEC is not (probably). Though certainly not invincible, the Crimson Tide look loaded and motivated to repeat again.

The rest of the league has some big questions, starting with LSU. I was buying the Tigers but not only were they pretty much awful in their loss to Wisconsin, many of the problems (quarterback play and offense in general) were all too familiar. Outside of the Crimson Tide, the SEC looks like a mix of used-to-bes or never-weres with a couple of programs still trying to figure out what their ceiling can be.

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2. Ohio State looks formidable. Again. But the Buckeyes' sternest test doesn't look as tough now as Oklahoma was beaten decisively by Houston. If Ohio State is as reloaded as it looked against a Bowling Green team expected to be among the best in the MAC again, that might not matter much, but the margin for error shrinks if the Buckeyes don't win in Norman in two weeks and/or the Sooners don't end up being a marquee win when all is said and done. Of course, Houston is not chopped liver, and Ohio State survived Virginia Tech turning out to be terrible two years ago.

3. How good is the Big Ten? Too early to tell. Michigan looked great blowing out Hawaii, but Hawaii is awful. Wisconsin's win was impressive, but it's hard to go overboard when also keeping in mind the above SEC thoughts. The Badgers were certainly expected to be at least a very solid team already. Of course sometimes weird stuff happens in openers. Ask Stanford last year. Or Northwestern this year. I'm thinking of that with Clemson's close shave at Auburn, too.

4. Recruiting is still king. (See Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State)

5. Coaching is pretty damn important, too. Two prime examples: Houston and Michigan. The Cougars have talent, sure, but probably not enough to be expected to control back to back games against Florida State and Oklahoma. Some of the Wolverines' best talent is probably still waiting in the wings, but Harbaugh has gotten more out of a bunch of veterans than Brady Hoke did. At the other end of the spectrum are LSU and to a lesser extent Kentucky. Meanwhile, nobody combines recruiting and development better than Nick Saban and Urban Meyer.

6. Coaching is pretty damn important II: Texas coach Charlie Strong bit the bullet and brought in an offensive coordinator to run the type of offense most of the high schools in talent-rich Texas run, and it paid immediate dividends as the Longhorns stunned Notre Dame 50-47 in double overtime Sunday night. It was quite a turnaround from a year ago when the Fighting Irish embarrassed Strong's team 38-3 in South Bend.

7. And then there were three? I thought going into the season, Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Florida State provided a strong nucleus of contenders with talent and pedigree. Cross the Tigers off the list and get ready for chaos as a whole bunch of teams figure to take their turn trying to break into the top four between now and December, especially since FSU and Clemson are guaranteed at least one loss. Of course, LSU will get a shot at 'Bama, too…