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Prelude to a Season: #7

7.) Alabama Crimson Tide

AlabamaWhat You Need to Know
Many in the know for college football looked at Alabama’s hiring of Nick Saban in 2007 as a sign that the Crimson Tide would once again be back on top of the college football universe. No one in the know that Saban would return Bama to prominence quite so soon or quite so impressively. After an 07 season where the Tide finished 7-6, 2008 started off with a bang as the Crimson Tide dismantled #9 Clemson in the Georgia Dome in front of a national audience left breathless, speechless, and in awe of Alabama. The rest of 2008 saw Alabama climb through the polls and into the national title conversation as they went undefeated through the regular season, finished undefeated, and awaited a date with Florida for a right to play for the BCS title. The last two games of the year certainly left a bitter taste in many Tide fans’ mouths as they lost to the Gators and the Utah Utes in the Sugar Bowl, but no one, not the media, not the rivals, not the anti-Bama folks, can take away the fact that Alabama is back.

No one can dispute the fact that this was bound to happen. Nick Saban has certainly proven his ability as a head coach, having never had a losing season in his entire career. With stops at Toledo, Michigan St., and LSU, Saban has a career record of 110-50-1, along with a national title in 2003. Saban is hoping to add another crystal football to his trophy case this year as he takes the Crimson Tide on a journey with a much better starting point than last season.

Offensively, the Tide returns only 4 starters from a unit that averaged 30.1 points 356 yards per game last season. The most notable missing piece this year is NFL draft choice Glen Coffee. He was a large part of the Tide’s dominant rushing attack, racking up nearly 1400 yards along with 10 TDs. The Tide averaged 185 yards per game on the ground, their best total since 2004, and cracked the 200 yard mark 6 times last season including 328 against Arkansas. Filling his shoes will be sophomore Mark Ingram, who rushed for 728 yards and 12 TDs in 08. Alabama also must replace a starting QB (John Parker Wilson), a tight end (Nick Walker), and a wide receiver (Nikita Stover). Back in the receiving corps is sophomore Julio Jones, a 2nd Team All SEC selection who has his eyes on All America nods this season. On the offensive line, the Tide loses All Americans Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell as well as Marlon Davis. This year, Bama looks to redshirt freshman Tyler Love to begin a new legacy at left tackle much the same way Andre Smith did as a 4-year starter. At 6’7″ 290 lbs, Love certainly has the size to do just that. The fate of the offensive skill positions rests in junior QB Greg McElroy’s hands, as the school’s all time passing leader in Wilson moves on. McElroy will either succeed or yield way to numerous talented players who lack experience but have a wide range of ability and skills.

On the defensive side of the football, Alabama hopes to maintain its recent dominance, and returning 9 starters certainly makes that a probable outcome. On the defensive line they lose DE Bobby Greenwood, but keep senior NG Terrance Cody, who many thought would declare for the NFL. The 1st Team All American last season was one of the many reasons why the Tide gave up only 74 yards per game on the ground, and dropped their total yardage to 264. Replacing Greenwood will be senior Lorenzo Washington, who has playing experience and should certainly fill the gap well. The only other loss for the Tide comes at free safety, where they must replace Rashad Johnson, a 2nd Team All American drafted by the Airzona Cardinals. Their secondary looks to not skip a beat though, as they return senior CB Javier Arenas, a 2nd Team All SEC player and stellar pass defender, who is also deadly at punt returns, averaging 16 yards per return with 3 scores last season. They return their linebacking unit in its entirety, and that’s where you’ll find Rolando McClain, last season’s leading tackler.

2008 saw the Tide play a brutal schedule, and 2009 certainly looks no different. Kudos to Alabama for not taking the easy way out and scheduling FCS or Sun Belt cannon fodder for the non-conference games, as the Crimson Tide open the season in Atlanta against Virginia Tech. The other non-conference games (FIU, North Texas, and Chattanooga) are far from legendary, but opening the season at a neutral site against a fellow Top 10 program earns credibility points. In conference play, Bama’s road contests are certainly manageable, traveling to Kentucky, Mississippi, Mississippi State, and Auburn. Their home games are Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, and LSU. Missing from the schedule are Florida and Georgia (as well as Vanderbilt), which bodes well for the Tide’s potential shot at undefeated as they try to make their 6th straight Bowl and their 57th Bowl all time.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
WR Julio Jones: 58 rec, 924 yds, 4 TDs
LB Rolando McClain: 95 tkls, 3 sacks, 9 TFL, 1 INT
DE Brandon Deaderick: 36 tkls, 4 sacks, 1.5 TFL

Game to Watch
For the Crimson Tide, the season can start off with a bang similar to last year with a season opening win against the Virginia Tech Hokies in the Georgia Dome on September 5th. After that, their largest roadblocks to SEC dominance and the Western division’s berth in the SEC title game are their contests @ Ole Miss (10/10) and against LSU (11/7). A win at both clinches their title shot, and sets up a probable rematch against the Gators. One loss keeps them alive pending to who and how the three fare against each other, while two losses virtually eliminates the Tide from the SEC Championship conversation.

They’ll Do Well If…
… Greg McElroy performs just good enough to win games and not lose games. Replacing Wilson’s performance and stats will be challenging, but with the exceptional skill coming back on defense, McElroy doesn’t have to be a world beater.

Season Outlook
For the Crimson Tide, 2009 is shaping up to be just as impressive as the first 12 games of 2008. Best case scenario has them running the table to 12-0 and earning a spot in the SEC Championship game. Worst case has a two-loss in conference season, finishing 10-2, and earning a major Bowl, but not a BCS berth. Realistically, we’ll split the difference at 11-1, with the Tide’s loss coming to Ole Miss on the road. 11-1 overall, 7-1 in conference… another impressive season, another impressive Bowl, another bullet point on Saban’s resume making him at least a part of the subject matter in a conversation about the best coaches in the game.

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