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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Opponent preview: Alabama

All right, folks. This is the opponent preview you've all been waiting for. It's the Crimson Tide.

But first, don't forget to read these updates from Friday's practice (I fixed the Twitter link for my latest one. Although I am clearly a backer of women's entrepreneurship, I'm not sure how that link went to the wrong site before). Here are the early practice notes, here are the late ones and here is my article for the newspaper about freshmen adjusting to the speed of practice.

As for the opponent previews, this is the last one. If you missed any of them, feel free to click on these links to read past ones: Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State, West Virginia, Ball State, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Furman and Georgia.

Also, one quick note about practice today. It's closed to the media, so we won't have any updates until after we do players interviews tonight. We can watch a portion of practice Sunday. And Monday is the first two-a-days, so we'll have multiple updates throughout the day, so check back periodically ...

OR, you can get instant alerts of when I update the blog by following me on Twitter. We call it Bitter on Twitter. It's sweeping the nation. The future is now! Follow me here.

Now let's get to the Crimson Tide ...

Alabama Crimson Tide
  • Head coach: Nick Saban (3rd season at Alabama, 19-8; 14th season overall, 110-50-1 at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and Alabama)
  • 2008 record: 12-2 (8-0 SEC, 1st in West), lost to Utah 31-17 in Sugar Bowl
  • Returning starters: 13 (4 offense, 9 defense)
  • Total offense: 355.8 (6th SEC, 63rd nationally)
  • Total defense: 312.0 (t-1st SEC, t-3rd nationally)
  • Series: Alabama leads 39-33-1
  • Last meeting: Alabama won 36-0 last year in Tuscaloosa
  • Consensus prediction: First in the SEC West
Five-week schedule glimpse
  • Oct. 31: Bye
  • Nov. 7: LSU
  • Nov. 14: at Mississippi State
  • Nov. 21: Chattanooga
  • Nov. 27: at Auburn
All it took was two years for Alabama to get back on the national stage with Saban at the helm. The Crimson Tide, unranked to start the year, hammered Clemson in the opener and continued to roll throughout the season, riding a powerful running game and big-time defense to a 12-0 regular season record. The Tide ended a six-year drought in the Iron Bowl in grand fashion, winning 36-0 to qualify for the SEC title game. Things didn't finish off so great, however. Bama came up just short against Florida, then, sans left tackle Andre Smith, got upended by Utah in the Sugar Bowl. Here's the kicker, though: all that talent that Saban has acquired with back-to-back top recruiting classes hasn't even really made a huge impact on this team.

To see if that means another big year for the Tide, I went to Michael Casagrande of the Decatur Daily. Read his work online here, his column here and his blog here.

AB: The defense returns nine of 11 starters, including All-SEC selections in defensive tackle Terrence Cody and linebacker Rolando McClain. Is there a weak spot in this group and can it out-perform last year's defense, which finished tied for third nationally in total yardage?
MC: If there is room for concern, it would be in the backfield. The loss of third-round draft-pick Rashad Johnson left the defense without the player Saban considered the “quarterback” of the defense. Johnson was in charge of calling out defensive formations as well as being a top-notch safety. Just who will be the leader on the field is still to be determined, but McClain appears to be a logical choice.
AB: John Parker Wilson wasn't flashy, but he was highly effective in running the offense and not losing football games. His successor, Greg McElroy, doesn't have an easy introduction as the Tide's starter, having to go against the hard-hitting crew at Virginia Tech in the opener, but can he be a reasonable facsimile of Wilson as the season progresses?
MC: After watching McElroy in the A-Day Game in April, I’m convinced he has the maturity to handle high pressure situations. He seemed to have a level of confidence and maturity that can’t always be found in a first-year starter. He made a few decent throws and couple bad ones that day. Having Julio Jones will certainly help, but he’ll need another still TBD strong second option. The running game should be the offense’s strength again with a full stable returning (minus Glen Coffee) along with stud freshman Trent Richardson.
AB: Alabama wasn't the same without All-American left tackle Andre Smith in the Sugar Bowl against Utah. He's now in the NFL and the Tide has to replace three starters up front. Can this group be the dominating, clock-chewing force it was last season?
MC: Short answer: Doubtful. Not only did the line lose Smith, but center Antoine Caldwell was also drafted, so that leaves two NFL-quality spots to fill. No matter how skilled the running backs are, a below-average line can spell disaster. Potential All-American Mike Johnson is back and there is a chance 6-foot-5 340-pound freshman D.J. Fluker could step in and start as a newcomer just like Smith did.
AB: Nick Saban has hauled in No. 1 recruiting classes in each of the last two years, the fruits of which the Crimson Tide will begin to enjoy in earnest in the very near future. Who from the freshman or sophomore class is capable of making a big impact this year?
Of course Jones, a sophomore, already proved his value with his 58 receptions and 934 receiving yards as a freshman. He’ll be dealing with double- and triple-teams if a quality No. 2 receiver doesn’t emerge. From the freshman class, Fluker and Richardson are the marquee names. Defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick also has a big reputation coming out of high school, but Saban is weary of proclaiming incoming freshmen as stars of the future until they line up with collegiate competition.
AB: Alabama used a showcase victory against Clemson at the Georgia Dome last year to burst onto the national scene and shoot up the polls. This year's opponent, Virginia Tech, is nearly a carbon copy of the Tide, with a stalwart defense, only the Hokies have an experienced quarterback returning. How would you handicap the season opener and would a loss make getting back into national title contention extremely difficult?
MC: Last season’s Georgia Dome opener presented Alabama with the perfect storm. It was obviously better than everyone thought and Clemson was even more obviously way overrated. Now both Alabama and Virginia Tech come in with big expectations so there will be no sneaking up for the Tide this go-round. I would give the Hokies an edge since they have their starting quarterback returning, but a loss would not be a total disaster for the Tide. Assuming two teams cruise through the regular season undefeated, such an early loss to a high quality opponent won’t disqualify them from the title hunt. Don’t forget Florida lost to Ole Miss several weeks into the season before hitting that extra gear to run away with a national championship last season.
NCAA '10 on the PlayStation 3 says ... No. 3 Alabama 44, No. 17 Auburn 6. Ouch. Not what Tigers fans were hoping to see. This one was all 'Bama, which led 17-6 at halftime thanks to Jones' two first-half touchdown catches. Things get out of hand in a 24-point fourth quarter. Auburn plays both Kodi Burns (5-17, 87 yards) and Chris Todd (7-14, 49 yards), neither of which are effective. Mario Fannin is the leading rusher with 51 yards while Ben Tate has 3 carries for 12 yards. Auburn finishes the season at 8-4 (5-3 in the SEC), which, except for this particular score, I think the majority of Tigers fans would take in a heartbeat this season. (Also, take heart Auburn fans. Florida throttled Alabama 40-6 in the SEC title game.)

Auburn ended up in the Cotton Bowl against Nebraska, a rematch from 2007. But the Cornhuskers pulled out a 26-7 victory this time, giving the Tigers an 8-5 record for the season.

Some other results ...
  • Florida beat Virginia Tech in overtime for the national championship.
  • Sam Bradford edged out Tim Tebow for the Heisman Trophy ... again.
  • OLB Craig Stevens was Auburn's lone first-team All-SEC selection. WR Tim Hawthorne and DE Antonio Coleman made the second team.
  • Stevens (91 tackles, 12 TFLs, 5 sacks, 5 FF, TD) also finished seventh in the Bednarik Award voting. Burns (25 touchdowns accounted for) was 10th in the O'Brien (that seems like a bit of a stretch), Coleman (17 TFL, 7 sacks) was ninth in the Lombardi (that doesn't seem like a stretch), Mike McNeil (49 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 INT) was eighth in the Thorpe and Mario Fannin (over 1,500 return yards, TD) was the second best returner in the country.
  • Alabama's season went in a nosedive at the end of the year for a second straight season. After losing the SEC championship game, the Tide lost to ohio State in the Capital One Bowl.
  • LSU won nine games but finished 4-4 in the SEC, relegated to the Liberty Bowl against Southern Miss (a game it won handily).
  • Ole Miss finished 8-5 and 4-4 in the SEC, losing to Miami 34-10 in the Music City Bowl (not even NCAA '10 has faith in Houtson Nutt!).
  • Tennessee finished the season at No. 19, with nine wins and a Chick-fil-A bowl victory against Clemson.
  • Georgia won eight games and beat Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl.
  • Arkansas went 6-7, losing to Kansas State in the Independence Bowl.
  • Four teams from the SEC didn't make bowls: Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Kentucky.
  • How accurate are these projections? Well, Southern Cal finished 8-5 and lost to North Carolina 52-0 in the Emerald Bowl. I believe Vegas has the odds of that happening at somewhere in the 1,000,000 to 1 range.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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