Alabama's list of lessons learned from the 2011 season is gigantic. En route to championship No. 14, Alabama looked like the team to beat, then lost a game in OT, allowed too many points to an FCS giant and was the recipient of some wild upsets to secure its berth in the title game.
While posting a 21-point shutout over LSU in the title game, Alabama looked as if it had reviewed every game from the last decade, eliminated the weaknesses and showed up to beat whatever team that had the misfortune of opposing them on Jan. 9.
Looking back over the season, it's rather easy to pick apart certain games and call out every mistake the Tide made as a potential lesson learned.
However, why would you read another article about how sorry Alabama looked as the Georgia Southern Eagles ran over us for 21 points? (You wouldn't.)
These five things have nothing to do with how the Tide almost lost its shot for the title. In fact, these things have more to do with the hope the Tide has to repeat in 2012.
Kirby Smart was considered for the head coaching position at Ole Miss this past season. He would not be the first Saban disciple to turn Saban's tutelage into a promotion, either.
While the team should remain focused on learning the defenses and executing Smart's plans on the field, Alabama as an institution should be getting their ducks in a row for the eventuality of Smart's departure.
Smart is already on the radar for teams such as Ole Miss. It won't be long before someone makes him an offer that pulls him away from the Tide. I mean, if Alabama were to start paying the DC a salary that compared to other big head coaching positions, the program would lose sustainability.
Smart may not be at the capstone for too much longer, but don't expect him to leave for a DC position. If Smart considers leaving, he will be seeking a head coaching position.
For now, the players should simply roll on, but the administration should be drafting a backup plan now.
His best conference performance came in a 38-14 blowout of the Arkansas Razorbacks, registering a 192 QB rating along with a completion percentage of 75.
The 2011 season was his first as a starter, and he used that opportunity to become the first-ever sophomore to win a BCS title. As a first-year starter, McCarron exceeded expectations.
When the 2012 season kicks off, he will have had an entire spring and summer of practices and voluntary workouts to perfect his rhythm with the receiving corps. He has a legitimate shot at the Heisman, even on an SEC team.
Matt Barkley and Denard Robinson will be his biggest preseason competitors at the QB position. Trophy or not, McCarron should end up in New York.
Robinson will have his shot at McCarron on national television in the season opener. Look for McCarron's campaign to start that night...at Robinson's expense. (There are other signal-callers on the radar, but those will be the most-hyped during the preseason.)
Each year, Mississippi State puts up a defensive performance that rivals the SEC's top programs. (In 2011, the Bulldogs held McCarron to his second-lowest completion percentage of the year, with only LSU holding him lower.)
Real success at Mississippi State may require a staff overhaul, but the Bulldogs are not going to be content with playing fourth fiddle to 'Bama, LSU and Arkansas for long.
Food for thought: What if Kirby Smart became the head coach of the Bulldogs?
They wouldn't be instantly transformed into an SEC-West-champion program, but they would be heading in the right direction. (If not Kirby Smart, then one good offensive coordinator could make the difference as well.)
Eddie Lacy has been patiently awaiting his turn as the featured back of the Tide. Well, Circle Button's wait is officially over.
He will emerge as an explosive back who is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. He's not the same type of back as Richardson or Ingram was, but he's got speed and elusiveness.
Hopefully, the new OC will implement a fullback or a similar type of trailblazer in front of Lacy on occasion. Think of how many yards Richardson or Ingram could have gotten if they weren't required to break two or three tackles every carry.
Lacy will be fine without a fullback, but could be a video game character with one. I vote for Lacy's road to the Heisman to be paved with crimson blockers.
Alabama doesn't have time in 2012 for the defense to give up huge plays in every game on the schedule.
What Alabama does have is some wiggle room. The season opener against Michigan is a game of epic proportions. It will be the Tide's first chance to make a statement, and it will have comparable weight as the Oregon-LSU matchup of 2011 did.
Two weeks later, the Tide's conference opener will take place on the road against Arkansas. Alabama's 24-point victory in 2011 leads me to believe that the defense can give up one monster play and still win the game.
The question will be whether the defense can maintain its composure and shrug off the big play without letting it affect the game's outcome.
As the season wears on, the games get progressively more difficult. The Tide defense will have all the opportunity it needs to build up for each game.
Assuming the Tide takes down Michigan and Arkansas, the only real snag is the fact that LSU enjoys a bye before 'Bama comes to town. 'Bama does not have that luxury.
If the defense immediately buys into Saban's philosophy, there is hope for an undefeated championship season. The experience level on the team should have the defense gelling in time for each major game.
Wiggle room is not the same as room to fail. Alabama has some wiggle room, but not a lot. Teams will be gunning for them HARD, and it will all start with Michigan and Denard Robinson.