It’s hard to look at an 11-2 season as anything except a success, but for Alabama, it almost seems like the end of the world.
Nick Saban has built Alabama into such a high-caliber program that fans expect national championships year in and year out, and rightfully so. This year, the team was certainly primed to win it all again, but it just didn’t happen.
While fans may be upset at the current state of things—AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley leaving, the defense seemingly baffled by the hurry-up offense, a lack of dominance on the offensive line—there is still much to be optimistic about.
All is not lost in Tuscaloosa. In fact, things look pretty darn good. Here are five reasons fans should feel good about the Tide heading into the offseason.
The freshman running back saw his first significant action of the season and more than lived up to the hype he brought in—if that was even possible.
Henry touched the ball nine times for 161 total yards, including a touchdown run of 43 yards and a 61-yard screen pass TD.
The Yulee, Fla., native who broke multiple high school rushing records is primed to see significant carries in 2014 and could even take over as the No. 1 back.
By the second half of the Oklahoma game, he was drawing comparisons to another great SEC back who opened eyes as a freshman.
As The late great Larry Munson once said, he's just a freshman.— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) January 3, 2014
Freakish Defensive Line
Nick Saban doesn’t like to talk about sacks, but rather the need to "affect the quarterback.” Still, he can’t deny what freshman A’Shawn Robinson did this season.
Robinson led the team with 5.5 sacks and added five quarterback hurries on the season. He and fellow freshman Jonathan Allen found themselves in the regular defensive line rotation, which can go six and seven deep, and were a disruptive force up front all year.
Add to that a 2014 class that includes 5-star pass rushers Da’Shawn Hand and Christian Miller, 4-star defensive tackle Josh Frazier and the possibility of adding 5-star Matt Elam, and the Tide looks set for a few years up front.
While the pass rush has been a concern this year across the board, it doesn’t look like it will be in the future.
Amari Cooper Leads Stud Receivers
Amari Cooper didn’t quite live up to the hype he brought after his freshman season, putting up “only” 736 yards and four touchdowns. But after foot injuries hampered him during the year, he finished strong with 299 yards in his final two games and looks primed for a huge junior year.
And he’ll be surrounded by a star-studded supporting cast.
Only Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell leave a group that will include the returning DeAndrew White, Christion Jones and rising redshirt sophomore Chris Black. Three 2013 signees—five-star Robert Foster, four-star ArDarius Stewart and four-star Raheem Falkins—all redshirted this year and will look to contribute this year.
Saban’s Record with New Quarterback
Speaking of a new quarterback, Saban has done pretty well with rookie signal-callers.
Granted, he’s only had to break in two (Greg McElroy in 2009 and AJ McCarron in 2011), but he has set them up for success by leaning on a talented running game and lockdown defense.
He’ll have the running game with Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake all returning, and the defense will have the potential to succeed.
The options he has to pick from are a talented bunch, with rising senior Blake Sims, rising sophomore Alec Morris and a trio of talented freshmen who all redshirted. He’ll also have freshman David Cornwell coming in and could look to potential transfers for more help.
Replacing McCarron will be very difficult, but Saban has a pretty good track record of breaking in new quarterbacks.
Back to Square 1
While it seems crazy to say, the reality check that the end of 2013 provided could turn out to be a good thing going forward.
Like in 2010, when the Tide lost three games with a very talented squad, Alabama will come away hungry and will have something to point to what happens when things go wrong.
Only a handful of seniors on this year’s team were around for that season while the rest only knew seasons that ended in national championships. That won’t be the case anymore.
After finishing a season like they did this year, the players will only be motivated to not let it happen again.
Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting info comes courtesy of 247Sports.com.