If you follow the talking heads of college football, all the experts believe that Alabama will be taking a step back this season. They say that a nine or 10 win season is to be expected barring a complete meltdown.
CFN even goes so far as to say that one of ‘Bama’s losses will be in the Iron Bowl (laughable).
Here is a list of Alabama’s supposed short-comings, the three key games for the Tide this season, and why they will once again run the table.
Yes, I am an Alabama fan. This article is filled with bias. Deal.
Junior QB Greg McElroy takes over for three-year starter John Parker Wilson. McElroy is used to waiting his turn to shine. He backed up former Missouri QB Chase Daniel while at Southlake Carroll High School.
During Alabama spring camp, McElroy was the clear choice for the No. 1 signal caller and performed admirably in the A-Day game.
He picked right back up where he left off when fall camp started, prompting coach Nick Saban to say that McElroy is ahead of where they hoped he would be at this point in practice.
He has also continued to put up impressive numbers during team scrimmages this fall. And keep in mind that he practices every day against one of the best defenses in the nation.
Bottom line: McElroy will be a fine replacement for Wilson. He will be an improvement in the passing game with his arm, accuracy, touch, and decision-making abilities. However (knocking on wood), if McElroy goes down…
This one is actually quite funny to me. I mean, are the “experts” serious? If nowhere else, the one position at which Alabama is stacked is tailback.
Three of the returning guys at this position have seen considerable time on the field (Ingram, Upchurch, and Grant) with two of them (Ingram and Grant) having been starters before.
Add to this list Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy (Rivals No. 2 and No. 13 RBs, respectively) and you have a deep, young, talented group.
Many of the pundits list this area as a weakness since Alabama doesn’t have a returning starter after having lost Glen Coffee to the NFL draft. I include Mark Ingram as a returning starter simply because he split time with Coffee in many of the games and even started a couple last season.
If Tyrod Taylor of VT can be considered a returning starter after sharing time with Sean Glennon, then Mark Ingram is also a returning starter.
Bottom Line: Alabama has a stable of talented running backs that is as deep as any in the country. Any team would be lucky to have these guys.
This is the one area that concerns experts and fans alike, perhaps with good reason, after losing two All-Americans and another two-year starter. They do, however, return senior LG Mike Johnson and RT Drew Davis.
Once again, Nick Saban managed to pull in a slew of top recruits in 2009. One area of focus was the offensive line. Alabama took seven total linemen, including Rivals No. 1 DJ Fluker and Rivals No. 32 (No. 4 JUCO OL) James Carpenter, who is also a junior college All-American.
Both of these players have had an immediate impact in fall camp. It is reported that Carpenter has been dominant at the left tackle spot vacated by Andre Smith.
Fluker has not only been solid as an incoming freshman, but he has also shown his versatility by practicing both at tackle and guard.
William Vlachos, the strongest member of the Tide football team, looks to have locked down the center position. He practices every day against the best NT in the country in Terrance Cody.
Word out of fall camp is that he has been able to hold his own against Cody, so he should be just fine.
John Michael Boswell and Barrett Jones appear to also be doing very well in practice. Both have played sparingly in the past, but should be able to step in and contribute right away.
Bottom Line: According to Nick Saban, no position on the offensive line is set in stone. But the guys getting looks at each spot appear to be filling in quite nicely.
Practice is a far cry from real games, so we will see just how effective this line will be when they go up against the talented Hokie pass rush.
After having carefully watched spring and fall camps thus far, it is my opinion that the Alabama O-Line will be ready to go by the start of the season.
Three Key Games
Virginia Tech Hokies
I have done an article breaking down each team unit by unit already. In the end, I give Alabama the edge by a score of four units to one, with a couple washes mixed in.
While I believe both teams' defenses will be outstanding, I doubt Tech’s ability to move the football effectively either through the air or on the ground. Tyrod Taylor has never shown any indication that he can throw the ball. And with Darren Evans out, I am not sure how effective the Hokie rushing attack can be.
I do believe that because Alabama will be filling in their perceived holes, they will be able to move the football down the field consistently. As long as the Tide can establish the run—and I think they will—they will win this game.
Ole Miss Rebels
Get on the bandwagon while you can, folks. Everyone—and I mean everyone—is raving about the Rebels. Will they live up to the hype? We will have to wait and see.
Ole Miss has a very good QB in Jevan Snead; there is no denying that. What is being overlooked is that they, too, are replacing a couple of offensive linemen, including All-American LT Michael Oher.
If this is a weakness for Alabama, then it is a weakness for Ole Miss. The Rebels are, however, talented on the offensive side of the ball. They can run and they can pass.
Can Alabama’s defense slow them down enough to win? Well, they did last year. Expectations are that this year’s version of the Alabama defense will be much better.
As for the Rebel defense, they were good against the run. They are replacing a lineman here, too, and pass rush specialist Greg Hardy is going to be hobbled after having a rod inserted into his ankle to correct an injury from last year that was aggravated in a car accident in July.
Ole Miss had serious issues defending against the pass already—finishing dead last in the conference in 2008—so Hardy’s injury can’t help if his pass rush ability is affected.
In the end, I think the Tide matches up with talent level and experience all over the field.
The Alabama defense will be the deciding factor in this game. If the secondary does its job against Snead and company and doesn’t let him beat them with his arm, Alabama wins this game.
The Tigers will be an improved bunch this season. This game will boil down to whether or not the LSU defense has greatly improved over last year. With the addition of John Chavis as defensive coordinator, this may very well be the case.
LSU’s offense will once again feature tailback Charles Scott. He is a beast to bring down. Jordan Jefferson looks to have won the starting job at QB and will be an improvement over Jarrett Lee.
This offense is as talented as any in the SEC.
The Tiger defense of 2008 was not typical of past units. Enter Chavis.
He can flat out coach. LSU should be a much better team in 2009 and will once again be a force in the SEC. Nick Saban turned this team from an SEC also-ran into a national champion by making them a defensive juggernaut.
Les Miles didn’t really continue this trend but looks to have learned his lesson by bringing in Chavis.
Alabama matches up well on both sides of the ball with LSU. Since I believe that this is the game that will ultimately decide the SEC West, it will come down to which team wants it more.
I believe that Alabama has some unfinished business with Tim Tebow and the Gators, and that will be the motivation they need to get past the Tigers.
Why Alabama Runs the Table
The remaining nine games should be wins for the Tide. I’m not overlooking any of them but UT, MSU, and Auburn are breaking in new coaches, the Hogs have no defense, Kentucky and South Carolina have no offense, and the out of conference slate aside from VT is weak.
If Alabama wins the three key games on their schedule, an undefeated regular season is almost a sure thing.
Of course, all of this is contingent upon Alabama avoiding the injury bug to major players. This is a better-conditioned, better-prepared, and stronger team, so hopefully they will be just as injury free as last season. Once again, knocking on wood…
So that’s my take on the 2009 Alabama football season. I welcome all comments and look forward to the discussions. If there is one thing I enjoy, it is talking SEC football.
Good luck to all on the season—until you face Alabama, that is.