(I originally wrote this article five months ago but feel that it is just as relevant today).
First off we must define the level of success. Is success an eight-win season? Or, is success a 14-0 season? For Crimson Tide fans it is always some where around a championship title (1999 was the last Title the Tide held in there grasps).
Does this mean that a 12-2, 2008 season was not successful? Absolutely not! Whenever a team can go undefeated in the regular season it is successful. But, when a team does that and loses the conference championship, it certainly makes it bittersweet.
In my opinion, a successful season consists of 10 or more wins. A season I can live with is nine wins and a season were I become ambivalent is eight wins. Anything less and I feel like finding a moral victory. That is sad.
When Tommy Tuberville was fired from Auburn, I looked back over his career there and his winning seasons. For all the times he beat the Tide, 7-3, he only had two successful seasons.
He had four livable seasons, one ambivalent season, and three moral victory seasons. During his tenure, Alabama had four successful seasons and six moral victory seasons. And I mean you need to try real hard to find the silver lining in those seasons.
The point is which would you rather have? I think it would have to be the Tubberville era. Beat your rival seven-out-of-10 times and still win a conference championship sounds pretty good to me. Well, Tubby is gone and the Tide is back! Or are they really?
Once again, the Crimson Tide are sitting right where they have been two years ago. The trend is set.
The Tide has a successful season and then two years of moral victories. Remember that moral victories comprise of seven or less wins in a season. This has been going on since 1996. Now, we come to the crossroads.
Will the Tide turn the corner, or will they stick to recent trends?
With half of the offensive starters gone from the 2008 team including the quarterback and three top offensive lineman, one can only assume that trends will continue.
The Alabama defense remains in tact. The loss of Rashad Johnson and Bobby Greenwood as the two departing starters in normal circumstances could throw a little wrench in the system. However, the rotators for those positions did just as well.
Alabama's defense will help keep a struggling offense in the game. The problem is how long can a defense be on the field before wearing out? I would predict about 35 minutes. After that, the more three-and-outs the Tide offense gets, the more tired the defense gets. But remember, time of possession is not always an indicator of lack of depth.
Nick Saban has been able to amass top-10 recruiting classes in his first three tries for the Tide. He is getting the talent he wants but will he be able to develop it?
Nick is a defensive coach as everyone knows so he will have the defense cinched up and ready to play. But, it is not the defense that the Tide has to worry about; it is the offense.
When I think about this side of the ball, it is going to be a hard road for this team. Center, offensive tackle, and guard are left up for grabs. Joe Pendry, the offensive line coordinator has his work cut out for him. He has been in the offensive-line business for quite some time but I think this will take more work than it appears.
As for the quarterback situation, it is about what everyone expects. Greg McElroy comes from a championship high school and has very little game-time experience on the field. His only saving grace is his coach, Jim McElwain.
Jim McElwain reminds me of another great offensive coordinator by the name of David Cutcliffe. I didn't start associating the two together until I heard what the Fresno State quarterback said about Jim's one season at the Bulldogs. He said that he was grateful for what Jim had taught him and how it increased his abilities to understand the game. The best teacher he ever had.
I remembered when David Cutcliffe came back to UT in the 2006 and 2007 season. UT had a moral victory year before David's arrival, much the same as the Fresno State Bulldogs before Jim's arrival. Within one season they were livable and in the second UT was successful. The Bulldogs didn't get a second season with McElwain.
Why am I comparing Jim McElwain and David Cutcliffe? Because as hands on position coaches with the players, they are teachers.
They both have education degrees and they know how to teach because of that. These guys could probably teach anything but they excel in quarterback play and offensive schemes that do not over stretch the abilities of their players.
Greg McElroy has been in Saban's system for two years and under Jim's tutelage for one year. He has a better arm than John Parker Wilson and the patients to wait behind a starter like he did with Chase Daniels in high school only to play one year and win a Texas 5A state title. Therefore, I believe that he will be able to manage the game appropriately, but will he be able to run for his life if the offensive line breaks down?
The true test will be the first game of the season against VaTech. I think that the Tide will continue with a run-first game in order to test out the offensive line and then move to the shotgun if necessary.
The Hokies 2008 total offense ranked at 103rd, but their overall defense was ranked seventh in the nation. The Tides defense will have to keep them in the game. But after seeing how the Hokies came off of the 2008 season, it will be a tough calling for the Tide offense.
So will the Tide's trend continue?
When it comes down to it, every game is losable. But every game is also winnable.
If the Tide can pull out a victory over the Hokies you will be looking at a successful season. And if they don't, then it will be a livable one. But the trend of moral victories are behind the Tide for now, and that is the Kool-Aid I can drink.
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