Nick Saban became the University of Alabama's coach in January 2007. Most Tide fans were euphoric about his hiring, because of his proven record as a college coach. But there was a lot of disappointment and grumbling as the Tide limped through the 2007 season, finishing 7-6.
The low point of the year was the loss to Louisiana-Monroe at Bryant Denny Stadium, which was part of four straight losses that ended the regular season. A 30-24 victory over Colorado in the Independence Bowl allowed Bama to finish the season on a winning note, but there was a bad taste in the mouths of the Tide faithful.
Some Tide fans have predicted that the Tide will contend for the SEC West title this season, but that seems unrealistic. The Tide lost key players like D.J. Hall, Keith Brown, Wallace Gilberry, and Simeon Castille. John Parker Wilson returns as the starting quarterback, but he's been very inconsistent. Discipline problems continue to dog the team. All of this points to one thing—Nick Saban needs more time to steer the Tide back to their winning ways.
Yes, Saban signed the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, but that guarantees nothing. And it could be two or three years before those young men make their full impact on the team.
Mike Shula really let team discipline get out of hand during his tenure as Bama head coach, and Saban struggled last year to get his squad on the straight and narrow. Several players on the 2007 team rebelled against Saban's attempts to pull back on the reins. There could still be some of that carrying over into the 2008 season.
Besides the problems Saban had whipping his team into shape, there is also the brutal SEC road schedule. The Crimson and White will play the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens, and Mark Richt's squad might be in the Top Five when the game rolls around. Phil Fulmer's Tennessee Vols get Bama at Neyland Stadium, and they'll be looking to avenge the 41-17 drubbing they endured at Bryant Denny last October.
The LSU Bengal Tigers may have lost Ryan Perilloux, but they still have a tremendous amount of talent, and a coach who just led them to the national championship. The fourth SEC road game will be at Arkansas, and Alabama always struggles to win that one.
But before any of those games are played, Nick Saban's boys have to go to Atlanta to play Tommy Bowden's Clemson Tigers. That's the first game of the season, and it will be a very tough test.
Finally, the Tide's home schedule includes two teams that have been especially tough to beat in recent years—the Auburn Tigers and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Auburn has won six straight over Bama, and they're not going to give up state bragging rights without a fight.
Sylvester Croom was arguably the best coach in the SEC last year, getting eight wins and a bowl victory for a team that nobody gave any respect to, the same team that started the season being massacred by LSU. Croom seems to be developing into an excellent coach.
Two teams in the West have new coaches this year. Houston Nutt left Arkansas to rebuild the Ole Miss program, and Bobby Petrino will be leading the Razorbacks. This makes for an awfully tough division, because Auburn has Tuberville, LSU has Miles, and Mississippi State has Croom. It's going to be harder than ever to win the West now.
That's why it's important for the Tide faithful to not get carried away with unrealistic expectations. Saban was right when he said it was going to be a "process," and the process takes time.
Alabama is going to be a force to be reckoned with, and they have greatly upgraded their talent with the last signing class. However, it may be two years from now before teams start to fear Bama again.