By all accounts, Alabama had a breakout year in 2008. They return one of the best defenses in the country and many expect the Tide to stay high for a few years.
However, there are three things Alabama fans should fear going into this year and three things that they may not have thought of they can be glad about.
Getting the bad news out of the way first, Alabama's defense may not be as tough as many think in one key area—pass defense.
Last year, Alabama was one of the worst teams in the SEC in passing yards allowed. They rated 69th in the country in this key area. Only LSU (79th) and Ole Miss (85th) were worse.
That is number one on the list of things to fear. Number two is they had that number with team captain Rashad Johnson on the field, and he's gone now.
Calling the coverages for the secondary is like having a coach on the field. No one has stepped up to fill that role yet, and without someone stepping in/up, Alabama's numbers could be worse this year.
The need to not only find a player with the athletic skills necessary, but also the mental alertness to recognize what he's seeing will be the big task for the defense this year.
The last thing the fans have to fear is apathy.
The dictionary defines apathy as a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as concern, excitement, motivation, and passion.
Clearly, the loss of a close game to Florida in the SEC Championship, combined with the Christmas layover and all the distractions of New Orleans, Andre Smith, and more helped this problem in the Sugar Bowl.
They had better shake those cobwebs early before meeting a well-coached top five team in that first game.
Onto the three things that many fans may have overlooked that they can be happy about: Although Greg McElroy is a rookie as a starter, he and several receivers have been working together in practice for two years.
For proof, just look at the perfectly-timed pass with his fellow former second stringer Marquis Maze in the Auburn game for a deep six touchdown.
His experience in years of practice with many of these players will pay off this year. He will show that he was always ready to come in and fulfill his duties had they been pressed upon him. Fans will find that McElroy is a novice quarterback much in the same way Jessie James was a novice criminal when he robbed his first bank—the success will be instant and many times repeated.
Secondly, Alabama has the potential to be the No. 1 defense in America this year for one reason, Donta Hightower.
Hightower proved he could play inside linebacker last year as a true freshman. Few have ever done successfully.
This year will find him outside, and he could be the Jack linebacker that Saban has wanted since he's been there. Hightower's ability to get pressure on the quarterback could take a ton of pressure off that new safety and 'Bama's corners.
So, the second thing fans have to be happy about is they will finally see a legitimate pass rush this year.
The last thing Alabama fans haven't considered often enough is experience. Last year, Alabama started one of the youngest starting teams in the SEC.
Most have returned and in big time college football there are four inescapable corners of a square that all successful teams must have: size, speed, depth and experience.
Though Alabama still fields a very youthful team, they have experience they didn't have last year and depth that they've never enjoyed before.
These could be the pieces to a successful year at Alabama once again.