In 2009 Alabama won it all. They beat down hated Florida, they made Tim Tebow cry, they won the National Title, they vanquished a no-win streak against Texas, they finished undefeated and 14-0 against one of the nation's toughest schedules, broke a lifetime lockout of the Heisman Trophy, and scored a record six AP All Americans. With plenty of starters coming back, what could possibly go wrong?
I can imagine a similar conversation on the day the Titanic was launched on its maiden voyage.
Ever vigilant, the watchman never sleeps.
Loss of James Willis:
I've heard more than one linebacker recruit talk about how they thought it would be cool to be coached by a guy who had played the position in the NFL. Willis was also a force recruiting the richly talented Mobile area. Tubberville givith, and Tubberville taketh away.
Alabama is replacing Willis with director of player development Jeremy Pruitt. While Pruitt appears to be a promising coach who may do a great job, we are swapping a known quantity for an unknown.
I strongly believe making Alabama a coaching factory is yet another part of "The Process." Every staff says they work hard, but with Nick Saban often promoting from within coaches under Saban know if they work hard they can reach their personal goals as well. This is a critical element to maintaining the level of intensity in the program that is needed for long term success.
Rolando McClain heading for the NFL:
Can anyone quantify what Rolando McClain has meant to the Alabama program? He was the unquestioned leader of the defense.
When others wanted to celebrate the SEC championship with a Gatorade bath, McClain stepped in to remind them that he was not satisfied, the job was not finished, the seasons goals had not been met and the time for celebration had not come.
McClain is a rare commodity both physically and mentally—can anyone replace his leadership?
Loss of three experienced corners:
Corner might be the hardest defensive position to play, especially for Nick Saban. Alabama lost all three starters. The backups have little to no experience. If this doesn't scare you, you're just not paying attention.
Alabama has plenty of raw material to work with, but "Rivals Rankings" do not cover receivers. Players do, and we will soon learn if Rivals got it right for some young Corners in Tuscaloosa.
Loss of Mike Johnson's leadership:
Mike Johnson was the vocal leader of the offensive line. The offensive line has five guys who have to think and act as one, and it's a tough position to play. Intensity in the weight room this time of year is critical to success. Will someone step up and be that guy for the Crimson Tide?
SEC scheduling attempt to destroy Alabama:
The current SEC schedule has Alabama facing six SEC opponents coming off a bye week. This effectively gives the league twice as much prep time as Alabama has to work with.
While many blame the SEC office—and I certainly believe they should have seen this coming long ago and stepped in—the real reason is simply that Alabama is the biggest game on most teams' schedule.
Even when Alabama was down coaches never got fired if they won that game. Now with Nick Saban at the helm, the combination has lit a primal fear in the SEC.
Nick Saban said when he arrived at Tuscaloosa that he wanted to build the kind of team no one wanted to play. I think he has succeeded.
Teams are emptying the playbook against Alabama. Auburn ran an entirely new defense just for the Tide. Expect more of the same with everyone getting two weeks to prepare.
Still looking for that third go-to receiver:
Last year Alabama's receiving corps had a tendency to disappear at times. There were games or specific drives they showed up, but there was no consistency from drive to drive and week to week.
The answer is a more healthy Julio Jones and a third or fourth guy to make plays. Marquis Maze improved as the year progressed but his upside is limited. Alabama needs more guys to step up.
Can McElroy take it to the next level:
Greg McElroy was everything we hoped he'd be last year, a great game manager and a winner. Going into his senior campaign he's also still undefeated and a national champion.
Against Auburn last year the Tigers bombed the defense like Pearl Harbor in the first quarter. The Bama defense regained composure and put the clamps down in the second half but the damage was done.
The offense had to score. McElroy put the big drive together at the end and won it. That is history but thanks to heavy graduation on defense he may need to repeat that feat more than once next year.
Can McElroy take his game to the next level and play consistently at that level? I believe he will have to for Alabama to return to the big dance.
Law of Averages:
What goes up must come down. Can any team run the table in the SEC regular season three years in a row. It sounds impossible, but frankly so did doing it two years in a row.
Will the tide players be as hungry now with a championship ring on their finger? Or will the infusion of new starters bring hunger as they seek a championship they can more legitimately call their own?
It may seem like I'm down on Alabama but in reality I'm a professional nit picker and sand bagger. The fact that my “oh crap” list for 2010 is less than five or six pages in length is a testament to just how good the Alabama football program is.