5 reasons Alabama could be even better in 2017 ... and 3 it might not
Alabama came up just short in the national title game against Clemson, but the team has a chance to make another run in 2017.
We break down five reasons the Tide could be better … and then get to three reasons they might not.
1. Jalen Hurts will get a full offseason as “the guy:” Hurts’ struggles were evident this past season, but people need to understand that he was in a four-way competition heading into fall camp. The coaching staff wasn’t all-in with working toward catering the offense to Hurts’ strengths.
That should all change this offseason. This is where Hurts stands as far as single season records at Alabama.
- The most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season with 954 yards.
- The most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season with 13.
- The 7th-most passing yards in a single season with 2,780 yards.
- The 4th-most passing touchdowns in a single season with 23.
The statistics don’t tell the whole story, however. Hurts struggled with tunnel vision and ball placement during his first year as the starter. The hope is that a full offseason with him being “the guy” will give him the necessary tools to develop as a passer.
If that ends up being the case, the sky is the limit for both Hurts and the Alabama offense.
2. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
The decision to hire Daboll was a head-scratcher to some. He only has four years of experience as an offensive coordinator — all in the NFL. And he didn’t have much success.
In each season, spanning three teams, his offense never finished in the top 16 — in fact, his offense actually finished in the bottom three in two of those years. Still, it sounds like he was a match for what Nick Saban was looking for in his next play-caller.
Daboll will bring back a more traditional offense that will look to control the ball, feed its 5-star running backs and eat clock. After Alabama’s defense was on the field for close to 100 plays in the national championship, that will be a welcomed sight for Saban.
People enjoy questioning Saban’s decision-making at times, but he has won four of his five national titles while the team was built with a ball-control offense and stout defense.
3. The current stable of running backs.
If Daboll is bringing a clock-grinding, ball-control offense to Tuscaloosa, then the team will need a steady stable of running backs.
Alabama should have just that. The team returns a 1,000-yard rusher (Damien Harris), an athletic freak who ran for 364 yards and 6 touchdowns in the postseason (Bo Scarbrough) and a balanced, shifty complementary back (Josh Jacobs). On top of that, the team added the No. 2 and No. 8 running backs from the 2017 recruiting class.
Alabama’s roster is filled with depth, but there might not be a deeper position than running back. For what Alabama is looking to do on offense moving forward, that is a great problem to have.
Don’t be surprised if Alabama doesn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher in 2017. However, look for the run game to substantially improved.
4. The 2017 recruiting class has the talent to contribute early.
According to 247Sports, Alabama just finished with the second best recruiting recruiting class since 1999 — only trailing the Florida Gators class in 2010 that featured Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd.
There are several members of this year’s class who can contribute in 2017.
Five-star offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood is in a prime position to earn the starting job at right tackle, and 4-star offensive lineman Jedrick Wills can compete for a starting spot at right guard.
The offense is also losing three of the top four targets in the passing game in ArDarius Stewart, Gehrig Dieter and O.J. Howard. Early enrollees Jerry Jeudy and Tyrell Shavers could earn a spot in the rotation early on.
Defensively, look for players such as Isaiah Buggs, Dylan Moses and VanDarius Cowan to make their presence known in 2017.
5. No proven threat in the West.
Alabama hasn’t had a difficult path to the SEC Championship the past couple of years. The other teams in the West have struggled to take advantage of their opportunities, and that could prove to be true in 2017 as well.
Auburn’s offense will almost certainly be improved with several returning starters and newly signed Jarrett Stidham leading the way. With that said, the defense will be looking to replace several key starters including Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Johnathan Ford. The Tigers could be improved, but they can’t be counted on as a threat until they have proven it on the field.
LSU is in a similar situation. They’re losing one of the best running backs to ever play at LSU in Leonard Fournette, one of the best centers in college football in Ethan Pocic and their defense is taking a hit. If star pass-rusher Arden Key doesn’t return, it could be a long year for the Tigers.
If a team doesn’t emerge, it looks like Alabama might have an even easier path to their seventh SEC West title since Saban arrived.
3 reasons they might not be as good as 2016
1. It’s difficult to be better than Alabama was last season.
Alabama was dominate for a significant portion of last season. In Alabama’s 14 wins, its average margin of victory was 28 points — outscoring opponents on average 39-11.
The defense was an absolute terror. They scored 11 touchdowns — 5 fumbles and 6 interceptions — while only allowing score 20 touchdowns. That is an impressive statistic that might never be repeated.
The team was two minutes from being the first team to go 15-0 since 1899. Outside of winning it all, it will be tough to top Alabama’s season in 2016.
2. The pass rush is taking a huge hit.
Alabama led the nation is sacks last season with 54. That was over the course of 15 games, so it actually ranked third in sacks per game with 3.6 — trailing Florida State (3.92) and Boston College (3.62).
After struggling to find a dominate pass-rusher for several years, Alabama managed to have three this past season — Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson. The problem is that Alabama must replace all three.
That’s 28.5 of those 54 sacks — or 52.7-percent. That doesn’t even include Reuben Foster (5.0 sacks) and Dalvin Tomlinson (3.0 sacks), who are both moving on to the NFL as well. Christian Miller and Shaun Dion Hamilton — who is coming off a major leg injury — are the returning sack leaders with 2 each.
Finding a way to replace the production left behind by these guys will be crucial to Alabama’s success in 2017.
3. New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Wait, we’ve seen this reason before, right? Wasn’t Daboll listed in the 5 reasons Alabama could be better? The answer is yes. Alabama could end up living and dying by Daboll’s play-calling in 2017.
He could be exactly what Alabama needs to win Saban’s fifth national championship in Tuscaloosa. On the other hand, he could be the reason the offense is an epic failure.
Alabama averaged 38.8 points per game last season. Non-offensive touchdowns certainly padded that number, but fans should expect a significant dip in that number moving forward. Is that a bad thing? Time will tell.