We take it for granted.
The ability to win a championship, lose a wealth of talent to the NFL and still be ranked No. 1 to start the following season is an unbelievable feat that very few programs in the 21st century have accomplished.
But once again, it’s not the goal, rather the expectation at Alabama. The Tide seem like locks to start the season at No. 1, despite the fact that Georgia is coming, Clemson somehow returned a defensive line of first-round picks and we still don’t know who’s starting at quarterback for Alabama.
Ah, but we know who’s coaching. And really, when it comes to predicting Alabama’s season, that’s just about the only constant that matters.
2017 record: 13-1 (7-1), won National Championship
Quarterbacks on Quarterbacks
So you might have heard that there’s a quarterback situation down in Tuscaloosa. Nick Saban has provided zero insight as to who will start on opening day, despite the overwhelming feeling that it’ll be Tua Tagovailoa. And by “feeling,” I mean those in the media like myself who are paid to discuss these things.
According to Saban, we’re all at fault for his quarterback situation. My bad, Coach.
Yes, I understand that Saban said Hurts told him that he wasn’t going to transfer from Alabama this year. You know what meant a whole lot more to me? Hearing words that actually came from Hurts’ mouth on Saturday. That sounds like a dude who’s tired of being spoken for, and is going to do everything in his power to win that starting job. And if he doesn’t win the job? I’m still not convinced Hurts is going to line up to be anyone’s backup for an entire season.
A lot of people are under the impression that Saban is going to start Tagovailoa and bring Hurts in at given spots in the first half. I think that’d be a disaster waiting to happen if Hurts stayed, but what do I know? I’m just looking forward to getting some more time to see Tagovailoa play meaningful snaps. I think ultimately, that’s what happens here.
Will Alabama win every game 50-3 with Tagovailoa at starter as Trent Dilfer predicted? Maybe. Maybe not. I am, however, a believer that the Tide’s upside somehow gets even higher with Tagovailoa under center.
I know who those receivers want to start
So here’s the thing that I’m not sure is getting much attention from the pro-Hurts crowd (wherever you are). If Hurts somehow winds up starting, who wants to break the news to him that Calvin Ridley isn’t there anymore? Maybe Hurts will realize that when he gets the first snap, goes to his first read and sees that Ridley is a few hours away in Atlanta.
I say that as someone who likes Hurts’ game a lot. But his distrust in Alabama’s young receivers last year was what limited the Tide offense throughout the regular season. There’s talent there. Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and title game hero DeVonta Smith averaging 1 catch per game was a direct result of Hurts’ lack of faith in them.
The assumption is that those guys will take the next step, regardless of who starts. Are we sure about that? Hurts had an entire year to get on the same page with them and he couldn’t do a better job than Tagovailoa did in one half.
This is the first time since 2011 that neither Ridley nor Amari Cooper is lining up for the Tide. That’s significant. The development of these young wideouts is one of the crucial storylines of Alabama’s season.
That young secondary
On the SDS Podcast (shameless plug), my co-host Chris Marler (a diehard Alabama fan) actually predicted that the Tide would lose to Ole Miss. Why? He’s worried about the inexperience in the secondary. While I disagreed with that, he didn’t come up with that take just for kicks.
Losing Minkah Fitzpatrick would be hard enough. Add in the losses of Anthony Averett, Tony Brown, Ronnie Harrison, Levi Brown and Hootie Jones and yeah, this is a complete overhaul.
But it’s Saban, and as we know, nobody is better at maximizing the talent of a young secondary than he is. It wouldn’t be surprising if by midseason we were talking about JUCO transfer and former LSU cornerback Saivion Smith and Trevon Diggs as All-SEC guys. Maybe a 5-star freshman like Patrick Surtain Jr. — another DB Alabama sort of stole from LSU — could become an immediate impact guy.
Point is, there are still plenty of options for Saban to reload, as usual. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Tide will be perfect on the back end.
Week 1: vs. Louisville* (W)
Is Lamar Jackson still at Louisville? No? He’s in the NFL? OK. That’s good to know. Yeah, Saban’s opening game dominance is absurd, even for him. I fully expect him to win his 12th consecutive opener by double digits. Better yet, I expect Alabama to cover a 4-touchdown spread, even if Saban decides to shuffle quarterbacks.
Week 2: vs. Arkansas State (W)
Arkansas State’s only chance in this one is if it pays Gus Malzahn $5 million for a one-day contract to come back to ASU, along with at least 5 Auburn players on each side of the ball. And to be honest, the odds still wouldn’t be very good.
Week 3: at Ole Miss (W)
I don’t want to say that Ole Miss is allergic to stopping the run, but let’s just say it seems strongly opposed to it. Last time I checked, Damien Harris and Najee Harris are plenty capable of exposing the Rebels’ fatal weakness. As long as Alabama’s young secondary isn’t completely in shambles to start the year, the Tide should roll in Oxford.
Week 4: vs. Texas A&M (W)
Poor Jimbo Fisher. The dude has to face Alabama and Clemson in September of Year 1 at Texas A&M (I actually don’t feel bad for someone with a guaranteed $75 million contract). I’ll give the Aggies credit for hanging tough against the Tide in College Station last year. That’s a game when Alabama could have pulled away with Tagovailoa under center. That’s what I expect to happen in Tuscaloosa this time around.
Week 5: vs. Louisiana (W)
We’re still waiting on the first Saban disciple to dethrone the master. With all due respect to Billy Napier, who was Alabama’s receivers coach from 2013-16, he’s not going to be the first to do it.
Week 6: at Arkansas (W)
I’m actually really intrigued by what Chad Morris’ offense is going to do against Saban. In like, 3 years. For now, this has the makings of a long game for the Razorbacks offense. It’s worth noting that John Chavis’ defenses (at 3 schools) only allowed 26.8 points per contest in the 12 matchups he had vs. Saban’s Alabama offenses. Something tells me Alabama will hit the over in 2018.
Week 7: vs. Mizzou (W)
Drew Lock against Alabama? Sign me up for that. Lock lit up Georgia’s secondary in the first half in Athens last year. This will be a huge game for his draft stock, but I don’t think it’s one that’ll wind up being the highlight of his college career. I’ll still take the Tide offense to run all over Barry Odom’s defense.
Week 8: at Tennessee (W)
The first of many Jeremy Pruitt vs. Saban matchups has potential to be its most lopsided battle. Last year’s 45-7 drubbing is obviously the old coaching staff, but unless Tyson Helton is this mad scientist that we’ve all been sleeping on, I find it hard to believe that Tennessee has a quarterback who can move the ball against the Tide, much less win.
Week 9: bye
Week 10: at LSU (W)
It’s 7 years in a row, yeah, but this is about 2018. History doesn’t win or lose games. As of today, it’s too difficult to pencil in an LSU win without knowing what exactly we’re going to see from Joe Burrow, as well as LSU’s most inexperienced backfield in a long time. An Alabama squad coming off a bye week will have plenty of time to evaluate a way to stop the Tigers’ new-look offense and keep the streak alive.
Week 11: vs. Mississippi State (W)
I’ve been tooting the Bulldogs’ horn all offseason, but I’m not bold enough to say they’ll go into Tuscaloosa and pull out a win. If they do, you can hand Joe Moorhead SEC Coach of the Year after the game. This is a game where it’ll really benefit Alabama to have a quarterback who can stretch the field. MSU’s pass rush is a scary sight, but it can be kept honest if Tagovailoa strings some drives together. Alabama holds on to this one by fewer than 2 scores.
Week 12: The Citadel (W)
What’s your favorite kind of cupcake? Mine is chocolate with peanut butter frosting and a little Reese’s on top. What’s Alabama’s favorite cupcake? The Citadel.
Week 13: vs Auburn (W)
The revenge narratives will be there. I get all of that. But you know what narrative I’m interested in? Despite his impressive new $49 million deal, Gus Malzahn is still a .500 coach away from Jordan-Hare. Think about that. I think Auburn caught Alabama at the perfect time last year in a home game with the injuries the Tide had on defense. At Alabama, though? That’s not happening again.
* at Citrus Bowl in Orlando
2018 Projection: 12-0 (8-0)
Final Standings: 1st in SEC West
Yeah, I’m boring. I realize that picking Alabama to go undefeated is lame, but I can’t pull the trigger on this team losing in the regular season again. Do I think that Alabama will be as dominant as it was when it ran the table until the national title game in 2016? Probably not because I don’t think the defense will be quite on that level.
But make no mistake, this has the potential to be a special offense. I’m on board with the belief that Tagovailoa is the most talented passer who has worn an Alabama jersey since Saban arrived. That’s based on more than one half of football.
Could he potentially go through growing pains? Of course. Will he turn the ball over more than Hurts? I’d assume so.
Still, all signs point to Alabama avenging last year’s SEC West title-less season and getting back to Atlanta. Can they beat Georgia?
I’ll save that prediction for another time.