Alabama football: 5 ways the Crimson Tide will measure success in 2020
When you’re Alabama, success isn’t measured like the rest of college football.
Just an 11-win season? Failure. Not winning the conference? Failure. Not playing in the College Football Playoff for the first time in its brief history? Failure.
Not that 2019 was a total loss, of course. Alabama only dropped games to eventual national champion LSU and to Auburn in yet another bizarre Iron Bowl, and then smoked Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. And there were lots of individual successes along the way.
But make no mistake: 2019 was a failure. Here are 5 ways 2020 can be different.
5. Najee Harris rushes for 1,500 yards
Najee Harris could be preparing for the NFL Draft right now. Popping for 1,224 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior at Alabama — along with 27 receptions for 304 yards and 7 more TDs — has a tendency to make NFL general managers salivate.
But instead of declaring for the league, Harris instead quietly made his intentions known that he was returning to Tuscaloosa for his senior season. Undoubtedly, quiet celebration ensued among Alabama’s offensive coaching staff. Harris was a stud in big games for the Tide, rushing for 146 yards and scoring 2 total touchdowns against LSU, going for 146 rushing yards and a TD against Auburn and then torching Michigan for 136 yards and 2 more TDs.
Harris probably won’t get to Derrick Henry’s astounding 2,219 single-season yards record in 2020, but he has a good chance to threaten Trent Richardson (1,679 yards) and Mark Ingram (1,658 yards) just a notch below.
4. Mac Jones stays healthy the entire season
Having a quarterback go the distance in college football isn’t the easiest trick in the world, and Alabama has had its share of bad luck in recent years — as Tua Tagovailoa spent an inordinate amount of time on the operating table in his with various injuries (ankle, ankle and hip) over his 2 starting seasons.
With Mac Jones as the presumptive starter (though 5-star freshman Bryce Young will have a thing or 3 to say about it during spring practice…), Alabama has a much less mobile quarterback than it had with Tagovailoa. That’s not a knock on Jones, necessarily, just that few QBs have the kind of twitch that Tagovailoa possesses.
So having your quarterback stick around the pocket a bit more means that he is less likely to take a freak hit like the one that ended Tagovailoa’s collegiate career on the Starkville grass. It also means Jones is a more stationary target. The net result should be this: Jones getting rid of the ball when the pass blocking breaks down and living to play another down. No ambling toward the 1st-down marker and setting yourself up for an unwelcome meeting with a 255-pound linebacker. No reversing field to maybe pick up that miracle block.
Protect yourself at all times. Be smart with yourself like you’re expected to be with the football. Speaking of which …
3. Jones/Young throw fewer than 6 interceptions
Interceptions are the worst. It is difficult to think of a more challenging result on a single football play than an interception, with the only exception being a pick-6 interception.
Jones and the Crimson Tide know this, as he threw a costly pick-6 against Auburn in the Iron Bowl last season. Not that said interception alone sealed Alabama’s fate in a 48-45 victory that felt more like voodoo at times than an evenly-contested football game. Alabama ended up with only 6 interceptions all of last season, but the 2 that Jones pitched to the Tigers, well … a person can imagine he might watch them on replay quite a bit this offseason.
Getting through a season without a couple of picks is impossible, as SEC defenses are just too good to not fool a quarterback or out-jump a receiver a couple of times. But ball security in general will be paramount for Alabama in 2020, and Jones (and Young …) will need to keep the rock out of defenses’ hands as much as possible for success.
2. Linebackers stay healthy
To say that Alabama was unlucky in the injury department in 2019 would be a gross understatement.
Sure, you know all about Tagovailoa and the twin injuries that prematurely ended his season and crippled the Crimson Tide’s chances at a College Football Playoff berth. But in reality, Alabama had 1 hand tied behind its back before the season started.
Losing both middle linebackers — Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon — to knee injuries before Alabama even played a game set the Tide defense back more than just losing a pair of starters would. Moses was the quarterback of the defense, deciphering every call from the sideline and relaying it to his teammates.
Not to mention he was a Butkus Award finalist as a sophomore and was expected to be a 1st-round draft pick if he was healthy all 2019. And McMillon was set to star beside Moses at the heart of the defense, only to lose his entire season in a fall scrimmage.
Moses also could have opted for the NFL but decided to come back for his senior season to raise his draft stock to pre-junior season levels. And McMillon petitioned the NCAA for a medical 6th year and had it granted — allowing him to be available for 2020. If both can stay healthy, Alabama will have perhaps the most formidable front 7 in the nation.
1. Win every game
Not so much. Beginning the season not with a paycheck game against East Popcorn State, Alabama instead gets Southern Cal at JerryWorld in Dallas. Just 2 weeks later, SEC East foe Georgia comes to Tuscaloosa for the biggest early game of the SEC season.
After the Sept. 19 tussle with the Bulldogs, the Crimson Tide’s schedule lightens up a bit before this brutal finish: at LSU on Nov. 7, home against Texas A&M on Nov. 21 and then the annual Iron Bowl against Auburn at home on Nov. 28.
After that, its the SEC Championship Game, the College Football Playoff national semifinals and then the title game.