By Thomas Jeffrey
It was same old same old in college football this past season. Alabama won the National Championship. A year after getting shocked by Clemson in the national title game, the Tide got revenge on the Tigers and won a thrilling national championship game against Georgia. Now Alabama has the familiar task of defending their title. This is always a challenge for any team, but it will be especially hard for Bama this year. Yes Alabama is talented, as always, and is coached by one of the best to ever do it, but the Crimson Tide will face a number of challenges this season.
One of the most important tasks that Alabama will have to accomplish is to adjust to their brand new coaching staff. Yeah, Nick Saban had to make some changes to his staff after both of his coordinators left for new opportunities. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt departed for Knoxville to become Tennessee’s new head coach, and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll returned to the NFL after his first season with Alabama. When asked about the coaching changes, Saban was very clear that they were not not done voluntarily: “I didn’t have a choice. You make it seem like I did it on purpose.” Saban definitely did not want to make those changes, and the players probably did not want him to either. Adjusting to new coaches is challenging for any team, even a team as talented as Alabama.
Per usual in Tuscaloosa, a plethora of players are departing for the NFL Draft. Star players such as wide receiver Calvin Ridley, safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison, runnning back Bo Scarbrough, and defensive linemen Da’Ron Payne and Da’Shawn Hand all will not be returning to Tuscaloosa this season. Those are a lot of good players. Everyone know that Alabama doesn’t rebuild–they reload. They obviously have talented backups and they just reeled in the 7th best recruiting class in the country, which includes five-star cornerback Patrick Surtain. But will those players be able to step up the to plate and make an immediate impact? Will they be able to sufficiently replace the departing stars? It will be very interesting to watch, but expect some growing pains for the young Tide this season.
This final reason is probably a problem that many programs would love to have: two great quarterbacks. Everyone knows the story. Jalen Hurts led the Tide to consecutive title games and was the reason they were there. Then, due to Hurts’ mediocre performance in the first half of the national championship, freshman phenom Tua Tagovailoa took over and won Alabama another title in overtime. Now Nick Saban has a pretty big decision to make. Should he go with Hurts, the player that got Alabama to that point and has the experience, or with Tagovailoa, the player who Alabama the title and is most likely not even close to his ceiling. Or will he play both? Recent history has shown that playing with two quarterbacks does not reap great rewards. Look at Ohio State in 2015. They too were coming off of a national championship season and had a quarterback competition. Urban Meyer decided to play both J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones, which resulted in a sloppy, slow offense that didn’t hit its stride until late in the season. Notre Dame played with both DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire in 2016 and went an abysmal 4-8. This embarrassment of riches at quarterback could lead to be hurtful rather than helpful for the Crimson Tide.
This season is going to be a challenge for Alabama. They have to deal with new coaches, new players, and position battles. Not to mention, other powerhouses across the country are not going anywhere anytime soon. Georgia and Ohio State hold the nation’s best recruiting classes, and Clemson might be the most stacked team in the country. If Alabama makes it to the playoff, they should be expecting one of those teams to be there as well. Alabama has some work to do if they want to defend their title.