The Tide will be rollin’ right into Beaver Stadium this September. Here’s a quick, summer snapshot of the team you’ll see come to Happy Valley for the first time in 22 years.
The Past Few Seasons…
Alabama has gone through an up-and-down decade in remarkably similar fashion to fellow heavyweight Penn State. Following a 10-win season in 1999, the Tide crashed down in 2000 with a 3-8 record, fired its coach Mike DuBose, then came roaring back in 2002 with a 10-3 season. Hampered by NCAA sanctions, and losing yet another head coach (Dennis Franchione), Alabama and new coach Mike Shula fell hard again in 2003, going 10-15 the next two seasons.
In 2005, the Tide had a renaissance–see a familar pattern here? It gets even more creepy-similar as you’ll read on about 2008 and 2009–going 10-2 and making SI’s front cover after crushing No. 5 Florida in October. From 2006-2007, the momentum couldn’t be maintained. Alabama went 14-14, Mike Shula was fired, then the NCAA came down hard once again, forcing Bama to vacate 21 wins from the 2005-2007 seasons.
In comes Nick Saban, but the initial result was hardly impressive. Alabama lost six games, including the absolutely pathetic performance and loss against Sun Belt visitor Louisiana-Monroe. Shula wasn’t great, but at least he didn’t lose to a Sun Belt team in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Lucky for the Tide, though, Saban was kept around. Over the following three seasons, Alabama won 36 games, an SEC title, and a national title. For good measure, Mark Ingram won the 2009 Heisman Trophy.
Last season was only a disappointment to those who have unreasonable expectations for a team to win national titles every year while still playing in the toughest conference in college football. With only two starters back on defense, the Tide started off well, including wins over Penn State and a demolition of Florida a few weeks later. But in a let-down game against South Carolina, Alabama lost by 14. The other two losses last year were by a combined five points, the most crushing easily the Iron Bowl collapse (led by several scores most of the game) to Auburn. Though, if 10-3 is a “down” year, I’d take it.
What to Look For in 2011…
The Tide posted an average score of 36-14 against opponents in 2010. If that’s what this team can do with only two or three starters returning on defense, I’m legitimately scared of what it can do with 17 total returning starters for 2011, including All-American safety Mark Barron and likely All-American running back Trent Richardson.
Alabama’s No. 2 (Richardson) and No. 3 (Eddie Lacy) running backs last year combined for more yards 1,106 than the returning Heisman winner Ingram (875 yds), though Ingram was hampered by injuries. So don’t expect a drop-off in the running game. In fact, it’s likely this could be the best ground attack the Tide will field in years. Much of that is also due to the three returning offensive line starters and very highly touted recruits filling the other spots.
Marcell Dareus left early for the NFL. He could have been one of the most dominant defensive ends in college football this season, but it’s not like Alabama doesn’t have the talent up and down the depth chart to make up for the his vacant spot. Much of the danger comes right at opposing passing attacks. Four starting linebackers–the Tide runs a 3-4 base defense–including All-America candidates Dont’a Hightower, Nico Johnson and Courtney Upshaw (yes, all three) return. In the secondary, there’s Barron, Robert Lester, and cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeMarcus Millner. If you can do simple arithmetic, that’s all eight starters returning from the defensive backfield. So good luck, opposing quarterbacks.
Alabama doesn’t have to worry much until November, even though every week in the SEC is a game to worry about. Penn State could be an issue, depending on how ready the Nittany Lions come out at home in week two. But looking down the Tide’s schedule, what teams are legitimately scary before November? LSU, MSU, Georgia and Auburn are all beatable, though right now look like the strongest teams Alabama will face all season. If this year’s Alabama team loses two or more regular season games, it could be viewed as a huge disappointment.
|–||09-03-2011||–||Kent State||–||Tuscaloosa, AL|
|–||09-10-2011||–||Penn State||–||University Park, PA||–|
|–||09-17-2011||–||North Texas||–||Tuscaloosa, AL||–|
|–||11-05-2011||–||Louisiana State||–||Tuscaloosa, AL||–|
|–||11-12-2011||–||Mississippi State||–||Starkville, MS|
|–||11-19-2011||–||Georgia Southern (FCS)||–||Tuscaloosa, AL||–|
|–||–||–||–||–||–Atlanta, GA||SEC Championship Game|
Alabama doesn’t look like it will slow down any time soon. With the defense strong as ever, and the offense full of top recruits, there’s no reason to discount the Tide as a prime national title contender in 2011.
Cross-Posted at Black Shoe Diaries