Alabama reloads, remains class of college football
TUSCALOOSA, ALA. Clemson won the national championship, but Alabama remains the nation’s top college football program.
Losing to the Tigers in the final seconds in Tampa didn’t knock out the Crimson Tide. They were left stunned, but Alabama is expected to come back this season with a vengeance under coach Nick Saban and win it all — again.
That’s how dominant Alabama has become in the last decade.
Losses don’t diminish the Tide. They only serve as a springboard for Alabama to reaffirm why it’s better than everyone else.
The Tide can start proving that Sept. 2 against Florida State in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Tide and Seminoles rank first and third in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll.
The Seminoles are legit. So this is the type of season opener Alabama needs to start a season of redemption.
“It’s challenging to get your team ready to play anybody, but obviously when you play a really good team, they present a lot of challenges,” said Saban, who since 2008 has led Alabama to 112 wins, four national titles and five Southeastern Conference crowns.
“The positive side of that is the players are more into it. They’re more focused because they understand who they’re playing and they have respect for the quality of team they’re playing.”
Tide senior linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton says Alabama just reloads. Having seven consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes helps feed the mind-set that the next person is as good as the one who just left.
There lies the mystery with the 2017 Tide.
Which defensive players can make plays like Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster or Marlon Humphrey? The first-team All-Americans and first-round NFL draft picks were part of one of college football’s best defenses of all time.
But seven players were drafted off that defense, and it seems a tall order for any program to replace that much talent and experience. Except for Alabama. The talent is deemed so great in Tuscaloosa that establishing difference-makers won’t be a problem. Those player projections drive Saban crazy, but that’s all part of winning the recruiting battle regularly.
“You guys make all these predictions about everything, about guys who are going to be great players who have been here for two years,” Saban said. “Why do we even play? ... Why do we compete? Why do we coach guys? Why do we even need to improve?”
Saban’s recruiting prowess is the reason he will be the highestpaid coach in college football this season at $11.125 million.
Everyone at Alabama is expected to compete at the highest level, including those who watched previous championship teams play from the sidelines more than collect grass stains or turf burns in the games.
They’ve waited in the wings. Their time has come. No Alabama player wants to be remembered for being on the team that fell short of expectations.
That’s why Calvin Ridley can say the leadership got “careless” last season. He’s criticizing a team he was part of that, by the way, nearly extended Alabama’s winning streak to 26 games, went an unprecedented 15-0 in Football Bowl Subdivision play and won back-to-back national championships.
That’s how high the bar is at Alabama.
One night in Tampa made Alabama look at all it had accomplished differently because it didn’t finish No. 1. So the Tide are recharging, reloading and ready to return to the top.
“It’s in the rearview, but the thing about a rearview mirror is you can see it,” quarterback Jalen Hurts said. “You can see what’s behind you. We’re not looking back to see what’s behind us, but it motivates us.”
Defense has been Alabama’s calling card. With Minkah Fitz- patrick, perhaps the best defender in college football, Da’Ron Payne, Ronnie Harrison and Hamilton leading the way, Alabama will have a formidable defense, but it’s hard to imagine it being as good without the seven guys who were drafted in the NFL. Then again, this is Alabama. The Tide might have to lean more on its offense with Hurts at the controls. He won his first 13 games as a starter after coming off the bench as a freshman to account for four touchdowns in last year’s opener vs. Southern California, but he didn’t play nearly as well in Alabama’s last four games.
So he went to work and showed improvement as a passer in spring ball. He seems to be working well with his third offensive coordinator in less than a year in former New England Patriots assistant Brian Daboll.
“He’s an extremely hard worker,” Daboll said of Hurts. “Dedicated to his craft. We’ve watched every piece of film that he’s had, whether it’s last year or the spring. … He’s really improved his feet and his eyes and where he’s going with the football.”
Hurts has ample talent around him, from Bo Scarbrough and Ridley to freshmen Najee Harris, Devonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy. Jonah Williams is the next great Tide stud at left tackle, and senior center Bradley Bozeman will anchor the front.
As long as Saban is commanding the sideline and hauling in four- and five-star talent, Alabama isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s up to the rest of the nation to wear down the Tide dynasty.
Clemson took a big chunk out of Alabama’s armor last season. Who’s next? Florida State? LSU? Georgia? Auburn?
They’ll get their chance soon enough, but understand this: Alabama will be more than up for the challenge.
Minkah Fitzpatrick will lead the secondary in Alabama’s defense, which must replace seven players drafted into the NFL.