The final Tuscaloosa football practice of 2019 is over. The Alabama Crimson Tide is set to enjoy a rare holiday and depart for Orlando on the day after Christmas. The next time Nick Saban convenes a practice in this state, it will be the start of 2020 spring practice. The next game played here, if it fits your definition of a game, will be A-Day.
First, a tiny peppermint-sized piece of news: there will be an A-Day in some form or fashion. A decision on precisely how that game will be handled has not been made, per UA, and it probably won’t be made for a couple of months when Alabama officials see exactly what progress has been made in construction and renovation.
ESPN annually includes Alabama’s A-Day in its broadcast schedule and that’s a recruiting bonus UA isn’t likely to give up. It’s also highly unlikely the game will end up anywhere except Tuscaloosa since there is no attraction to Birmingham’s Legion Field except a vanishing nostalgia. So even if some sections aren’t available and some amenities aren’t up and running, expect the game to be back at Bryant-Denny Stadium and the related festivities — like the popular handprint-in-cement ceremony at Denny Chimes to take place as usual.
Precisely what the on-the-field story will be depends on what happens in the next eight days. Mac Jones is probably going into the 2020 season as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart. That’s true even if Tua Tagovailoa shocks the world and elects to pass on the NFL Draft for the year. Nothing is quite certain yet, except for this: one way or the other, Tua won’t be involved in Alabama’s spring practice. But it will be interesting to see how Jones performs against Michigan. An MVP-type performance and Jones’ stock will be high. A struggle against the Wolverines might change that dynamic as Jones competes against Bryce Young, Paul Tyson and a yet-to-be-determined number of Tagovailoas.
Quarterback is important but so is attitude. The current national talking point about Alabama is the Crimson Tide “doesn’t win big games anymore” and while that involves a bit of selective memory — the three games before last year’s CFP championship game against Clemson were wins over Auburn, Georgia and Oklahoma — and some side-stepping of the 2019 injury situation, it is still factual within its frame. A win over Michigan — a team with big-game demons of its own to exorcise — isn’t going to hush those whispers completely. An Alabama loss is going to amplify them to a roar.
There are other as-yet unknown factors about 2020, ranging from personnel moves (players and/or staff) to psychology. The upcoming week will offer a glimpse, an indication whether the Crimson Tide is on course or needs an alteration. The 2020 schedule appears to have early marquee value that the 2019 schedule did not have. All that really matters in College Football Playoff terms is making the Top Four but Alabama’s No. 13 national ranking was more of a burnt offering by the Committee at the altar of “schedule strength” and less of an actual reflection of a 10-2 season.
We know there will be an A-Day in 2020. The next eight days will tell us what that A-Day is going to be about.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or via Twitter @cecilhu