TideSports College Football Preview

 

If you go back a year to The Tuscaloosa News’ 2018 College Football special section, you would find this paragraph as the opening for my preseason column of that season.

This could be the greatest season ever for University of Alabama football. It could be the most disappointing. There seem to be no options in between.

Did it turn out that way? Sort of.

First, there is no claim to the gift of prophecy, or even unique insight in that case. For anyone who follows college football in Tuscaloosa, there is no mystery regarding expectations. There is also no hiding that there was tremendous disappointment about the result of the College Football Championship game, not just the outcome but the unexpected imbalance in the final score. Perhaps “most disappointing ever” ended up as hyperbole, especially to survivors of the Lost Season of 2000. But could you simply take that paragraph, recycle it and have it seem just as reasonable as it was a year ago?

The statement would probably stand up — but there seem to be some subtle differences as the Crimson Tide heads into 2019.

For one thing, the loss to Clemson has created a different dynamic. The default position has gone from “no one can beat Alabama” to “well, there’s only one team that might beat Alabama.” There is still confidence among the fan base, or arrogance, if you want to characterize it that way, but no one is dismissive of Clemson’s chances.

For another, 2018 was the summer (and, to be fair, the early autumn) of Tua-mania. That’s not any reflection on Tua Tagovailoa. He was a great quarterback then and is a great quarterback now, the most dynamic player at that position that Alabama has had in 50 years. That evaluation can be true and still leave room for the belief that Tagovailoa is human, a young player who can still improve.

Watching this season will be unlike 2018, which was, until the postseason, like playing a video game with all the cheat codes. Alabama still has most of them, and expectations are still high. But there are areas where they can be development.

For instance, it sounds ridiculous to say the defensive front seven could be better without Quinnen Williams, the No. 3 player selected in the NFL Draft. But if the right things happen Alabama could be better across the board. If Terrell Lewis and Anfernee Jennings come through, and a couple of freshmen develop quickly, that’s possible. The secondary doesn’t even need to rely on freshmen, if it can avoid injury.

The offense, meanwhile, will score. There are too many options for anyone to shut them down entirely. Yes, the running backs — Najee Harris and Brian Robinson — are new to starting roles but they are hardly inexperienced. The wide receivers are the best in America — that’s an opinion but one that has a lot of production to verify it. The coaching staff, Saban aside, is simultaneously new and yet dotted with familiar faces like Steve Sarkisian and Sal Sunseri. So there will be a little intrigue in watching this team until November, to see whether the aura of invincibility returns, to determine if the lessons of last year’s title run — and its conclusion — are in effect.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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