Let’s fast forward to Atlanta on Jan. 8, 2018. The Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers are playing for the College Football Playoff Championship for a third consecutive year. The hour is growing late, nearly Jan. 9 on Eastern time. The game is tied. In fact, let’s up the ante. Clemson leads by a point, 25-24. Jalen Hurts has driven Alabama to the Tiger 25-yard line. Four seconds remain.
You’re an Alabama fan. So, as Bob Dylan famously asked:
“How does it feel?”
Are you excited? Are you too terrified to watch, like it was the final minutes of “Get Out” or “Evil Dead?” Do you simply throw a quilt over your head, mute the volume and resolve to find out in the morning? If you are in the Mercedes Dome, do you watch from your seat, or listen from the nearest restroom?
Did Nick Saban make you feel any better on Saturday?
Alabama had its first scrimmage of preseason camp at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and while the media didn’t get to watch the actual action, Saban’s post-scrimmage reports on special teams didn’t make field goal kicking sound like a strength at this point. There are many possible explanations, especially with essentially no experience (other than JK Scott) at the kicker/holder/snapper positions. You wouldn’t expect perfection at a first scrimmage. However, no Alabama fan lets his or her fingers stray far from the panic button when the Crimson Tide send the field goal team in.
“We missed a couple of field goals,” Saban said. “We got a couple (of field goals) blocked because we didn’t have really good protection. We really need to work hard on that part of it.”
To Alabama fans, that’s about as comforting as a dentist saying “the good news is we can save some of the teeth, but I have some bad news about the anesthetic.”
Last year, Adam Griffith got off to a slow start and while he improved over the course of the season (he made 11 of his last 12 attempts), he never won the confidence of the fan base, no matter how much Saban lobbied for some confidence. There are several reasons — Alabama fans expect perfection, or close to it. They are also conditioned to believe that Alabama under Saban automatically lands the best player in the country at every position. That’s not a criticism of fans, who should have high expectations. That’s just a description of a mindset.
There’s also the issue of “margin of error,” which Alabama teams are not allowed to have. There were other SEC teams last season that struggled mightily with field goal kicking. In some cases, that deficiency might have meant the difference between going 6-6 and 7-5. But with Alabama, where the only expectation is winning the national championship (and that isn’t strictly fans, but Saban as well), every missed field goal can be fearfully viewed as a potential tremor that brings the entire goal structure crashing down. Remember, the field goal that was returned wasn’t the only missed field goal in Alabama’s last loss to Auburn in 2013.
So what happens this year? Will the kicker be Joseph Bulovas, Andy Pappanastos or Scott? If it is Scott, that raises another issue. Saban described Scott’s punting as “fantastic” on Saturday, and he may be the best in the country at punting. So does it put an extra burden on your “fantastic” punter if you start giving him other things to do? That question is rhetorical — it might matter and it might not be a problem. See if that stops anyone from fretting about it, though.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.