By Tommy Deas
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, Alabama has an experience offensive line and a talented backfield led by Damien Harris, as well as some big-play wideouts. Louisville has a strong passing game that will be triggered by first-year starter Jawon Pass.
Alabama’s secondary will be suspect until the new starters show what they can do, but the front seven is big, strong and fast. Linebacker Dylan Moses has the look of another star in the making. Louisville gave up 27.4 points per game last season and has a new coordinator.
The Cardinals return kicker Blanton Creque, who made 17 of 20 field goal attempts last season, and Mason King, who averaged nearly 40 yards per punt. Alabama has new starters in both positions. The Crimson Tide needs more punch in the return game this season.
Louisville has thrived under Bobby Petrino during his two stints at the school, winning eight or more games per year and going to a bowl each season. Alabama’s Nick Saban, on the other hand, had six national championship rings. No contest.
Alabama may have kept its offensive and defensive schemes and terminology the same but has new coordinators, which may call for an adjustment period. Louisville will be sky high for this one, while the Cardinals aren’t as high-profile as some past opening opponents.
Alabama 41, Louisville 20
Expect the Cardinals to make some big plays in the passing game against an unproven Alabama secondary. Alabama’s offense should be one of the best in the Nick Saban era, but the defense will be a work in progress. Get used to shootouts.
Alabama 42, Louisville 17
No crystal ball needed here. Alabama opens the season with a big victory. Quarterback questions are answered. Alabama’s secondary dominates. Fans rejoice.
Alabama 41, Louisville 21
This won’t be the strongest performance by the Alabama offense or defense this season. But it’ll be good start and a harbinger of the potential for another memorable season. Louisville’s offense leaves a dent on the scoreboard, but Alabama’s offense sends word that it will be a force to be reckoned with.
Alabama 38, Louisville 17
With Nick Saban alternating quarterbacks based on a random pack of Disney character trading cards, it’s tempting to pick a Cinderella team. (That’s the worst pun of the season but at least now that’s out of the way.) Alabama could be prodded but won’t be pushed.
Alabama 42, Louisville 21
The Cardinals are an explosive team with experience. They will put up some points in the beginning because of coach Bobby Petrino and his offensive proficiency. However once Alabama adjusts and the defense gets going, Louisville will be a non-factor.
Alabama 38, Louisville 17
While the offseason attention has focused on the Alabama quarterback battle, the biggest question is how an inexperienced Alabama secondary handles a Bobby Petrino passing attack. Expect the Cardinals to hit a few big plays, but the physicality and depth of the Crimson Tide will be too much.<
Alabama 41, Louisville 17
Playing a Nick Saban coached Alabama team in a season opener isn’t something you would wish on your greatest enemy. Regardless of how the quarterback situation plays out Saturday, the Crimson Tide should wear down and eventually dominate Louisville in typical Alabama fashion.
Alabama 35, Louisville 21
Tua or Jalen? We finally get to watch Tagovailoa and Hurts compete for the quarterback spot. That will be worth watching, but the real spot to keep an eye on is defensive back and how four new starters handle a well-experienced and explosive Louisville offense.
Alabama 31, Louisville 17
History is in Alabama’s favor. It has not only never lost a season opener under Nick Saban, but it has also won all of them by at least 10 points. I don’t expect this to be a blowout with Louisville’s offense, but Alabama has it no matter which quarterback starts.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
By Ben Jones
Ross Pierschbacher, Sr./C, 6-4/309
Key stat: 42 career starts at guard
Buzz: Pierschbacher is probably the most experienced player on Alabama’s roster. He’s a three-year starter. He’s taking a new role at center but all indications during fall camp are that he’s played well there. The move to center could help Alabama pair him with a set of powerful guards in Lester Cotton Jr. and Alex Leatherwood as well as athletic tackles in Jonah Williams and Jedrick Wills. One of Pierschbacher’s responsibilities will be to communicate the calls to make sure all five players are on the same page.
Christian Miller, Sr./OLB, 6-4/244
Key stat: Has 22 career tackles in three seasons
Buzz: Last season could have been a breakout year for Miller but an injury in the season opener sidelined him the next 10 games. He came back late in the season and finished the 2017 campaign with six tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Fellow outside linebacker Terrell Lewis is out indefinitely with a knee injury, putting more of the onus on Miller and redshirt junior Anfernee Jennings. Those two players will have to be solid and have to be healthy for the Alabama defense to operate at its top level this season.
Jerry Jeudy, Soph./WR, 6-1/192
Key stat: Led all returning players with 264 receiving yards in 2017
Buzz: The sophomore wide receivers are taking over for Alabama, and Jerry Jeudy could be the one to lead the way. He got early playing time last season and made some highlight plays during his freshman season. Calvin Ridley and Amari Cooper were both receivers from south Florida that made major impacts for Alabama under Nick Saban. Jeudy is a different player from either of those but has all the skills to post a big season. During a five-game stretch against SEC competition last year, he had 11 catches for 200 yards.
Dez Fitzpatrick, Soph./WR, 6-2/202
Key stat: Finished freshman season with 45 catches for 699 yards and nine touchdowns
Buzz: It was Fitzpatrick who said earlier this month that he believes Louisville’s wide receivers can beat Alabama’s defensive backs one-on-one. The Cardinals have an experienced group coming back with three wideouts who all had more than 40 receptions and 600 yards last season. Senior Jaylen Smith (980 yards and seven touchdowns) was the most productive in 2017.
Dorian Etheridge, Soph./LB, 6-3/230
Key stat: Led team with 83 tackles in 2017
Buzz: The inside linebacker had a fine season to lead his team in tackles as a true freshman. He was more productive in the final seven games of the season, posting 54 tackles down the stretch. His best game was against run-heavy Boston College, when he had 14 total tackles. Regardless of which Alabama quarterback plays, it’s safe to expect a steady stream of runs from Damien Harris, Najee Harris and the rest of the Alabama backs.
Jonathan Greenard, Jr./DE, 6-4/261
Key stat: Has 15.5 career tackles for loss
Buzz: Louisville’s front four on defense doesn’t appear to be its most talented position group but Greenard is a reliable player. He’s fourth among returning players in the ACC with seven sacks last year. Greenard is also the only returning starter Louisville has on the defensive line and one of just four returning starters on the defense overall. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is in his first year after Louisville allowed 27.4 points per game and 388 yards per game in 2017.