A-Day was different in COVID era, but Alabama football has same championship expectations | Hurt
The next big hurdle for Bryce Young, Alabama football’s sophomore quarterback and an odds-on favorite to stay that way (barring injury) until the season starts, will be the presumptive first start against the Miami Hurricanes in Atlanta in September.
After throwing for 333 yards without all his weapons and with a patchwork offensive line in Saturday's A-Day Game at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and with a strong push from ESPN that has to have come from its prep meetings with UA coach Nick Saban the day before, the handwriting on the wall was clear.
That’s not to be unfair to Paul Tyson, whose protection was even more of a crazy quilt of veterans and freshmen than Young’s was, but a midsummer change doesn’t seem likely even if Young, as ESPN surmised, is only 5-foot-10.
Whether there will be a return to normalcy, as Alabama fans perceive it, is a different question. A crowd that hovered around 50,000 clearly wants that return, or, as seemed more likely on Saturday, think it has already. Perhaps the more ferocious rivalry on A-Day would have been the masked against the unmasked or the vaxxers against the anti-vaxxers, with Saban wearing scrubs instead of a snappy pink suit.
The “normal” spring isn’t simply Tuscaloosa normal, which consists of two simple things: everyone going to the games and Alabama winning every time.
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If that seems standard fare in Tuscaloosa, remember that the same thing was going on at every other SEC campus, including quite a few that were scrimmaging at the same time as Alabama on Saturday. Every team, either because of the arrival of a new coach or a feeling that 2021 simply has to be better or just from the blind faith in improvement, is expecting big things: maybe not undefeated seasons and SEC or national championships, but something good.
Georgia thinks this is its year. Given the talent on Kirby Smart’s roster and the return to a very manageable SEC schedule (and even a loss to Clemson in early September can be overcome), this year might work out better than the previous 40. Auburn is excited about the combination of the new coach (Bryan Harsin) and the old quarterback (Bo Nix). LSU is making hype videos. Texas A&M, arguably one game away from last year’s College Football Playoff, has Alabama in College Station, where a win might reduce the nice new stadium to a bare steel frame. Vanderbilt is staying quiet, but almost no one else is.
That’s the problem with re-establishing “normalcy.” Sometimes you can do the same things and yet circumstances beyond your control change everything. (See 2020.) That’s why I thought Saban’s best answer on his postgame Zoom call on A-Day was to a relatively benign question about the promising tight end tandem of Jaleel Billingsley and Cameron Latu.
“I think that we’ve always, all the years we’ve been here, we’ve done what our players can do,” Saban said. “When we had great wideouts, we played three wideouts more. When we had really good tight ends, we had tight ends in the game.
“So to use those guys relative to what they can do and how they can help us offensively is what we always want to try to do: assess what players that we have and what can we do to help those players be most successful in terms of how we feature them. We’ve always tried to do that on offense.”
In other words, “normalcy” isn’t always an instant replay of the past, on the field or in the stands.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt