Sure, Alabama football is favored vs Miami, but Crimson Tide does have some unknowns | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

If there was ever a season where preseason practice could be limited and not affect a team relative to its opposition, it was Alabama’s 2020 season.

With no spring practice at all and an unusual preseason preparation, the Crimson Tide, loaded with veteran talent, was an offensive juggernaut. That’s not to say that coach Nick Saban and Steve Sarkisian simply had to flip the switch. More work is involved than that. But when the switch was flipped, Alabama had more working parts in the machine. 

This “normal” year is different. Alabama has more questions heading into its first game than it had last season. There are even Associated Press voters like Rece (Benedict Arnold) Davis who did not vote the Crimson Tide as the preseason No. 1 team.  Wait … neither did I, so scratch the Benedict Arnold. I had Clemson at No. 1 for a variety of scheduling reasons, although Tiger fans should be forewarned that my vote probably guarantees a Georgia victory Saturday. 

Those big national issues can now wait, as they should. The game week preparation has started. The big question in my mind is how much of its 2020 firepower can Alabama retain, and how much of its 2020 defense can Miami not retain?

There is every reason for wariness about the Alabama offense: new (albeit gifted) quarterback in sophomore Bryce Young with a new running back, mostly new wide receivers, a mystery at tight end and an offensive line that hasn’t seemed to get all its pieces on the field at the same time.  It will be fascinating to see if the depth chart issued on Monday matches up with the line that takes the field on Saturday.

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Even as the last week before game preparation wound down, new configurations seemed to be popping up daily. Chris Owens might see work at right tackle, where he has some experience and could bring stability that will allow the freshman candidates more time. That, however, would cause more shuffling on the inside. Darrian Dalcourt may end up as the center, with Tommy Brown and Emil Ekiyor at guard. Or, frankly, none of that might happen. 

Nervous Alabama fans can be reassured that Miami’s defense gave up 99 points in its final two games of 2020, including an exciting but high-scoring bowl loss to Oklahoma State. After that, Manny Diaz did a revamp of his entire defensive staff,  including declaring himself as defensive coordinator and bringing in three new assistants with SEC experience.

That’s not implying that Miami somehow doesn’t have good athletes. A Hurricane secondary without big-time talent seems like a violation of one of the basic truths of the college football universe. Also, Miami doesn’t have to pitch a shutout, just keep Alabama within reach and, when possible, off the field. That might allow quarterback D’Eriq King to give them a puncher’s chance. 

"He’s a very good player,” Nick Saban said last week. "He’s a very athletic guy, a very good runner. He can extend plays. He is a good passer. They go fast. He does a really good job of operating their up-tempo type offense. It’s going to be very challenging for us, not only because he’s a really good quarterback but he’s a great athlete playing the position."

That might be the sort of challenge Alabama needs defensively, but it makes for a more interesting opener. Fans of future NFL matchups should keep an eye on Miami tackle Zion Nelson against Crimson Tide defensive end Will Anderson Jr. But before anything, keep an eye on Alabama’s new offensive line, the key to the game. 

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt