HOOVER, Ala. – Day three of SEC Media days was a little different than the two days prior.
Fans showed up in the lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel early and media members had their seats marked off at the crack of dawn all to see the most familiar face of the SEC, Nick Saban, and players from the reigning, three-time SEC champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
Joining Saban were senior offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman, junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, and junior wide receiver Calvin Ridley.
There is no question the 2016 season did not end the way Alabama coaches, players, and fans wanted. At this point in Saban’s tenure, anything less than a College Football Playoff trophy coming home with the Tide in January will be considered a disappointment.
The last 10 years have been dominated by Alabama. The Tide has gone on a run never seen before in major college football. In the decade Saban has been at the helm in Tuscaloosa, the Tide has captured 119 wins and just 19 losses. Six of those losses came in Saban’s first season after taking over a depleted roster coached by Mike Shula.
Of those 119 wins, five have been SEC championships, two have been playoff wins, and four have been national titles.
Put that into perspective.
Forty-percent of Saban’s seasons at Alabama have ended with his team ranked #1. He has won the SEC in 50% of his seasons, played in the SEC title game in Atlanta in 60% of his seasons, and has yet to miss a College Football Playoff since its inception in 2014.
The expectations in Tuscaloosa would be unreal if any other school had them. But considering the talent on the Alabama roster, maybe the expectations at Alabama are not out of the realm of possibility on an annual basis. While Alabama will be expected to win the SEC and compete for a national title in 2017, there is a chance they will come up short again, but there is case to be made for both sides of the argument.
Why Alabama will not be the 2017 National Champion
Lack of experience may hurt the Tide early in 2017, maybe as early as week one. The Tide returns just 11 starters total (six on offense, five on defense.) The losses on defense consist of first round NFL draft picks DE Jonathan Allen, CB Marlon Humphrey, and MLB Reuben Foster. Alabama also lost OLB Tim Williams, S Eddie Jackson, and OLB Ryan Anderson to the draft. Young players, in terms of experience, will be forced to play consistent and fundamental football. While many inexperienced players show flashes of greatness, they lack the ability to play their respective positions with consistency until they have faced hundreds of reps in live games.
Alabama will kick the season off against Florida State in Atlanta which has the potential to pose problems to this young Alabama team.
“Florida State, especially, is built like an SEC team, you know, like our teams. You think of Florida State, you think of fast, explosive players which they have a lot of, but they are also a big, physical, play great defense, tough, you know, team,” Saban explained. “And I think it’s probably Jimbo’s experience in this league that sort of why he built his team that way. And that’s certainly the kind of team that they have this year.”
Hangover from Tampa
Returning to the national title game – or even staying relevant – has been an issue for almost every team that has lost on the game’s biggest stage. Miami has not been the same since its loss to Ohio State in the early 2000s. LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon, Auburn, and others are still waiting to get back to national prominence after losing recent national title games. To get back to the playoff and meet expectations, Saban said there will be no change to “the process.”
He stated, “We really try to do it the same way because whether you win or lose, we’re always trying to self-assess to see what we need to do to get better. I think when you lose, everybody’s much more willing to change. I want to learn. I don’t want to waste a failure.”
Why Alabama can be the 2017 National Champion
Dynamic quarterback play
For the first time since 2013, Nick Saban has a quarterback returning, and its the 2016 SEC Offensive Player of the Year. Jalen Hurts took the college football world by storm in week one vs. USC in Dallas. His ability to keep plays alive with his legs was a significant reason as to why Alabama made a second straight appearance in the national title game.
In his true-freshman season, Hurts passed for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns, and rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. The only issue in Hurts’ game was the ability to pass downfield. According to many at SEC Media Days, downfield passing will not be an issue in 2017. Patrick Woo, scouting coordinator for the Reese’s Senior Bowl, told SylacaugaNews.com he was at the Manning Passing Academy along with Jalen Hurts, and said Jalen impressed everyone in attendance.
Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley weighed in on Hurts saying, “He’s improving every day and he’s one of those guys who works really hard to be better.”
Weapons on offense
Alabama’s running backs will be the deepest group in the country. Alabama returns Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, and Josh Jacobs, and brought in two of the best high school running backs in the country, according to most recruiting services, in Najee Harris and Brian Robinson.
The receiving core is deep as well. Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster, Jerry Jeudy, and others will all be viable options for Hurts in 2017. After a great true-freshman season numbers wise in 2015, Ridley’s numbers dropped off in 2016. “I know I gotta do better this year for my team and offense so we can get to where we want to be,” said Ridley.
Getting back to Alabama football
After the Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkesian debacle in the College Football Playoff last season, Alabama hired New England Patriot’s tight ends coach Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator. Alabama players and Saban seemed excited about the new offense which will feature both spread and power football principles.
“Brian Daboll has done a really, really good job as offensive coordinator,” Saban said. “The players have really responded to him well. He’s got a great personality. I think he’s exactly what we’re looking for in terms of helping us redevelop a pro-style passing attack that would go with the athleticism with some of the spread offense that we’ve used with Jalen and our other quarterbacks, which helped us tremendously.”
SEC Media Days continues on Thursday. The following teams will take the podium:
Thursday, July 13
- South Carolina – Will Muschamp, Jake Bentley (QB), Hayden Hurst (TE), Deebo Samuel (WR)
- Ole Miss – Hugh Freeze, Javon Patterson (OL), Shea Patterson (QB), Breeland Speaks (DT)
- Auburn – Gus Malzahn, Daniel Carlson (K), Tray Matthews (DB), Braden Smith (OL)
Jeremy Law for SylacaugaNews.com | © 2017, SylacaugaNews.com/Marble City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.