THE SEASON AHEAD: ALABAMA
Beat Auburn. That has to be the first goal on Nick Saban's list this year. (Though removing all memory of what Mike Shula taught them from his players' minds would be a close second.)
C&F asked one of the most rabid and knowledgeable (though blatantly homeristic) non-blogging Alabama fans he knows -- that would be his sister -- what would be the minimum she would consider successful this year. Her answer was a .500 season and beating Auburn. C&F then asked which would preferable -- going 9-3 with one of the losses being to Auburn or going 5-7 with one of the defeats being of Auburn. Her reply was that she'd take the 5-7 season.
QB John Parker Wilson is now expected to be the best thing at Alabama since Gene Stallings, and he wasn't bad last season in his first year as starter. He went 216-for-379 for 2,707 yards and 17 TDs against 10 INTs. Alabama's offense is stacked with returning starters, including all five linemen and star WR D.J. Hall, who caught 62 passes last year for 1,056 yards and 5 TDs. Terry Grant will apparently start at RB when all is said and done, with Jimmy Johns moving around, even at fullback. Major Applewhite should have considerably more success as OC than Shula.
Say what you want to about his inability to stay in one place for more than four years, Nick Saban knows how to run a defense. He doesn't have as much returning talent on the defense. Apparently, Simeon Castille's recent brush with the law won't keep him off the field, or won't do so for very long. Good thing for the Tide; he had six picks and has the second-highest number of tackles (71) among returning players in 2006.
This was a sore spot for the Tide last year, particularly as Jamie Christensen (13-for-17 on FG attempts) and Leigh Tiffin (8-for-13 ) struggled as place-kickers. P.J. Fitzgerald returns as punter. Javier Arenas handles returns.
Love him or hate him, Saban does the one thing that ingratiates fans to him: He wins. Michigan State has never been the same since he left, LSU still has not quite matched the success he had, and Miami ... Well, for the most part, Saban wins.
There are, to C&F's surprise, eight very winnable games on the schedule: Western Carolina, at Vanderbilt, Georgia, Houston, Mississippi, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Louisiana-Monroe. Arkansas is also within reach, though Florida State in Jacksonville will be difficult. LSU and Auburn are reaches. But 8-4 looks pretty good.