It wasn’t that long ago when Alabama fans found their beloved program at the depths of a decade-long slump. 1997 to 2007 produced a meager 74 wins and 62 losses with 21 of those wins erased by the NCAA. Unimaginably hard times for what some experts consider the most successful college football program of all time. Even more unimaginable is how quickly and how drastically Nick Saban threw that slump into reverse.
In just his second season as the Tide’s head coach, Saban guided Alabama to a 12-2 record and SEC West crown. He then followed that stellar year with an even more impressive season — 14-0 and BCS Champions. 2010 started with high expectations as the AP preseason #1 team. Bama finished a disappointing 10-3 but — considering the tumultuousness of the Shula/Franchione/DuBose eras — being disappointed in a 10-win season is nothing short of remarkable.
With this return to stratospheric standards in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide are, not surprisingly, all over the early preseason Top 5 lists for 2011. Indeed, the prognosticators seem to love Alabama heading into the new season. ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, Rivals.com and Natinoalchamps.net all list Bama as their preseason #2 behind Oklahoma. Dennis Dodd of CBS and Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated are slightly less bullish as they both slot Bama at #4.
I’m a little more pessimistic about Alabama in 2011 as I have them ranked #6 in my own preseason Top 25
My bet is that the loss of McElroy and Ingram — along with the usual hellish grind of the nation’s toughest conference division — will keep the Tide from doing better than two losses on the year. And there won’t be any Top 5 teams with two losses in 2011.
Alabama gets a solid nonconference road test in September, traveling to Happy Valley to meet Penn State. Main division title contenders (Arkansas and LSU) have to come to Tuscaloosa, but trips to Florida and Auburn will surely test the mettle of whomever gets the starting quarterback job for 2011. Considering that the key position on the team is currently locked in a three way battle between a redshirt sophomore (AJ McCarron), a redshirt freshman (Phillip Sims) and a true freshman (Phillip Ely), things may get bumpy for the Tide in, at least, the early going.
Fortunately, these young QBs will have arguably the nation’s best defense to lean on until one of them gets their footing.
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