BY DANIEL MOGOLLON
COLLEGE FOOTBALL INSIDERS
2006 RECORD: 6-7; SEC: 2-6
Lost Independence Bowl vs. Oklahoma St. 31-24
LOCATION: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
STADIUM: Bryant-Denny (92,138)
HEAD COACH: Nick Saban
OVERALL: 91-42-1 (11 seasons)
AT ALABAMA: 0-0 (0 seasons)
Roll Tide Roll…I may be the first to put the Crimson Tide in the top ten, but something tells me I will not be the last. Alabama returns 14 starters and brings in another talented class, which will make for a very successful inaugural campaign in Tuscaloosa for new headman Nick Saban, who has rejuvenated the base to use political terms. How often do schools sell out their spring games and have to turn people back for a scrimmage? Speaking of politics…I think I might be able to run for office in the State with this love I am showing the Tide, although I would run under the party represented by the donkey, not the elephant…I guess no one’s perfect…Roll Tide.
WHEN THE TIDE HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Major Applewhite (1st Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 9
KEY LOSSES: Ken Darby, Le’Ron McClain, Tim Castille
Why is Alabama going to be better than people believe? Because they return nine starters on offense, including their entire offensive line. At left tackle, Andre Smith started all 13 games as a true freshman, with junior center Antoine Caldwell coming into his third year as a starter and both are ready to earn some All-SEC honors. If they provide the pass protection I expect, Bama’s aerial attack will surprise many this season. John Parker Wilson is ready to blossom this season, as underrated a signal caller as there is in the nation and he has weapons to boot. DJ Hall set the school’s single season record for receiving yards last season, with Keith Brown a deep threat who is tough to cover one-0n-one, each is a senior and both stand at 6’3”. Backing them up are the trio of Matt Caddell, Will Oakley and Nikita Stovall, all of whom displayed last season they can contribute. Junior tight end Travis McCall could emerge as a weapon as well. They are unproven at running back, however they are never short on talent at tailback, look for Jimmy Johns and Terry Grant to provide a one-two punch.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Andre Smith (SO), 2) DJ Hall (SR), 3) Keith Brown (SR), 4) Antoine Caldwell (JR), 5) John Parker Wilson (JR), 6) Justin Britt (SR), 7) BJ Stabler (JR), 8) Terry Grant (FR)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL
DEFENSIVE COORDINAROR: Kevin Steele (1st Season)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 5
KEY LOSSES: Juwan Simpson, Jeffrey Dukes, Ramzee Robinson, Terrance Jones
This is where Nick Saban must work his magic implementing his 50-defense. The key is how newcomers step in and perform. Redshirt freshman Brian Motley has shifted over from center to take over the critical nose guard position, clearly having impressed Saban. Playing behind him is true frosh Rolando McCain, a speedy linebacker with the ability to be an impact player and the size (6’4”/245) to handle playing on the inside in the 3-4. This is not to say they do not have any returning talent, because they do. Inside linebacker Prince Hall is a stud in the making, their best defender in 2006 as a freshman, with senior Simeon Castille a potential first round pick with deft cover skills. Providing backup is speedy safety Marcus Carter, with two more seniors Bobby Greenwood and Wallace Gilberry manning the defensive end positions.
PRO PROSPECTS: 1) Prince Hall (SO), 2) Simeon Castille (SR), 3) Rolando McClain (FR), 4) Wallace Gilberry (SR), 5) Keith Saunders (SR), 6) Marcus Carter (SR), 7) Eric Gray (SR), 8) Bobby Greenwood (SR), 9) Brian Motley (FR)
Nick Saban has the schedule set up with some home cooking this season. Not that their schedule is an easy one, but they do not face a tough road test until they visit Auburn for the season finale. SEC West contenders LSU and Arkansas both come to Tuscaloosa, as do East rivals Tennessee and Georgia. With over 92,000 coming to see a spring scrimmage you bet they will have a rabid crowd for all of their rivalry games. Furthermore, if they ever get any momentum going, they will just continue to ramp it up more and more as the season goes along. They also play Florida St. out of conference at a neutral site.
Nick Saban is the easy answer, however I am going with their play in the trenches. Last season, they averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and allowed 28 sacks. With the same players returning why should they be better, you might ask. Smith was a true freshman playing the most important position on the line, left tackle, and he should be ready to step up and dominate. Britt was also in his first season as a starter after playing his first two years on the defensive side of the ball. Furthermore, in Caldwell and Stabler, you have a duo that the previous staff may have rushed into duty as freshman in 2005 out of necessity, but are now well-seasoned players coming into their third years as regulars. Finally, with Saban and O-Line coach Joe Pendry (19 years in the NFL) improvement is inevitable. Defensively, neither Wallace Gilberry, nor Bobby Greenwood (both ends), have fulfilled the promise they displayed when making the All-SEC freshman team in 2004. Saban knows how to get the most out of his players.
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
I could be way off, but I cannot help but wonder if part of the reason that David Shula was fired is that the powers that be were worried he would have a big season in 2007. Not to say that adding Saban was not a coup…because it was. Last year, they lost at eventual SEC West Champ Arkansas by one point in double OT, at Tennessee by three points and they out-gained Auburn by over 100 yards in their loss to the Tigers -- they will win those types of games this season.
Check back tomorrow to see who is #9 in CFI’s Top 25 Countdown