Feb. 17, 2017
Saban and Alabama Not Going Anywhere
As the clock reached 0:00 on the early morning of January 10th, #1 Alabama had just been defeated by #2 Clemson for the College Football Playoff championship. Deshaun Watson's superhuman efforts against Alabama's Herculean defense led to Nick Saban's first loss in a National Championship game (5-1). The following day, pundits across the country believed that Alabama's dominance was coming to an end. They feasted off of downed Southeastern Conference foes, they said. Nick Saban's teams still cannot beat talented quarterbacks. Did the loss of Lane Kiffin before the championship game signal the end of Saban's control of "the Process"? Will Jalen Hurts improve as a passer? Nick Saban did not sulk in his coffee and oatmeal cream pies. He aggressively went out to assemble a talented bunch of recruits to make a run for next year's championship game in Atlanta.
On February 1st, Nick Saban signed his seventh straight #1 recruiting class in the nation. He has an embarrassment of riches spread across the offense and defense. Quarterback Jalen Hurts returns after a SEC Offensive Player of the Year campaign in which he accounted for 36 touchdowns, an Alabama record. The 6'2, 209 lb sophomore quarterback will improve drastically with the help of Steve Sarkisian, spring, and summer practice. At running back, junior Bo Scarborough will be expected to carry the workload. He will be relieved by junior Damien Harris, sophomore Josh Jacobs, sophomore B.J. Emmons and #1 running back recruit Najee Harris. The wide receiver stable remains full of talent with junior Calvin Ridley and senior Robert Foster. Three wide receivers signed last week, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, and Devonta Smith and could contribute immediately. Outland Trophy award winner Cam Robinson declared for the NFL Draft and could be replaced by a bevy of highly recruited tackles over the last few years. True freshman right tackle Jonah Williams held his own against the best pass rushers in the country. Right guard has to be shored up this year as Alphonse Taylor and Korren Kirven both depart.
Coach Jeremy Pruitt's defense was being hailed as the greatest defense to ever step foot into a college stadium. They were great until they played 99 snaps against Clemson on that fateful night. Their legacy tarnished forever as they watched Deshaun Watson throw a touchdown pass to Hunter Renfro with 0:01 remaining on the game clock. This heralded defense led the nation in rush defense, total defense, and scoring defense. Possible top 5 draft pick Jonathan Allen disrupted many offenses in 2016 with his relentless pursuit of the quarterback. Butkus Award Winner Reuben Foster was magnificent as an every down 'backer registering over 100 tackles. Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson were terrors on the edge of the defense. Replacements are already on campus starting with inside linebacker Rashaan Evans who has played great in the past two National Championship games. He registered 2 sacks as a spy against Deshaun Watson in Alabama's victory. He tallied 11 tackles in their loss to Clemson. He was all over the field in coverage, blitzing the quarterback and tackling running backs. Hopefully, starting linebacker, Shaun Dion Hamilton returns from his injury to remain a stout defender. Defensive lineman Daron Payne and Deshawn Hand return to continue Alabama's tradition of stout linemen. The secondary loses cornerback Marlon Humphrey and free safety Eddie Jackson but returns talented, versatile corner/safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick. His play and five interceptions led to him being named First Team All-American and a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award. Cornerbacks Tony Brown and Anthony Averett returns for their senior season which allows Alabama to have a seasoned secondary. There will be a battle in summer practice for Star (nickel back) and free safety.
Expect Alabama to enter the Chick Fil A Kickoff game against a highly ranked Florida State on September 2nd at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a huge chip on their shoulder and an angry impulse to show the nation that Alabama is not going anywhere. Their dominance of college football will continue for years to come.