NOTE: This story is an update from our Alabama Spring Football Preview. The original predictions from April can be viewed by clicking here!
Recent history suggests that football coaches at the University of Alabama don’t reach their peak vintage until year three. So it was with Gene Stallings, Mike DuBose and Mike Shula; each won at least 10 games in their third seasons and Stallings won a national championship.
Of course, 2009 is Nick Saban’s third year at Alabama and fan expectations are through the roof for his Tide this season. Saban has already performed a near-miracle in taking the Tide from the Independence Bowl to the Sugar Bowl in just one season, but is additional improvement this year too much to expect from a team with so many new faces in some very integral positions? Let’s break it down and see. (Caution: Football I know, the future I don’t. I wouldn’t risk money on my picks, and neither should you.)
Sept. 5 – No. 7 Virginia Tech (Atlanta) – I’m going to begin with a bold prediction: If Alabama beats Virginia Tech to open the season…they will run the table. National champions. Mark it down. Think about it, until the rematch against Florida in the SEC title game, whom would they face better than Tech? Ole Miss? (Can we really trust Houston Nutt to deliver on those sky-high expectations?) LSU? (John Chavis or not, that defense is still full of holes)
The problem, Bama fans, is that your team has some major question marks of it’s own. New starters at quarterback, running back, left tackle, center and free safety will square off for the first time against a veteran team that captured the ACC title last season and won the 2009 Orange Bowl. A loss here won’t derail Alabama’s chances for a big year, but it will hopefully lend fans some perspective as the season moves forward. Virginia Tech 21, Alabama 17.
Sept. 12 – Florida International (Tuscaloosa) - FIU makes a return trip to Tuscaloosa after Bama crushed the Panthers, 38-3, in 2005. FIU managed a respectable five-win season in 2008, but that doesn’t mean the Tide is worried about this match-up. Alabama 42, FIU 6
Sept. 19 – North Texas (Tuscaloosa) – Whew, how bad was the Todd Dodge hire at North Texas? Didn’t the Gerry Faust incident teach us anything about hiring head coaches straight out of the high school game? Alabama 51, North Texas 3
Sept. 26 – Arkansas (Tuscaloosa) – Regardless of how you feel personally about Razorbacks’ coach Bobby Petrino, you have to admit that he’s a pretty damn good football coach. Last season’s 49-14 debacle against the Tide won’t be repeated in 2009, not with an upgrade at quarterback and a year’s worth of improvement on defense. But the Hogs still don’t have enough talent to march into Bryant-Denny and march out with a win…Alabama 27, Arkansas 19
Oct. 3 – Kentucky (Lexington) – What a sad trade-off for the Kentucky Wildcats this season. You just know they’d love to have graduated QB Mike Hartline and kept that stifling defense intact, but of course it has to be the other way around. The 2008 Alabama/Kentucky game was a nerve-wracking one for Tide fans. Not so much this season. Alabama 31, Kentucky 17
Oct. 10 – Ole Miss (Oxford) – The Rebels are the only SEC Western Division team to have never played in the conference championship game. Trust me, you’ll hear that statement ad nauseum for as long as Ole Miss can stay undefeated, which they most certainly should be heading into this huge matchup against Alabama. Despite losing a bunch of talent along the line of scrimmage, the Rebs’ roster is loaded with playmakers. QB Jevon Snead, WR Shay Hodge and dynamic RB/WR Dexter McCluster will all be back for 2009, as will eight starters on defense. Without a doubt, this is the game of the year for Ole Miss, exactly the kind of opportunity they’ve let slip away so many times before. Not this year. Ole Miss 27, Alabama 24
Oct. 17 – South Carolina (Tuscaloosa, Homecoming) - Steve Spurrier’s been coaching the Gamecocks since 2005, and in all that time the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback has struggled to find an effective signal-caller of his own. They say that Stephen Garcia has finally gotten the system down and is ready for a breakout year. But if it’s the same Stephen Garcia I saw playing against Iowa in the Outback Bowl last season, then I have my doubts. The only question: How will Alabama respond after giving Ole Miss control SEC West the week prior? Alabama 28, South Carolina 10
Oct. 24 – Tennessee (Tuscaloosa) - Ever since the Vols hired Lane Kiffin several months ago, fans around the country have been trying to determine whether or not he’s a mad genius or a mental case. We should have some idea by this point in the season. Tennessee’s schedule is top-heavy in 2009, with UCLA, Florida, Auburn and Georgia all waiting in line before the Tide to get their first crack at Kiffin. If the Vols begin the year poorly, then the team could have morale issues heading into this rivalry match-up. Eric Berry, the SEC’s best defensive player, is back for the 2009 season, but tailback Arian Foster and defensive end Robert Ayers are not. Depth is an issue in Knoxville and will continue to be until Kiffin’s recruiting classes stack up. Alabama 24, Tennessee 13
Oct. 31 – BYE WEEK
Nov. 7 – LSU (Tuscaloosa) – It’s not as if the annual Alabama-LSU tilt wasn’t an intense rivalry before Nick Saban left Baton Rouge and eventually wound up in Tuscaloosa, but since he did the animosity levels have jumped off the charts. It’s quite possible that the quarterback problems that plagued the Tigers last season are behind them now that Jordan Jefferson is firmly entrenched as the new starter. Trindon Holliday, the game’s fastest player, is back and will undoubtedly give LSU an edge in the field-position battle.
Tennessee refugee John Chavis, the team’s new defensive coordinator, has to hope that last year’s lapses in coverage were due to poor scheming and not sub-par talent. Here’s a fact that might surprise you: Did you know that Alabama hasn’t beaten LSU at home since 1999? That should change this season. Alabama 28, LSU 24
Nov. 14 – Mississippi State (Starkville) - Will this game lose a bit of its fire now that Sly Croom has been shown the door? Perhaps. Croom’s ability to get the Bulldogs fired up to play Alabama was instrumental in the 2006 and 2007 games, both of which were inexplicably won by State. New head coach Dan Mullen is an offensive guru and he’ll need every bit of his moxie to squeeze the talent out of a pretty bare cupboard. The addition of QB Tyler Russell could finally put the woeful Bulldog offense on the right track, but Alabama will simply be too deep to beat. Alabama 23, Mississippi State 10
Nov. 21 – Chattanooga (Tuscaloosa) - Much like the Louisiana-Monroe game two years ago, Alabama should be wary of the non-conference sandwich match here. The Mocs finished 1-11 in 2008, scoring seven points or less in eight of their 12 games. Are they any threat on paper? No, not at all. But neither was Monroe. Alabama 31, Chattanooga 9
Nov. 27 – Auburn (Auburn) - After so much upheaval following last year’s disappointing season, no one really knows what to expect from the Auburn Tigers in 2009. Gus Malzahn is a dynamic offensive schemer, but does Auburn have the personnel to run his system effectively this season? That remains to be seen. Fans seemed to have little patience for the spread last season, so how long will they tolerate it this season if things go south early on? That remains to be seen. Ted Roof, Auburn’s new defensive coordinator, has bounced around schools throughout the country (including Alabama as a graduate assistant in the late ’80s) with varying degrees of success. Will he be able follow through on Auburn’s tradition of tough, run-clogging, hard-hitting defense? That remains to be seen. Is Gene Chizik the genius we thought he was in when he bolted for Texas, or the goat we assume he is after a terrible tenure in Ames, Iowa? Indeed, that remains to be seen.
This game, once utterly unpredictable, has been anything but these past few seasons. We knew Auburn would win two years ago. We knew ‘Bama would roll last year. Until we see what now is unseen, we’ll have to assume that the Tide’s roll will roll on. Alabama 24, Auburn 13
On the off chance that I’m right about all this, ‘Bama should expect a 10-2 record from Nick Saban in year three, which is pretty damn good considering all the new faces that Alabama will be trotting out on both sides of the ball this season. Perhaps Greg McElroy possesses the consistency that John Parker Wilson lacked? Perhaps adding another talented cog (Trent Richardson) to Saban’s running back committee will allow the Tide to control the clock, take pressure off the new quarterback and keep the new safety on the sidelines? Perhaps. Maybe. Possibly.
We’ll know for sure soon enough.