Throughout August and September we will be counting down the top 25 teams (as listed here) going into the 2009 season.  For the moment, let’s focus our attention on Alabama.  Not on the textbook scandals or dubious fishing trips, though.  Those are none of your concern, OK?  (Thanks.)  We’re talking strictly about the action on the field.

First Impressions

When Nick Saban bolted for Alabama, you just know that the Crimson Tide would instantly become a perennial contender in the world of college football.  Say what you want about the man, but he is nothing if not an elite football coach, regardless of team, conference, or general sleaziness.

The sticking point for SEC teams as contenders always begins and ends with scheduling, and 2009 should provide some favorable matchups for the Tide.  Among Bama’s four road games (not counting this weekend’s game against Virginia Tech in Atlanta), only one (@Mississippi) figures to be against a ranked opponent.  They also dodge Florida and Georgia, and play a meaty non-conference schedule in the form of Florida International, North Texas, and Chattanooga.  Roll Tide.

Despite losing John Parker Wilson and Glen Coffee, Alabama’s team, as a whole, will be stronger in 2009.  Yes, stronger.  Assuming that Julio and Mark’s fishing trip is OK’d by the powers-that-be, another unbeaten season could be in the cards.

Last Year

Despite a rampant notion that Alabama was a year away from making any serious noise on the national stage, the Crimson Tide started off its season on the right foot by pummeling then-No. 9 Clemson by a 34-10 score in the first week of the season.  What followed was an exciting, gritty run through the SEC and to No. 1 in the polls, taking down Georgia, Mississippi and LSU along the way.  Bama finished 2008 with a 12-0 regular season record, but it was ultimately Florida that finally knocked off the Tide in the SEC Championship.  With seemingly nothing to play for, Bama mailed it in against a tough Utah squad and lost again in the Sugar Bowl.  As a whole, it was one of Nick Saban’s finest coaching jobs ever.

Saban managed to march through a tough SEC schedule by taking the pressure off John Parker Wilson and getting the ball to his main playmakers: Glen Coffee, Mark Ingram and Julio Jones.  Wilson wasn’t asked to win games, but neither were any of his offensive players — in typical Saban fashion, he left that task to a stingy defense which only allowed about 14 points and 260 yards per game.  That formula proved successful.

In short, only a loss to Florida separated Alabama from playing in a BCS title game.

People

The question for Alabama is, again, its offense.  With only four returning starters from 2008 and an offensive line that needs reconfiguring, the onus falls on Nick Saban to again invent a winning strategy without a prolific offense.  This year, he’ll be replacing Wilson with Greg McElroy and Glen Coffee with Mark Ingram — in general, two players who should at least provide the same level of production.  Of course, standout receiver Julio Jones will be back for his sophomore campaign, which should help McElroy.  Saban-led teams know how to grind out an offensive possession and score points — Jones will be the primary target.

Bama’s defense, though, should be sick.  With nine returning starters, it’s possible that this team will improve upon its healthy defensive numbers in ’08 and potentially make another run at an undefeated season.  Listen for names like Rolando McClain, Brandon Fanney, Dont’a Hightower an Javier Arenas.

This Year

Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech will set the tone very early for the Crimson Tide, just as last year’s opening against Clemson did.  A win over a solid Tech squad will give Bama instant confidence and credibility, both of which it’ll need as the season progresses.  As with any SEC schedule, there is potential for four losses, but don’t count on it.  Bama might be favored in every game it plays this season, and with a stout defense in place, Saban will again ask his offense to control the clock and focus on efficiency instead of pyrotechnics.  If the Crimson Tide can do that again, you should expect big things.

Conclusions

Never underestimate Nick Saban’s ability to coach a football team.  Still, it feels like there is a loss somewhere (anywhere) on this schedule.

Prediction

11-1

Game Highlights Set To Sophisticated Music

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHEC4KzNwDQ