Question No. 1

A common formula column for sportswriters is something along the lines of "Ten Questions That Must Be Answered" as an analysis of a team or player or position or coach or just about anything else in sports. I'm not sure that I could come up with as many--or as few, depending on the breadth--as 10 questions that must be answered about 2006 Alabama football.

In recent weeks I know that Question Number One asked of me has concerned Alabama's lack of representation on pre-season All-Southeastern Conference teams.

Only a few Crimson Tide players have been mentioned as likely all-stars this year.

That reminds me of another question, one I can't answer. Is college football a coach's game or a player's game? I've always thought the coach was most important. Good coaches win championships. Mediocre coaches stumble along losing 3-6 games most years, maybe lucking into a title every dozen years or so, if they last that long.

Among those who disagreed with me (aloud, anyway) was Paul Bryant. He said given his choice, he'd rather have good players than good coaches. Of course, he had himself to coach them. And I also suspected he believed he could coach just about anyone to championship level.

Regardless of whether it is a coach's game or a player's game, Mike Shula has his work cut out for him this year.

In answer to the question as to whether it bothers me that so few Alabama players have received pre-season mention in 2006, the seasoned veteran in me answers, "I don't worry too much about pre-season honors."

But the truth is, it does bother me in some cases.

For the life of me I can't understand how the SEC coaches who voted Kenneth Darby All-SEC at the end of 2005 would bump him off the pre-season 2006 team. Well, I can understand it. Those ballots aren't filled out by the coaches in many cases. The head coach turns it over to someone else, probably his sports information director, who has more to do than thorough research on the all-star candidates from opposing teams.

Kenneth Darby has had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons, despite some serious injuries that he has had to overcome and without benefit of an offensive line loaded with all-stars. He has a chance to be the all-time leading rusher in Alabama football history. Repeat, ALABAMA football history. That takes in more than a few good players.

Alabama's offensive line has been thoroughly damned by friend and so understandably is ignored by foe when it comes to all-star balloting. But Antoine Caldwell was Freshman All-SEC last year. And in case no one noticed, he made quite a difference when he made the impressive shift to center and helped Alabama to a Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech and a 10-2 final record.

It was interesting that coaches would pick Tyrone Prothro for their all-star team when the wide receiver-kick return specialist is not going to participate this year. I can understand no other Alabama wide receiver being selected as an all-star, even though I think Keith Brown and D.J. Hall match up pretty well against some who did get picked.

And some teams may have a tight end better than Travis McCall. It really doesn't bother me that McCall didn't make it, because I think Alabama is in excellent shape at tight end with McCall, Nick Walker and Charles Hoke.

I think if the coaches had been forced to pick one halfback/tailback AND one fullback that Alabama would have had a first team selection in Le'Ron McClain and a maybe second team pick in Tim Castille.

I think placekicker Jamie Christensen was short-changed, particularly if anyone bothered to do any research on his spring performance. But winning three 2005 games on field goal kicks in the waning moments, two of them on the final play of the game, is two or three more than most field goal kickers had. At least one field goal kicker who LOST a critical game by missing field goals last season finished ahead of Christensen.

I know that Alabama graduated seven of the 11 starters on last year's defense, but the four who were on the best defensive unit in the SEC (and perhaps the best in the nation, considering the caliber of Bama's 2005 schedule) must have been pretty good. If Wallace Gilberry, Jeremy Clark, Juwan Simpson, and Ramzee Robinson were good enough for that team, they might be good enough for pre-season All-SEC.

Robinson did make some pre-season All-SEC lists, but not many. And, yes, I can understand Simpson's "penalty" for his summer arrest including being omitted from all-star ballots.

Florida is getting a lot of attention as a team and a lot of Gators are pre-season all-stars. Excuse me? I know it was just one day, but I don't remember seeing those studs in orange and blue last October 1.

So I guess it does bother me that more Alabama football players were not honored as pre-season all-stars. But what will really bother me is if these pre-season predictions turn out to be true and Bama doesn't have a lot of quality players.

I don't think that will be the case.


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