Time To Play

Sometimes an opening game is nothing special in hindsight. A victory over some mid-major won't stand out regardless of how the season goes. A loss to a "name" team is easier to swallow, but still distateful. In other cases, a season-opening game can be seen as a harbinger of things to come. Most notable were the games against Southern Cal in 1970 and 1971.

Books are written about Alabama football at an astonishing rate. Among this year's additions to the list of over 80 books on the Crimson Tide are one based on Bama's 1970 season-opening loss to USC and one founded on Bama's 1971 season-opening win over the Trojans.

It's easy to see the importance after the fact. Alabama was beaten badly in 1970 and had a second consecutive five-loss season. Alabama won in 1971 and went on to an 11-0 regular season record and played for the national championship (losing to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl). The springboard of that 1971 opener led to a second straight decade of national dominance by the Crimson Tide.

It seems unlikely that Alabama's season-opener this year will have much historical importance. Alabama and Hawaii will kick off at 6:07 Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. Thus far, much of the interest has been on the arena. One thing certain is that a new state attendance mark will be set for a football game in Alabama. Bryant-Denny now seats 92,138 and the game is a hard sellout.

There is also interest in the new club level that is the feature of the North end zone expansion, two new Jumbotron screens, in the North end and the ribbon screens on the East and West sides.

The vast majority of fans will never see the Alabama lockerroom, but it's now in the North end zone, and the team will now make its entrance from that end. After the game hundreds of prospects will be hosted in a fabulous room designed to impress.

And once the game kicks off, almost no one will care about any of that.

If Alabama is going to have a good football season, it is important to get off to a good start. Not critical always, but usually. Bama's 1975 team lost its opener to Missouri, but finished the year with a record of 11-1.

Almost everyone sees Alabama vs. Hawaii as the Warriors excellent passing game against Bama's rebuilt defense, and particularly three new defensive backs and the Crimson Tide's outstanding running backs against a Hawaii defense that was not great last year.

The rules have changed a bit. Once upon a time a team that could run the ball and stop the other team from running was almost certain to win. Now, some teams don't care if they run or not. Hawaii may be one of them (although the Warriors may also have some running plans for Bama).

Alabama expects to be able to run primarily because of the likes of Kenneth Darby at halfback working behind LéRon McClain and Tim Castille at fullback. And that is a good start. But if Alabama is to be a good team this year, it will have to prove it up front. Practice observations lead to the conclusion that the offensive line–a source of consternation in many recent seasons–will be a strong suit for this Bama.

Another strength? Quarterback John Parker Wilson. He doesn't have much experience, but he has plenty of talent and he's surrounded by good players.

Alabama has rebuilt its defense, but the defense is not like the offense. Joe Kines, Alabama's defensive coordinator, doesn't try to play the game without making substitutions, as is sometimes the case at offensive positions. Although the Tide defense will have new players at most positions, the players will not be without experience.

And the defense does have Kines, one of the finest defensive coordinators in the nation as evidenced by Bama being ranked the second best overall defense in college football each of the past two years.

Alabama has made it through the pre-season without critical injuries and progress has been obvious.

Now it's time for the next step–or the first step–of 2006.

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