Is Tide Ready To Be Great?

As much as he sincerely seems to wish otherwise, when Alabama opens the 2007 football season Saturday evening it will be viewed almost exclusively as the dawn of the Nick Saban Era. This isn't really the dawn of the Nick Saban Era. It's the dawn of the Nick Saban At Alabama Era. But in the long run it is what Bama partisans hope is the beginning of a return to greatness.

Nick Saban has plenty of experience as a head football coach starting a season. He first did it in 1990 at Toledo and went 9-2. All of his first years have not been great. Often the reason a coach is in his first year as head coach is because the previous head coach wasn't getting the job done. And it's tough to raise a 6-7 team (which Alabama was last season) to national championship contender in a transition year.

Since 1900, Alabama has had 20 head coaches. M. Griffin went 2-3 in 1900. Since then only three Crimson Tide coaches have had losing records in their first seasons -- J.B. Whitworth (0-10 in 1955), Mike DuBose (4-7 in 1997), and Mike Shula (4-9 om 2003).

While it's true that most Alabama fans are not being realistic about the first Saban-coached Crimson Tide team , no one would expect Bama to have a losing record this season. That doesn't mean it can't happen, but even if it does the losses probably will not include Western Carolina.

Alabama hosts the Catamounts at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

The opening game is hardly the key game of the season. Unless, as Gene Stallings was wont to point out, "If you don't think a game isn't important, just lose it and see what people think."

Stallings started with three consecutive losses to start what would be a very fine seven-year career at Alabama. He finished that fist year 7-5. Other than Shula, Paul Bryant probably had the toughest job of any Alabama first-year coach. Bryant followed Whitworth, whose teams won only four games in three years. Despite opening up with a 13-3 loss to the eventual national championship LSU Tigers, Bryant's first team managed a 5-4-1 record.

Saban's job got tougher this week with noseguard Brian Motley suffering a fractured ankle that will keep him out for six weeks or so. The defense already appeared to be a unit that would have to succeed with smoke and mirrors as much as with talent as Bama is rebuilding for a second consecutive season.

Good news about special teams has trickled out from Alabama's closed practices.

It seems as it most of the talk about the 2007 Tide has been (and will continue to be) the offense. John Parker Wilson at quarterback, Terry Grant at tailback, D.J. Hall at wide receiver, Antoine Caldwell at center and Andre Smith at left tackles all have the reputation of being all-star caliber players. It may be that Nick Saban's first Alabama team will be able to keep the ball and score points, hich would certainly help protect the defense.

It's a new season for Alabama, hopefully the beginning of the road back to dominance of the Southeastern Conference. And because Nick Saban is in charge, for now, at least, the attention is on the start of his new beginning.

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