Considering the dreaded "T" word

Twenty-one seniors are eligible to return next season and compete on scholarship for the Crimson Tide. But with Alabama banned from post-season play and a new coaching staff coming on board, will all of them be back?

First, to clear up a misunderstanding among some fans, due to the Tide being ineligible for a bowl game next season, every "rising senior" (players that have used up three of their available four years of eligibility) on the Alabama squad can transfer to an out-of-conference school without having to sit out a season.

And that includes the junior college players that signed last year. In fact, the rules exception would even include defensive tackle Anthony Bryant, who sat out his freshman year as a partial qualifier and was therefore considered a junior last season by NCAA standards.

There are no exceptions.

Fans are definitely hoping that Williams, one of the most popular players on the team, will return for his final season at Alabama. (Photo courtesy of Barry Fikes)

Fans can take comfort in the fact that most of next year's scholarshipped seniors have strong ties to Alabama and their fellow teammates. But it would be frankly naive to just assume that no player would even consider a transfer.

It's not that any particular athlete is fed up. Even Santonio Beard, who has already told his high school coach that he is done with college football, was happy enough. (At least to the degree that Beard could ever be happy in school.) But combine yet another bowl ban with the unavoidable problems associated with adjusting to a brand new coaching staff, and there is no way that some would not be at least tempted.

Tailback Shaud Williams and linebacker Derrick Pope are mentioned most often as transfer possibilities. Both are from Texas, and both almost certainly would not have signed with the Tide if not for ties to the previous staff. However, that does not necessarily mean that either will transfer.

Having arrived on campus in the fall of 2001, Williams has grown close to his teammates during his two years in Tuscaloosa. Also, Williams will enter spring as Bama's premier tailback, which may or may not be the case if he went to another school. (Derek Farmer at Texas A&M is one of the top young running backs in the Big 12.) Before he left for Christmas break Williams had been practicing with Jim Wells and the Alabama baseball team, yet another factor in the Tide's favor.

Pope's situation is different. He was termed "first team" last season by the previous staff, but for most of the year he backed up the younger Freddie Roach at middle linebacker. Plus, Pope's uncle, Kenith, is now working on the staff at A&M. Interestingly, where last year's defensive coordinator Carl Torbush ends up could factor in Derrick's decision. He was not happy with his playing time during the season, blaming the problem mostly on his position coach.

Brooks Daniels is perfectly happy at Alabama--in fact, he loves it. But the lure of playing in the NFL is strong.

If Pope does end up transferring to College Station, expect the Aggie staff to spin the story that he wasn't "recruited," but rather was simply following the principal male role model in his life (Kenith Pope) to A&M.

There is probably little chance that any athlete that played a prominent role on last year's squad (especially the starters) would transfer to a different school. Actually, the temptation would be greater for perennial backups, wanting to increase their playing time during their final season of football.

Players like Roberto McBride, David Scott, Dennis Alexander and Matt Lomax are very good athletes, but they finished last season no better than second string. And though that designation could definitely change with the new staff, at this point other names would be listed ahead of them on the spring depth chart.

As an example, if Alexander were offered a starting job at home-town Memphis, it's logical that he would be tempted. Of course the Tide's ace in the hole in that regard is Alabama itself. Better to play in a backup role for the Crimson Tide than start at a minor school.

Even without Bama's current problems, every year there are several rising seniors that flirt with the NFL. Last year Saleem Rasheed left early, and whether they're ready or not, a few of next year's seniors might be lured away.

Brooks Daniels, Alabama's starting Rover for the past two seasons, has had some people tell him he's ready for the pros. Having chalked up his second straight 100-tackle season, there is no denying that Daniels is a quality athlete. Of course fans would point out that his 205-pound playing weight is much too light for the rigors of NFL ball, but those same "people" are telling Daniels that he'll be drafted as a safety.

Along with Daniels, wide receiver Dre Fulgham is one of the best all-around athletes on the squad. His combination of speed, leaping ability and raw power are impressive, and Fulgham's 17.0 yards per catch average and three touchdown receptions was tops on last year's team. Facing his third head coach in four years, Fulgham has talked about declaring early for next year's draft. However, with a new pass-friendly coach coming on board in Mike Price, his teammates are hopeful they can convince Fulgham to come back for his final season.

Derrick Pope (lifting) likes Tuscaloosa, but there is little doubt that his uncle will make a strong pitch to convince him to transfer to Texas A&M.

Even though academic problems will probably be the deciding factor for him, Dante Ellington is also very unlikely to return next year. In fact, some reports have him already decided. Sensational as a freshman, Ellington has been plagued by weight and classroom trouble ever since. So ready or not, he's expected to give the various NFL combines and tryouts his best shot.

It's easy for fans to say that an athlete isn't ready for the pros and would benefit from another year of seasoning in college. And just two years ago Shaun Alexander and Chris Samuels proved conclusively the wisdom of that argument. But if a player as intelligent as Saleem Rasheed can be lured away by poor advice from men looking to make a quick buck, then it can happen to anyone.

EDITOR'S NOTES: We may have overlooked someone, but by our count the following seniors would be both eligible to leave and also listed prominently on the spring depth chart: Antonio Carter, Dre Fulgham, Derrick Pope, Cornelius Wortham, Brooks Daniels, Roberto McBride, Charles Jones, Shaud Williams, David Scott, Corey Ferguson, Leslie Williams, Nick Ridings, Matt Lomax, Dennis Alexander, Atlas Herrion, Zach Fletcher, Brandon Greer, Triandos Luke, Nautyn McKay-Loescher, Donald Clarke, Anthony Bryant, Lance Taylor and Kyle Robinson.

* At this point Robinson and Taylor are not on scholarship.

* We were told by Charley North before the Hawaii game that cornerback Corey Ferguson, an excellent student, was considering forgoing his final season of eligibility and moving on to a career in Finance. If true, then there would be only 20 returning seniors on scholarship. But has not confirmed that report.

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