CFN: Alabama Preview

While everyone will be pointing towards the future for Alabama, considering its epic recruiting class, the time might actually be now to start winning big. QB John Parker Wilson needs to be a steady leader, and if he come up with a good year, the Tide could be the sleeper in the West.

- 2008 CFN Alabama Preview | 2008 Bama Offense 
- 2008 Bama Defense | 2008 Bama Depth Chart 
- 2007 CFN Alabama Preview | 2006 CFN Alabama Preview 

Everything is pointed towards Alabama becoming a championship superpower some time in the very near future.
Considering what head coach Nick Saban did with LSU, and with some tremendous recruiting classes to build the foundation, it's all there for the Tide to soon be in the yearly discussion of possible
SEC title contenders, which would put it in the yearly discussion for national title contenders. 

But in the meantime, it would be nice if there were more wins, and it would be nice if Saban showed why he's getting paid like he is.

Head coach: Nick Saban
2nd year: 7-6
13th year overall: 98-48-1
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 23, Def. 23, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Alabama Players
OT Andre Smith, Jr.
2. C Antoine Caldwell, Sr.
3. S Rashad Johnson, Sr.
4. LB Rolondo McClain, Soph.
5. WR Julio Jones, Fr.
6. CB Kareem Jackson, Soph.
7. QB John Parker Wilson, Sr.
8. RB Terry Grant, Soph.
9. NT Lorenzo Washington Jr.
10. TE Nick Walker, Sr.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: COMING
2008 Record: 0-0

Aug. 30 Clemson (Atlanta)
Sept. 6 Tulane
Sept. 13 Western Kentucky
Sept. 20 at Arkansas
Sept. 27 at Georgia
Oct. 4 Kentucky
Oct. 18 Ole Miss
Oct. 25 at Tennessee
Nov. 1 Arkansas State
Nov. 8 at LSU
Nov. 15 Mississippi State
Nov. 22 OPEN DATE 
Nov. 29 Auburn

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 7-5
2007 Record: 7-

Sept. 1 West. Carolina W 52-6
Sept. 8 at Vanderbilt W 24-10
Sept. 15 Arkansas W 41-38
Sept. 22 Georgia L 26-23 OT
Sept. 29
Florida St  L 21-14
Oct. 6 Houston W 30-24
Oct. 13 at Ole Miss W 27-24
Oct. 20 Tennessee W 41-17
Nov. 3
LSU L 41-34
Nov. 10 at Mississippi St L 17-12
Nov. 17 UL Monroe L 21-14
Nov. 24 at Auburn L 17-10
Independence Bowl
Dec. 30 Colorado W 30-24

Saban has only come up with one season with fewer than three losses since leaving Michigan State in 1999, and while he certainly appears to have everything in the right direction, everyone can't get caught up in what might happen down the road. Alabama needs to win now or else there will be more pressure next year than there normally would be. The much-maligned Mike Shula came up with a ten-win season in 2005, and this year's team is far better.

It'll be tempting to look to the future after a 2008 recruiting class with mega-talents like WR Julio Jones, OT Tyler Love, LB Jerrell Harris and QB Star Jackson, but many of the top prepsters will be needed now. Considering next year the offense will likely be breaking in a new quarterback, star linemen Andre Smith (most likely) and Antoine Caldwell will be off to the NFL, along with safety Rashad Johnson, and many of the star recruits will still be a year away from shining, this is the year to come up with results or else it might be 2010 before the program really hits its stride.

And even then, it's not like Bama is assured of anything. One monster Tide recruiting class isn't going to force Florida, Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Auburn to fold up shop. If anything, those teams are reloading for the next two years as well. In the SEC, blink, and you missed your chance.

More than anything else, for this year, there needs to be some consistency. Jim McElwain is the team's third offensive coordinator in as many years, the defense has major turnover in the back eight, and there can't be gaffes like there were last year against UL Monroe. The coaching staff is in place, the talent has been upgraded, and the expectations are starting to build.

On the plus side, this team is better than last season when it lost all six of its games by seven points or fewer. On the negative side, Bama also won four games by six points or fewer including a battle against Houston. Veteran teams win the closer games, and this one, while talented, has gotten younger.

The bar is set higher in the SEC. Urban Meyer won a national title early on at Florida. Les Miles needed just a few years to win a championship at LSU. Saban doesn't have the horses that those two had, at least he doesn't have the veterans like those two enjoyed, but he does have a good enough team be in the thick of the SEC West title hunt. It's time to start paying off.

What to watch for on offense: The tight ends. Until the freshmen get their feet wet, the safety-valve tight ends will be the life-savers. Travis McCall might be more of a blocker than a receiver, but he'll catch more than the six passes he took home last year. Nick Walker is an NFL-caliber tight end who should be featured as a go-to target to keep the chains moving.

What to watch for on defense: The linebacking corps. The spotlight will be on as it's Rolondo McClain and bunch of other guys. From Ezekial Knight's heart condition to Prince Hall's off-the-field issues to Jimmy Johns' big off-the-field issues, the linebacking corps has been gutted. True freshmen Jerrell Harris, Courtney Upshaw and Don'ta Hightower could play big early roles if Baron Huber and Alex Watkins can't get the job done.

The team will be far better if … the passing game is more efficient. QB John Parker Wilson has had three offensive coordinators to deal with, and it has shown as he hasn't been able to find any sort of consistent groove in the passing game. He had good receivers last season, but it just didn't come together. Now the idea is to up the completion percentage, get the pace moving, and get the ball to the playmakers. Wilson can do that.

The Schedule: There are non-conference yawners against Tulane, Arkansas State and Western Kentucky, and home dates against Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State will ensure a winning season and a bowl game. That's where the fun stops. Clemson (played in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta), at Arkansas, at Georgia, at Tennessee, and at LSU are all losable, and while the Auburn game is at home, that hasn't meant much of anything lately. On the plus side, the nasty games are mixed in with the relative layups, so there shouldn't be too much of a losing streak, if any. Of course, it'll be hard to go on a big run of wins.

Best Offensive Player: Junior OT Andre Smith. While he could stand to be better in pass protection, the 6-4, 340-pound senior is the type of blocker NFL franchises build around for a decade. He joins center Antoine Caldwell to form the building blocks of what should be a fantastic front five.

Best Defensive Player: Senior FS Rashad Johnson. The only question is where he plays. A breakout star at free safety, leading the team with 94 tackles and six interceptions, he could move to strong safety if needed. While he's not huge at 6-0 and 187 pounds, he packs a punch and has a great nose for the ball.

Key player to a successful season: Senior DE Bobby Greenwood. Shuffled between a tackle spot and the end, Greenwood needs to finally bust out and become a regular in opposing backfields. Wallace Gilberry and his 80 tackles, 10 sacks and 27 tackles for loss needs to be replaced, and Greenwood has to show he's finally up to the task of being a No. 1 type of pass rusher and playmaker up front.

The season will be a success if ... the Tide wins eight games and beats Auburn. After winning seven games and losing to the Tigers for the sixth time in a row, Saban has to show that things are taking another step forward before what should be a terrific 2009. This is a stepping-stone season, but that doesn't mean there can't be plenty of wins.

Key game: Nov. 29 vs. Auburn. After losing six in a row, and with the big game at home following an off-week, Alabama has to pull this win off. The fan base needs it, the program needs it, and while Saban, of course, isn't on any sort of a hot seat, he needs it or else the pressure will be ramped up 25-fold going into 2009. Winning this would take a big monkey off the program's back.

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Penalties: Opponents 99 for 863 yards – Alabama 59 for 453 yards
- Punt return average: Alabama 13.7 – Opponents 6.6
- First quarter scoring: Alabama 117 – Opponents 44 Top Stories