Top 25: Despite Distractions Bama is back - maybe

Alabama enters the 2003 season with new head coach Mike Shula after the Mike Price 'date with Destiny' debacle, and a new starting quarterback, most likely Brodie Croyle. Croyle's strengths were perfectly-suited to Price's offensive philosophy, but will Shula be like minded?

No. 21 Alabama

High-impact wide receivers are an urgent recruiting priority. Antonio Carter and Dre Fulgham will suffice this season but all are entering their final year of eligibility.

Tide faithful will be getting used to seeing empty-backfield and one-back sets. Tailback returnee Shaud Williams rushed for 921 yards at over seven yards a carry last fall. The offensive line is short of bodies, but tackle Justin Smiley are battle-hardened and accomplished.

Ahmad Childress will step into the defensive tackle vacancies without missing a beat, and the top three tacklers from last year all return in the back seven.

Home cooking: Alabama starts the 2003 season with five home games.

Typical Tide: Alabama finished 2002 ranked fourth nationally in rushing defense and third in total defense.

The family way: Mike Price's sons, Eric and Aaron, were slated to serve as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach respectively - making Mike Shula job even more difficult in the first few days.

2002 results: 10–3 (6–2 SEC)

Bowl Game: None (probation)

Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense, placekicker

2003 Schedule

A. 30 #South Florida
S. 6 Oklahoma
S. 13 Kentucky
S. 20 Northern Illinois
S. 27 Arkansas
O. 4 at Georgia
O. 11 Southern Miss
O. 18 at Ole Miss
O. 25 Tennessee
N. 8 at Mississippi State
N. 15 LSU
N. 22 at Auburn
N. 29 at Hawaii
#Birmingham, AL

Schedule analysis: Alabama gets another shot at knocking off Oklahoma early in the season, something it almost pulled off in Norman last year. Southern Miss is another non-conference challenge on the home slate. The SEC season will come down to road games against Georgia and Auburn and home dates with LSU and Tennessee. A 2-2 split in those four games, and the Tide will likely carry nine wins out to their unofficial bowl game in Hawaii.

Final Word: After the Pensacola stripper scandal, Tide fans are just anxious for the season to start so they can forget the embarassment. It will be another year of adjustment for the Crimson Tide faithful, who will welcome a first-year coach for the third time in seven years. (In fact, Shula will be the seventh coach in the last 20 years after Bear Bryant's 25-year run.) Defensively, Alabama will have to replace some talent along the defensive front, and the usual depth on the roster is thinning a bit due to probation. Croyle has some veteran receivers, but everyone on the team is a first-year player when it comes to the new coaching staff. How well Mike Shula fits in Tuscaloosa will ultimately be determined on Nov. 22 when the Tide visits highly ranked and bitter rival Auburn, but being a former Tide QB can't hurt his chances to impress a fan base that just needs someone to embrace after Fran and Price.

#21 Alabama

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