Tide will turn ... but when?

Once the king of Southern football, the University of Alabama now has to settle for being the king of spring football.

The Tide drew 78,200 fans for this year's A-Day Game. Combined with last year's turnout of 92,138, Bama's two spring games of the Nick Saban era have attracted a combined 170,000 zealots.

Considering that the Tide is coming off a 7-6 season that included a humiliating loss to Louisiana-Monroe, you wonder how rabid the fan base will be when Saban is able to put a top-20 caliber team on the field. We probably won't find out in 2008.

The Tide is better than it was a year ago but the talent level remains so-so. Not one Bama player was taken in the recent NFL Draft and, other than offensive linemen Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell, there weren't many future pros strolling around The Capstone this spring, either.

Hope springs eternal, though, especially in Tuscaloosa. The Tide will pin its hopes on a pretty good quarterback (John Parker Wilson) and a pretty good tailback (Terry Grant). Wilson completed just half of his passes (17 of 34) in the spring game but did manage to amass 265 yards and three touchdowns. Grant finished with 21 yards on six carries and 87 yards on four receptions. Seventy-five of the receiving yards came on one play, however.

Grant may be catching a lot of passes out of the backfield in 2008, since the Tide's top two receivers from 2007 – D.J. Hall and Matt Caddell – are out of eligibility. Mike McCoy, who caught six balls for 101 yards in the A-Day Game, looks to be the best of the returning receivers but the future star is heralded signee Julio Jones. He should be entrenched as the Tide's top receiving option by the time it visits Tennessee on Oct. 25.

Even with a shortage of difference-makers on both sides of the ball, Bama's future looks reasonably bright due to two factors:

First, Saban hired Jim McElwain away from Fresno State to be his new offensive coordinator. McElwain's 2007 offense averaged 419.5 yards and 32.9 points per game.

Secondly, Alabama signed the No. 1 recruiting class in America last February. Several of the newcomers eventually will prove to be the type of impact playmakers Bama has been lacking in recent years.

It's a safe bet that the Tide will turn in time. Most likely, though, that time won't arrive before 2009. Until then, Bama will have to settle for being the King of Spring Football.

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