TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Believing in the Crimson Tide is taking a leap of faith.
They have earned that leap of faith, mind you, but still …
How many preseason consensus No. 1s have been searching for a starting quarterback deep into August for the third straight year?
How many preseason No. 1s have lost a gold standard at defensive coordinator and gotten better?
The same for the loss of a Heisman Trophy winner. Derrick Henry is gone. How does Bama get better with Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough?
That’s the fallacy of faith for CBS Sports’ preseason No. 1 in the 128 rankings. The Tide are fairly good at the faith thing because they’ve become good at everything.
“We have a lot of new people on the team. They’re still hungry,” defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson said. “They know Alabama still wins championships.”
Among the biggest concerns for a program chasing its fifth national championship in the last eight seasons …
The quarterback situation will take care of itself because it always has. Junior Cooper Bateman is the only guy on the roster to throw more than one career pass.
Lately, though, freshman Jalen Hurts has made tremendous strides, according to reports. That’s another level of faith if Hurts indeed is named starter. He would be the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Saban, and the first in 32 years to start a game at Alabama.
To Saban, it’s less about the who and more about the how.
“Somebody’s got to win the team,” Saban said. “You can say, ‘This guy’s the starter,’ but if the players in the room don’t think he’s the starter …
“He’s really not the starter until everybody thinks he should be the starter.”
The coach has made it clear he has no problem going deep into September before he names a permanent starter. We should believe him.
Saban hasn’t had the same quarterback start consecutive seasons since 2013 (AJ McCarron). The last two starters set a single-season school passing record (Blake Sims) and won a national championship (Jake Coker).
Only two of the seven starters in 2015’s epic front seven return. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since Saban has stockpiled defenders like they were firewood for the winter.
Yes, only defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Reuben Foster return in that front seven. But there are a cumulative 40 career starts in that group. That isn’t counting senior linebacker Tim Williams, who might be the best pass rusher in the country.
Williams already has been rated the No. 2 player in next year’s draft. And he’s never started a game. That’s right, 34 games. No starts.
Same for senior defensive end Dalvin Tomlinson. Last year, the 307-pounder broke up six passes. That made the former three-time state wrestling champion (49-0 in his career) one of two SEC lineman to finish in the conference’s top 50 in that category.
“During the offseason last year, we wanted to affect the quarterback more,” Tomlinson said. “I took it upon myself and other defensive linemen, if we can’t get the sack or hit the quarterback; at least we can get our hands up.”
Bama’s D did OK for itself, leading the country in sacks (52).
Usually the loss of a defensive coordinator, who has fielded a top 10 defense six of the last seven years, would be huge.
Not so at Alabama. Former Saban assistant (2007-12) Jeremy Pruitt returned to Tuscaloosa from Georgia. The 42-year-old doesn’t figure to change things up much on the field.
Pruitt won a national championship in 2013 with Saban disciple Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. His two defenses at Georgia finished No. 2 in the SEC East in 2014 and 2015.
Since 2009, Saban has always had another horse in the barn.
Or, if you prefer, another All-America level tailback to replace the last one. Since Mark Ingram won Alabama’s first Heisman in 2009, the conga line of next-man-up starting tailbacks have run for a combined 4,235 yards.
We’re talking Trent Richardson in 2011, Eddie Lacy in 2012 and T.J. Yeldon in 2013. (That doesn’t include 2014 when Derrick Henry and Yeldon shared the carries almost equally.)
For the first time since 2009, then, there is no hoss. Either Scarbrough or Harris — both sophomores — may be the man to replace Henry.
In a way, that’s a huge ask. Henry ran for 2,219 yards — fifth-most ever in a single season. Meanwhile, Harris’ 157 yards are the fewest for a Bama leading returning rusher since quarterback John Parker Wilson (83!) in 2006.
Don’t weep for Saban. The last active coach to have two Heisman-winning running backs on his resume was USC’s John Robinson in 1981.
Next man up? You gotta have faith.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Trust the Tide: Saban, No. 1 Alabama tend to make things work despite uncertainty