It's business as usual for Nick Saban and company in Tuscaloosa. And business is very good right now.
Alabama just won its 17th national title and shows no signs of slowing down or taking it easy on anyone. They Crimson Tide are the New England Patriots of college football, hated by most of the country but loved immeasurably by their own fans. This is the land of The Bear. Houndstooth hats. Yellow hammers. Coaches statues. They change over national title rosters like they change underwear. No muss, no fuss.
Besides all of that, all you have to do to prove that there is optimism for the next season is to look at the last play of the previous season. A freshman being protected by a freshman threw a touchdown pass to another freshman for the winning score in the national title game. Not only that, but the culture of winning, the hard work that is handed down and the leadership that gets developed from season-to-season never goes away. So transitioning from 2017’s confetti celebration to what could be a 2018 confetti celebration should go just fine.
But if you’re looking for specific reasons why this success train should continue to roar down the rails, then here is why Tide fans have more than enough reason to be optimistic the rest of this calendar year.
1. The freshman class
As mentioned above, that Tua Tagovailoa (above, right) to DeVonta Smith pass for the win over Georgia returns for next year. The worse part (for their opponents that is) that’s just the tip of the talent iceberg for these Crimson Tide greenhorns. Twelve true freshmen played in that national title game, including offensive players like Tagovailoa, Smith, fellow receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, who replaced injured starter Jonah Wiliams, and running back Najee Harris. For the season, Bama played a total of 17 first-year talents which was the fourth most in all of the FBS. The Crimson Tide recruiting classes are always top-notch, but this year’s frosh class was “one of our best, especially the offensive talent” according to head coach Nick Saban. It’s only going to get better from here.
2. The offensive line
No matter who is under center, who is running through the holes or who is catching the passes downfield, they will operate behind an O-line which will arguably be the strength of the Tide in 2018. Though they will lose Bradley Bozeman at the vital center position, 15 other root hogs on the line return with significant playing experience from this past season. The aforementioned Jonah Williams also joins Ross Pierschbacher, Lester Cotton and Matt Womack in the starting spots. It goes without saying — though I’ll say it here anyway — a great offensive line is the key to any offense. And this unit will make for smooth operations with all the skill talent surrounding them.
3. That quarterback controversy? It’s a GOOD thing
Nick Saban loves competition. You can see him stalking the practice field just eating it up when teammates are knocking heads and putting it all on the line to beat the other guy out at his position. Tua Tagovailoa’s hero act in the title game will make this upcoming spring practice session insane. The media is going to have a field day with it, dissecting every throw of every scrimmage. But either way, if the Crimson Tide plays another 14-game schedule you can probably bet your bottom dollar that two quarterbacks will come in very handy, maybe even necessary. And both Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts are going to amp up their game in 2018. This is going to be fun.
And don’t forget...
The Saban effect
C’mon, we’re still talking about Nick Saban here. The leader of the new evil empire who everyone in the SEC is trying to emulate. And he’s not going anywhere. So many programs in this conference have had the itchy trigger to fire their coaches in an attempt to find the next Nick Saban, it has become an epidemic. But yes, the Tide mastermind shows no signs of slowing down and is continually denying he has any interest in any other football program from college, to the NFL, to the CFL to the XFL. The reason no other team has the next Nick Saban is because Nick Saban is still at Alabama and has seen his last seven recruiting classes nab a No. 1 ranking by at least one recruiting service. Yes, seven. But take heart opposing teams, going into next week’s National Signing Day, the Tide’s recruiting class for this year is *only* ranked No. 5.
Oh sure, the defense lost some talent. Well, a lot of talent, to be honest. Especially in the D-line and the backfield. Talents like Da’Shawn Hand and Da’Ron Payne up front, Rahsaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton on the second line and Levi Wallace, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison in the deep backfield will be missed. But the injury bug bit pretty big this past season, so a lot of young pups got their feet wet in critical situations. Plus talent is oozing at the seams of this program and all those No. 1-ranked recruiting classes will supplement all the needs on the defensive side of the ball. They led the nation in scoring defense and rushing defense this season but they also have finished in the top 10 nationally in both categories in each of the last nine seasons. So filling a few holes won’t deter them from having another top-flight stops crew. It’s the Saban way.
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.