Alabama Football: Can the Crimson Tide Return to the National Championship Game in 2019?

Tua Tagovailoa and the Tide will use the title game loss to Clemson as motivation to come back even stronger this fall

Over the last 11 seasons, there has not been a more prolific college football team than the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tide have strung together 11 years of double-digit wins (2008-18) and won five national titles during that span. But they were denied a sixth (and back-to-back titles) on Monday night by Clemson as the Tigers thoroughly dominated the Tide 44-16 at Levi's Stadium out in Santa Clara, California. The 28-point margin doubles the previous largest loss in Saban's tenure.

 

But as long as Saban remains in charge and with the way the program recruits, there's no reason to not expect Alabama to be right in the thick of the mix in 2019. There's a reason the Tide lead Athlon Sports' Way-Too-Early Top 25 for next season, but that doesn't mean there won't be some changes. If Alabama is to make it six straight College Football Playoff and four straight national championship game appearances, new faces at key places will have to emerge as Saban and his staff look for the right fits on both sides of the ball.

 

This season was historic for Alabama, churning out 522 yards per game. The big difference was sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He finished the season with nearly 4,000 passing yards and 43 touchdowns through the air. Entering the national title game, he led the nation in passer rating at 205.2 and had thrown just four interceptions. The Heisman Trophy runner-up took his lumps against Clemson's relentless, athletic defense but he'll be back and will have plenty of weapons around him. In fact, the biggest questions with Alabama's offense right now are up front and at the coordinator position with Mike Locksley leaving to become Maryland's head coach.

 

The Tide’s defense was not as stout as in year’s past, but was still one of the best in the country, ranked 13th overall in yards allowed per game prior to Monday night. If this side of the ball only loses senior end Isaiah Buggs, linebacker Christian Miller, and nose tackle Johnny Dwight, this could be the best defense in the country next season... but that is a big "if." Bama fans will be anxious for the Jan. 14 deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft to see if ends Quinnen Williams and Raekwon Davis and safety Deionte Thompson return.

 

Offense

 

Key Returnees:

QB Tua Tagovailoa

RB Najee Harris

RB Josh Jacobs

T Matt Womack

TE Irv Smith

WR Jerry Jeudy

WR Jaylen Waddle

WR Henry Ruggs III

 

Key Departures:

RB Damien Harris
G Josh Casher

C Ross Pierschbacher

G Lester Cotton

 

Possible Key Departure:

OT Jonah Williams (draft-eligible junior)

 

Defense

 

Key Returnees:

LB Dylan Moses

FS Xavier McKinney

LB Mack Wilson

CB Saivion Smith

 

Key Departures:

DE Isaiah Buggs

LB Christian Miller

 

Possible Key Departures:

DE Quinnen Williams (draft-eligible redshirt sophomore)

DE Raekwon Davis (draft-eligible junior)

SS Deionte Thompson (draft-eligible junior)

 

Three Offseason Storylines to Watch

 

1. Repairing the interior of the offensive line

Even if the Crimson Tide don't suffer any losses along the offensive line other than saying goodbye to seniors Josh Casher, Lester Cotton and Ross Pierschbacher, there is still a lot of work to be done in Tuscaloosa up front. If All-American left tackle Jonah Williams leaves, life in the trenches gets even tougher for this offense. A whole new identity will need to be set. The good news in that respect is that the first five games of the season should be easy wins for the Tide, giving this unit time to gel.

 

2. Retooling the defensive line

There are a lot of ifs, but if Quinnen Williams and Raekwon Davis join Isaiah Buggs and Christian Miller in the professional ranks, that is a lot of talent and production that needs to be replaced. The heart of the defense returns in linebacker Dylan Moses (leading tackler) with position mate Anfernee Jennings by his side, but Alabama's success on defense starts up front and it's possible that the coaching staff could be pushing the reset button come spring practice. Look for this position group to be one of the top storylines to follow leading into National Signing Day and when the Tide gets back to work in the spring.

 

3. Will the offense carry the defense in 2019?

One could argue that the Alabama offense put all the pressure on the opposition in 2018, averaging 46 points per game helping the defense turn teams into one-dimensional passing squads. With a ton of talent returning at the skill positions, the offense may truly be pressed to pick up the slack for the defense in 2019. Tua Tagovailoa will be one of, if not the, Heisman Trophy favorite entering the season against Duke with all of his top weapons back. The running game, if the line comes together, should see no drop off with Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs each capable of producing 1,000-yard seasons. The trick will be with the play-calling by the new offensive coordinator (QBs coach Dan Enos?) early in the season as Crimson Tide look to find their rhythm before entering the heart of their SEC schedule on Oct. 12 with a road trip to College Station to face Texas A&M.

 

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.

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