Let's face it, when Aflac came out with those Nick Saban/Deion Sanders series of commercials earlier this football season, Sanders asked Saban in one of the spots about winning another ring. Ole Saint Nick responded with, "There's always room for one more."
At that point, you can bet most of the college football world responded to that commercial with a collective, "Ugh."
Okay, so the ultimate rarity in college football happened on Monday night. Yes, the Alabama Crimson Tide actually lost a championship game. And to add to the rare factor, Nick Saban actually lost to a former assistant in Kirby Smart. The only other time that has happened in the last, what… 40-50 years, or so it seems, was earlier this year when the Tide lost to Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M.
But here is the underlying message to this #BREAKINGNEWS; don't get used to it.
What you saw in the championship game was a team that is still bursting at the seams with talent that couldn't quite pull off a second straight win over a really good Georgia team. Any coach will tell you that beating a really good team once is hard. Beating a really good team twice? That's almost impossible.
But again, don't get used to these checks in the L column.
The good news for the Alabama fans out there (and the bad news for the rest of the 98.7 percent of college football fans across the country) is that the Crimson Tide are going to be even better next year.
My apologies to college football fans everywhere.
QB Bryce Young
WR Slade Bolden
TE Cameron Latu
OL Javion Cohen
OL Seth McLaughlin
OL Darrian Dalcourt
OL Damieon George
Likely Key Departures
RB Brian Robinson Jr.
WR Jameson Williams (reportedly tore his ACL in the national championship game)
WR John Metchie III (tore his ACL in SEC Championship Game)
TE Jahleel Billingsley
OL Evan Neal
OL Emil Ekiyor Jr.
DL DJ Dale
DL Byron Young
DL Justin Eboigbe
LB Will Anderson Jr.
LB Henry To'o To'o
DB Jayln Armour-Davis
DB DeMarcco Hellams
DB Malachi Moore
DB Brian Branch
DB Kool-Aid McKinstry
Likely Key Departures
DL Phidarian Mathis
LB Christian Harris
DB Jordan Battle
DB Josh Jobe
Three Offseason Storylines to Watch
1. Replace the expected departures
Even though the Crimson Tide came up short of a repeat national title, the expectation is that several players on both sides of the ball will declare early for the NFL draft. Recent serious knee injuries suffered by wide receivers Jameson Williams and John Metchie III could impact their decisions, but even if one or both return, Alabama is losing some experienced talent on both offense and defense. Of course, some of these draft-eligible underclassmen could change their minds before next Monday's deadline to declare.
But this is Alabama, where four- and five-star talents that move on are replaced by younger four- and five-star talents. I mean, look at the receivers called on in the title game because of Metchie's absence and then Williams going down in the second quarter. Freshmen like Ja'Corey Brooks and Agiye Hall and sophomore Traeshon Holden are positioned to take on bigger roles in 2022.
But also look for Nick Saban and his staff to hit the transfer portal again this offseason, as they did when they struck gold with Williams (Ohio State) and linebacker Henry To'o To'o (Tennessee) last year. In fact, the Tide already have reeled in a pair of big fish in the portal in former LSU cornerback Eli Ricks and Georgia Tech running back Jahmyr Gibbs. I mean, c'mon, who doesn't want to win a national title? Saban’s recruiting pitch is simple, "Come to Tuscaloosa and get yourself a ring." And some NIL deals worth a ton of money as well while you're at it.
2. Re-establish the dominance up front
This Bama team had some glaring holes this season, most of which may have been along the offensive line, of all places. We'll get to more of that in a minute but first, let's face it, the Tide struggled a number of times this past season. And I mean beyond that close loss at Texas A&M. Dare I say, they seemed to mail it in at times. Look at their close win over Florida where the Tide were outscored 26-10 down the stretch and had to have a goal-line stand to escape the Swamp with a two-point win. Florida was the better team that day for three quarters and, as it turned out, the Gators were not a very good team, finishing at 6-7. Versus Tennessee, it was a one-score game in the fourth quarter. Versus Arkansas, another one-score game in the fourth quarter. Against Tiger teams (LSU and Auburn), Bama barely escaped with narrow wins, the Auburn game being a four-overtime bloodletting. Both LSU and Auburn had losing seasons just like Florida.
The O-line has its usual array of future NFL draftees and all, but they also gave up 38 sacks this season, which puts them at No. 110 in the FBS in sacks allowed. At just 6-foot and 190 pounds, it’s amazing Bryce Young held up so well this season. And for as good as Brian Robinson Jr. was at times this season, it is also worth noting that the running game was ranked way down at 10th in the SEC. That's stunning.
It wouldn't be surprising to see offensive line coach Doug Marrone depart (fired from?) the staff in the near future. If Saban can find a better O-line coach, then it will only help him in the long run. If Bama re-establishes its dominance in 2022, maybe Ole Nick won't have so many blowups at the media as he did this season.
3. Instill some emphasis on discipline
I can't believe I’m actually writing this about a Saban-coached team, but the Tide was one undisciplined squad this season. Penalties, ill-timed turnovers, missed assignments, the aforementioned sacks, victims of trick plays, special teams gaffes, the list goes on. To wit, going into the national title game, the Tide ranked No. 115 in the FBS in penalties and penalty yards per game. Only Florida and Ole Miss committed more infractions than the Tide did in the SEC. They also ranked No. 118 in the country in the number of negative yardage plays (95 prior to the Georgia rematch) by their offense. And they also ranked 70th nationally in red zone defense. Is that freaking amazing? Actually, that's the kind of thing that makes Bear Bryant roll over in his grave.
It’s no big secret that the Tide loses high-octane talent every year. Look, they lost guys like Mac Jones, Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Patrick Surtain, Alex Leatherwood, Christian Barmore, and Dylan Moses from last year’s team and they still made it back to the College Football Playoff and played for the national title. If there's any additional good news this time, it's that the potential draft losses shouldn't be as significant and Alabama returns the reigning Heisman Trophy winner (Young) and the best defender (linebacker Will Anderson Jr.).
Oh yeah, and most importantly, Saban still ain't retiring yet.
Like it or not, things ain't gonna change in Tuscaloosa anytime soon.
— 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.