Don't be fooled. Alabama isn't going away anytime soon.
Monday night’s College Football Playoff National Championship loss was not something Alabama fans are used to. A fan base that had grown so used to simply winning the big game experienced heartache for the first time on the big stage. And Nick Saban — who came in with a 5-0 record in national championship games — left with the look of a wounded football coach.
But make no mistake, Alabama will be back. Indeed, back and better than ever. The Crimson Tide return a proven star at quarterback in 2017 and the secondary will be loaded. The running backs will be a year better, and so will the young offensive line. Remember what Saban did after losing the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma at the end of the 2013 season? He adapted. That’s what the great ones do, and that’s what Saban will do this time around.
Here are a few key storylines to watch surrounding Alabama this offseason.
QB Jalen Hurts
RB Bo Scarbrough
RB Damien Harris
WR Calvin Ridley
WR ArDarius Stewart
OT Cam Robinson (may leave early for NFL)
OG Ross Pierschbacher
C Bradley Bozeman
OT Jonah Williams
WR Gehrig Dieter
OG Korren Kirven
TE O.J. Howard
Really, Really, Ridiculously Early 2017 Top 25
DE Da’Shawn Hand
DT Da’Ron Payne
LB Rashaan Evans
DB Marlon Humphrey (may leave for NFL)
DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
DB Ronnie Harrison
DB Anthony Averett
DB Tony Brown
DE Jonathan Allen
DE Dalvin Tomlinson
LB Tim Williams
LB Ryan Anderson
LB Reuben Foster
P JK Scott
K Adam Griffith
PR Eddie Jackson
Three Offseason Storylines to Watch
1. The Evolution of Alabama’s Offense
Of course, the main story regarding Alabama’s offense over the past couple weeks has been about Lane Kiffin leaving for Florida Atlantic. That certainly had an effect on the offense. Kiffin has a fantastic offensive mind. But new coordinator Steve Sarkisian really isn’t a step down. Some would argue he’s an upgrade. This is a guy who was a former head coach at USC (sound familiar?) and has a proven track record of developing quarterbacks. He already knows the Alabama offense and did a respectable job calling plays in the national championship game. Another offseason will only help Sarkisian as he gets to work with Jalen Hurts, who returns as the top quarterback in the SEC. Besides him, Alabama returns its top two running backs, two star receivers and a ton of depth on the offensive line. There’s a good chance this offense will evolve to become even better than it was in 2016.
2. Who’s Next in the Front Seven?
It can’t be dismissed that Alabama is losing an abundance of talent in the front seven this year. This will be the biggest question mark for the Crimson Tide heading into the 2017 season. Defensive linemen Jonathan Allen, who is maybe the best player in college football, and Dalvin Tomlinson, as well as linebackers Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson and Reuben Foster are all key departures. Not only will it hurt to lose that much talent, but it also hurts from a leadership and experience standpoint, as most of those guys are seniors. The good news for Alabama is that it has depth — the best depth in college football. Da’Ron Payne and Da’Shawn Hand will be key pieces on the defensive line and Rashaan Evans returns at middle linebacker. The two-deep roster is still going to be stacked. It might just take a while to get everyone on the same page.
Alabama has been on top of the mountain for so long. It has been the gold standard in college football since 2009. But even the great ones fall from time to time. It’s not easy being the team that everyone is always chasing. Alabama has been defeated before — by Oklahoma, Ohio State and Ole Miss in recent memory — and now by Clemson. This one probably stings the most for the players because they lost a national championship game. But every time Alabama has fallen, it has gotten back up. The Crimson Tide are going to have a roster full of angry talent, hungry for redemption. Watch out, because that is going to make Alabama even more dangerous. There is no one better than Saban at getting the most out of his players. You can bet that he won’t let them forget the night they lost to Clemson.
— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host on Sports Radio 1180 WVLZ in Knoxville, Tenn. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.