2018 Problems With the Alabama Football Program
By: Larry Burton
Ok, the problems the Crimson Tide face in 2018 may be problems that other teams would love to have, but they are problems nonetheless to a team that has set the standard of what a college football team should aspire to be.
One – Though not a starter last season, Alex Leatherwood is just too good to sit on the bench this season. The 6-6 325 lineman is surprisingly quick on his feet and even though he’s just finished his freshman season, seems to have grasped all the nuances that come with playing tackle in big boy football. When an injury gave him the opportunity to finish the national championship game at right tackle, he actually did a better job in almost all aspects of the job than the man he replaced. Therefore one of two things will happen that could create a problem, either a starter from last season will ride the pine or a guy who many think is actually better will be. Either way, someone’s feeling may be hurt, but it’s a problem that we as fans can live with.
Two – Yes I skipped the elephant, (no pun intended) in the room and placed it second instead of first, but the same thing goes for the starting quarterback situation in 2018. Over 100 of the teams in division one football would kill to have Jalen Hurts as their starting quarterback in 2018, yet he may end up riding the pine in Tuscaloosa. Few people admire the accomplishments, record, heart and determination of Hurts more than I, but it’s clear that he’s at least the second best quarterback at Alabama. Either Hurts accepts the fact that his day as the leading quarterback is over and work to help the team as a backup, or consider his NFL future now and make plans to change positions. At his best, he’s an NFL backup quarterback and that’s a real long shot, at his worst, he’s been awful and a quarterback no NFL team would consider at quarterback.
Yes Saban has been praising his progression as a passer, but considering how far the distance was from where he is as a great passer, there was lots of room for progress. With Tua, there is little room from where he already is to total greatness. For Hurts, the sad truth is that praising him for his progression is like praising a fat person for losing 40 pounds, yes that’s great, but they’re still 90 pounds overweight. That may be the case for Hurts. Yes, his passing passing is better, but it’s still not great. While some may think it cruel to Hurts legacy to point such things out so crudely that it’s rude to him and his legacy, let me point out that it in fact does just the opposite. To have the record and success that Hurts has achieved only makes him more remarkable in that he was able to accomplish such lofty records with so little great passing ability. He took what he could do and did it so well that he was able to mask much of his other shortcomings. That makes him a winner in anyone’s book.
Three – The defensive secondary. It’s a problem that it’s going to be filled with lots of folks who didn’t start there last season, but it is filled with talent. Prepare for a roller coaster ride this season at this spot. This young group may be burned badly on set of downs and then take an interception to the house on the next. Saban may want to keep a roll of Tums in his pocket for the heartburn this secondary may cause at times. But as is usually the case with a Saban team, early season miscues seem to work themselves out by the end of the season when it counts the most and this group should be no different. There is just so much raw talent back there in the defensive secondary that it will simply be delightful for an old coot reporter like me who likes to watch individual players during a game. I expect to see some real exciting plays from this bunch, for fans of both sides.
Four – Alabama’s walk of fame now ends at the stadium steps. It seemed the planners didn’t account for so many championship years and too little space was provided. So what does a program do now? I propose the path now take a right hand turn and simply start the trek around the stadium. Even for Alabama, it will take a while to completely circle Bryant-Denny Stadium. Now there’s a problem that every other team would love to have and I inserted this not just for the tongue in cheek mirth factor, but as something that does worry some of the staff.
Five – Complacency – As I’ve written about more than once, the Saban era Crimson Tide has only had one undefeated season and have lost to inferior teams in almost every other season. It’s as if this team sometimes simply expects to win without giving it their all. They’ve only gone back to back once in their time with Saban despite having the talent to have completely dominated many of the seasons they didn’t win the championship. It’s hard to be hungry when you’re been at the banquet table all year.
Secondly, Saban has warned the school that you can’t be complacent with facilities. The school has been more than generous and Mal Moore’s dream of a school with athletic facilities second to none are being achieved. But every year, another school ups the ante and builds too. Think of it as an arms race between countries. What is new, bright and shiny today is tomorrow’s has been facility. The administration has used the popularity and dollars from football to make great improvements on the academic side of things and for every dollar they spent of football, two dollars came back to them in helping to build a bigger and better academic institution. So a warning goes to the administration, don’t quit feeding the golden goose who is laying you all these golden eggs.
Six – Saban’s age is something that Alabama recruiters all say they’re hearing around the country right now. Recruits are now being told that while Saban may recruit you, he won’t be there to coach you through you’re whole career. Come here where things are going to be stable. To that I say BS! Who has a stable job? Gene Chizik was a national championship winning coach one year and was unemployed the year after. Bob Stoops was “Big Game Bob” recruiting the hell out of the country one year and surprisingly retiring the next. The truth is that stability can’t be guaranteed by any coach or any school. You commit to a school because you believe in what that school stands for and what it can do for you. Alabama was one of the nation’s traditional leaders before Nick Saban and it will be after he’s gone. Alabama had more national championships than almost everyone before Nick Saban came and will continue to have more after he’s gone. Alabama is not and has never been a “one trick pony”, we win and win a lot, decade in and decade out and continue far into the future. So yes, Nick Saban is getting older, we all are and one day, we’ll all leave the jobs we have, but it won’t change who Alabama is, what it represents, who they are and what they strive for.
Seven – Finicky fans – It upsets Saban that fans so used to winning won’t sit through the completion of a game, won’t come to the games that aren’t the marquee games on the schedule or attend the A-Day game in the fashion they have in the past. It’s also upsetting to fans so full of themselves they become to ungracious hosts or visitors for game, on social media and more. The fans should have the same class and attitude that the team does.
Larry has been published in almost every media outlet for college sports and now primarily writes here for Touchdown Alabama. Follow Larry on Twitter for inside thoughts and game time comments at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter
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