By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: At the start of every season, teams have the ultimate
goal in mind of challenging for the national title. For many programs,
achieving that goal has proven to be an impossibility because of conference
affiliation, even if those clubs manage a rare undefeated season. For Alabama,
however, which competes in the top conference in all of college football,
capturing the sport's ultimate prize seemed tangible at the start of the 2009
The club overcame a hurdle in the opener, knocking off a tough Virginia Tech
squad by a 34-24 final. Then, after beating up on two overmatched non-
conference foes, head coach Nick Saban and his Crimson Tide began SEC play.
Alabama bested Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss and South Carolina by double
figures to move to 7-0. Finally, the club was tested on October 24th by
Tennessee, and Saban's group was fortunate to emerge with a 12-10 triumph. In
the following game, Alabama was challenged by LSU, but the Tide pushed their
mark to 9-0 with a nine-point victory. After two more lopsided wins, the
regular-season finale featured a matchup with Auburn on the road, which is
never a cakewalk. Still, the Crimson Tide found a way to get past their
greatest rival, giving the team a 12-0 record heading into a much-anticipated
SEC Championship Game showdown with Florida. In a game that was surprisingly
one-sided, Alabama proved to be far too much for the Gators to handle, rolling
to a 32-13 triumph.
At 13-0, Saban's team had earned a spot in the BCS Championship Game against
Texas on January 7, 2010. A senior-laden defense and a well-rounded offense
was the key to success for the Tide, as it bested the Longhorns, 37-21, to
hoist the national championship trophy.
OFFENSE: Last season, Alabama ranked fourth in the SEC and 22nd nationally in
scoring (32.1 ppg), and the team averaged 403.0 total ypg. It would surprise
no one to see an increase in those statistics in 2010, especially considering
that eight offensive starters are back in place.
It all starts with reigning Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Mark Ingram, who
captured the top individual prize in college football as a sophomore. Ingram
rushed for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2009, and he is an accomplished
receiver out of the backfield as well.
"We're just picking up where we left off," says a confident Ingram, raving
about the chemistry of the offense.
Fellow runner Trent Richardson would be a starter and perhaps a star on any
other team, and while Ingram is the man in Tuscaloosa, Richardson will still
get enough touches to make an impact. Under center once again will be the
steady Greg McElroy, who threw for 2,508 yards and 17 touchdowns with only
four interceptions a year ago. Poised and intelligent, McElroy is the perfect
man to run the offense for Saban, and he is the unquestioned leader as a
Three starting wide receivers are back in place, and Julio Jones is the best
of the bunch. Jones was inconsistent in 2009, but he has big-time NFL ability
and will be expected to take a major step forward as a junior.
The offensive line has some questions to answer, but three starters are back
in the fold.
DEFENSE: While the Alabama offense is loaded with returning starters, only one
starter is back for the defense.
"We don't have a lot of depth, but I do like the talent level we have," says
Saban of his defense. "I do like the attitude that the players have worked
with. I think this is going to be a defensive team that improves throughout
the course of the season."
In 2009, 'Bama ranked first in the SEC and second nationally in scoring
defense (11.7 ppg), rushing defense (78.1 ypg) and total defense (244.1 ypg).
The Tide finished with a turnover margin of plus-19, fourth best in all of
college football. The defensive line figures to be solid despite four new
starters in 2010, as many holdovers saw extensive playing time in 2009. The
man to watch is Marcell Dareus, who was the defensive MVP of the BCS
Championship Game. Dareus posted 6.5 sacks last season.
Many fans are eager to see how linebacker Dont'a Hightower responds after
suffering a season-ending knee injury early last season. He is back in the
middle and one of the best players at his position when healthy.
Mark Barron started at safety last season as a sophomore, and his return will
certainly help the Tide. The standout posted seven interceptions a year ago.
He will have to provide aid to some ultra-talented youngsters at corner.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Even more concerning than the lack of depth on defense is the
Alabama special teams, which must replace a punter, placekicker and kick
"You're always concerned when you don't have experienced players that have
done things in games before," says Saban. "But we had a lot of confidence in
the young guys we have in terms of their talent. I think them gaining
knowledge and experience is going to be helpful."
OUTLOOK: "One thing I do want to get established here is I want to make sure
I'm in the right year," said coach Saban at the recent SEC Media Days. "I want
to be in the moment here today. Is it 2010? Am I right about that? Because
everything I kind of hear has always been about last year. So I'm going to
make sure that we're going to talk about this year relative to our team."
Repeating as national champion won't be easy for Alabama, but this team, which
has been tabbed the preseason favorite, figures to have as good a chance of
doing so as any team we have seen in recent years.