2009 SEC Preview: Alabama

2009 SEC Football Previews | Gate 21

Whereas previously previewed Georgia fell short of preseason expectations last year, Alabama certainly did just the opposite. The Tide spanked Clemson in the season opener in Atlanta in front of the entire nation, embarrassed Georgia with the “blackout” and College GameDay visiting Athens. In fact the Tide rolled (I know, I know…) all the way to #1 in the country in early November.

After emphatically breaking Auburn’s six-game Iron Bowl win streak (36-nothing in Tuscaloosa), Alabama found themselves leading Florida 20-17 entering the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship Game.

The final five quarters went so unlike the first 12 games for Alabama. Florida controlled the fourth quarter and scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives en route to a 31-20 win; then heavy underdog Utah came out on fire, stunning the Tide to the tune of a 21-0 lead after a quarter and a 31-17 Sugar Bowl win.

Despite a disappointing ending, Alabama was clearly a year ahead of what everybody expected of them. This year Alabama is one of the favorites to win the SEC West and one of the main contenders to the mighty Gators. Can Alabama keep the momentum going?

Schedule Breakdown

    Assumed wins:

  • Florida International
  • North Texas
  • Arkansas (early season road game for the Razorbacks)
  • at Kentucky
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • at Mississippi State
  • Chattanooga (seriously?)
  • Assumed losses:

  • I can’t see a game where Alabama is anything more than a slight underdog, although I do think there’s at least one loss somewhere on this slate.
  • Toss-ups:

  • Virginia Tech(season opener in Atlanta; VT returns 16 starters from last years’ ACC and Orange Bowl champions, and they aren’t susceptible to chronic underachieving a la Clemson)
  • at Ole Miss
  • LSU (those two games obviously key in SEC West race)
  • at Auburn (if for no other reason than it being the Iron Bowl and being played in Auburn)

Here is a common sight: people chasing Julio Jones


MLB Rolando McClain (Jr.): Undoubtedly the strength of Alabama both last year and this year will be the defense. They gave up just 14 points per game last year, and the only notable losses are safety Rashad Johnson, end Bobby Greenwood and LB Brandon Fanney, who is transferring.

McClain is the leader of this nasty defense, as he led the Tide in tackles and tackles for loss last year. He came in a season after the last stud middle linebacker Alabama had, DeMeco Ryans, who started three straight years for the Houston Texans and been to one Pro Bowl. In fact, McClain is almost like a Ryans clone, as he’s going to be making tons of plays for Alabama this year.

WR Julio Jones (So.): While A.J. Green had the better year last year based on the stats, I think in the Green-Jones debate most would rather have Jones, who looked like a NFL wide receiver the moment he stepped on campus last year. He’s obviously Alabama’s biggest offensive weapon and best player. I don’t really know how you’re supposed to stop him – that’s how good he is – and he’s a sophomore.

DT Terrance Cody (Sr.): Alabama has some other studs that I could have picked, but literally none of them are bigger than Cody, one of the biggest football players I’ve seen in person at a game – and I would know, I was on the front row for last year’s debacle in Knoxville. He’s a stud because the impact he has, and here’s some statistical evidence: last year, Alabama’s defense gave up just 74 yards per game on the ground, and under 3 yards per run. Cody was injured in the third quarter of the Ole Miss game. In that game, the Rebels ran for 158 yards and 4.6 yards per rush, making a huge second half comeback that came up just short in a 24-20 Alabama win.

Junior Greg McElroy takes over for departed three-year starter John Parker Wilson


QB Greg McElroy (Jr.): Any time you have to replace a four-year starter at quarterback, that’s a big question mark. John Parker Wilson wasn’t Joe Namath, but he was an important part of Alabama’s success last season. McElroy was very successful in succeeding former Missouri QB Chase Daniel at Southlake (Texas) Carroll, but he’s only thrown 20 passes (he has completed 16 of those, however) in his two years as a backup. He’s probably going to be able to get the job done, but early struggles are certainly a possibility.

Offensive line: As with the quarterback spot, Alabama has to replace some experienced players along the offensive line. Tackle Andre Smith and center Antoine Caldwell were both All-Americans, and guard Marlon Davis, a two-year starter in his own right, are all gone. The line was the biggest strength for Alabama’s offense last season and it’s unlikely to be that way again this year. Don’t get me wrong, Alabama’s got great players, but you can’t expect them to be as dominant as they were last year.

October 10 at Ole Miss: Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU all figure to compete for the SEC West title. While LSU is at a slight disadvantage due to its schedule (more on that tomorrow), Ole Miss and Alabama are even in that category. Hence why I’m putting this game – two and a half months in advance – here, because it’s that important. The last four meetings between these two teams have been decided by a grand total of 13 points. While the Virginia Tech might be the most likely possibility for a loss, it’s out of conference, and outside of the trip to Oxford, Alabama gets its tougher games at home.

Rolando McClain will lead the Nick Saban defense in 2009

What’s New, but Maybe Not Improved

The nation’s top-ranked recruiting class: Alabama relied on some freshmen last year at key spots: Jones, RB Mark Ingram, WR Marquis Maze, LB Don’t’a Hightower and safety Mark Barron just to name a few. This year’s class includes RB Trent Richardson, DB Dre Kirkpatrick, OL D.J. Fluker and LBs Nico Johnson and Tana Patrick. It’ll be interesting to see the impact these guys may have and how Nick Saban utilizes these new pieces.

New tight ends and no Rashad Johnson: Alabama’s second leading receiver last year? Tight end Nick Walker. Travis McCall was also a good tight end, but both of them have left. Walker was especially effective while Jones faced multiple defenders and John Parker Wilson utilized him very effectively. McElroy won’t have Walker. Likewise, the secondary and defense lost its senior leader, free safety Rashad Johnson. I doubt losing Johnson will make that much of a difference, as McClain should take over the defensive leadership without much issue. (I know this was a reach, but I had nothing else).

Performance in close games: From 2004-2007 Alabama was 8-13 in games decided by less than 7 points. The Tide was just 3-6 in 2007, with all of their losses by a TD or less, before winning all three of their close games last year (yes, they blew everyone else because they were dominant in the first quarter of games and only played three games decided by less than 7 points). Again, it’s not necessarily terribly relevant, but it’s new. Can’t win the close games? Blow everyone out so you don’t have to worry about it.

HSH’s Bold Prediction

This Alabama defense is going to be very difficult to score against. So while McElroy gets used to starting and the new offensive linemen get experience, the Tide will have that to rely on. I have them as my favorite to win the West over Ole Miss and LSU.

Florida’s still the best team in the conference, but Alabama is a solid #2 – now hold on while I go throw up for the words I just typed…

About Home Sweet Home... … to me.

Images Courtesy of: Dave Martin / APMichelle Williams / The Birmingham NewsMark Almond / The Birmingham News

About the Author: I'm from Memphis but I'm now entering my third year at the University of Tennessee here in Knoxville. I am majoring in Journalism/Electronic Media and hope to go into sports broadcasting/writing/something like that. I'm a huge Vol fan and have been going to games for as long as I can remember. I started my on blog called "The View From The Hill" but moved here to Gate 21 for bigger and better things. In addition to my passion for Tennessee football and basketball, I enjoy watching the NFL and the NBA as well. Basically, sports are a big part of my life. >> Read more from this author

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7 Responses to “2009 SEC Preview: Alabama”

  • TidefanNo Gravatar says:

    Very well done. I think UT has a better chance than Auburn but I’m really just looking for something to contribute to a well reasoned post. Are you sure you’re a Vols fan?

  • Home Sweet HomeNo Gravatar says:

    appreciate the slight vote of confidence in the Vols, TF, but Alabama’s probably gonna win both those games.

    as for my Vols fan-ness, I really tried to be as objective as I could with all of these previews. Alabama’s going to have a great team this year and if I said anything otherwise would be the orange glasses getting in the way.

    and if this made you wonder about my fan-ness, wait til you see the nauseating love I gave the Gators…

  • TidefanNo Gravatar says:

    Ha. Can’t wait. Now that I’m not typing on my phone, I’ll explain why UT is the better team than Auburn, especially in this scenario.

    For all the talk of Auburn having a good defense, they couldn’t stop the run. This is mostly due to the fact that they were running an offense they didn’t have the personnel for, and it was designed to run as many plays as they could which kept the defense on the field and worn out by the second half.
    This season, they have a similar offense that places an even greater emphasis on quick play, has a history of putting more stress on the defense, and the defense has even less depth this season than last.
    UT on the other hand will be going back to the run and will do so behind an offensive line that won’t be telegraphing which direction it plans to go.
    UT will also have a legitimately stout defense that will possibly take a step back from last year’s top ten defense, but not by much.
    UT has the benefit of playing the Tide earlier in the season, so if UT’s offense manages to repeat it’s play from last season (it won’t, but last year it did run fewer plays from scrimmage than any team in the league) it still gets the Tide earlier in the season than Auburn, meaning the defense won’t be worn as thin from being on the field so much.
    Venue in those rivalry games means very little, but against this Alabama team even moreso. With Utah the lone exception, Alabama was a much better road team than home team. Squeakers against UK, Ole Miss, and Tulane were in Bryant-Denny. Blowouts of UGA, Arkansas, and Clemson were on the road and I would contend that Alabama played a better game in the loss to Florida than they did in the large win over Miss State in Tuscaloosa.

    • TidefanNo Gravatar says:

      Apologies. I thought I had formatted that as an unordered list.

    • Home Sweet HomeNo Gravatar says:

      very good points. it will be interesting to see how the Malzahn offense runs this year. Gus was coaching high school football in Arkansas, what, five years ago? Sure he did well at Arkansas, but he had McFadden and Jones, and Tulsa plays in a league that has some pretty porous defenses.

      UT may be more likely than Auburn to beat Alabama, but I still doubt it, unless McElroy is still struggling by then and our offense improves a ton and stays healthy. I do think UT is going to be better than Auburn this year and hopefully we can take care of them when they visit – I just can’t imagine the possibilities of losing at home to Gene Chizik in his first SEC road game.

  • TidefanNo Gravatar says:

    He gets no credit for Arkansas. He has been more than vocal about how that wasn’t his offense. And honestly, I think he deserves points off for wanting to do anything BUT hand the ball to McFadden and Jones. At Tulsa, sure, and I’m a little shy to say “that will never work in the SEC” after being wrong about both Saban at LSU and Meyer at UF, but he openly admits that his offense does his defense no favors, and if one excels to the detriment of the other, it kind of offsets the benefit of the system. Plus, for all the talk of that, he’s only done it at the college level for three years, one of which he disavows and the other two at Tulsa. Kragthorpe had a pretty successful offense at Tulsa, too. How’s that working out for Louisville?

  • Nice post which The line was the biggest strength for Alabama’s offense last season and it’s unlikely to be that way again this year. In which football makes audience excited who gets to score. Thanks a lot for posting.

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