Coming off of its national championship season, the 2010 edition of the Alabama football team will have several questions to answer. Here are the top five to consider during the offseason:
1. How will the defense do with only two starters returning?
Young talent was cultivated and an injured standut is primed for his return. Dont’a Hightower should be back at full strength to bolster the group that lost three All-Americans among the nine departing starters. Up-and-comers such as Marcell Dareus, Dre Kirkpatrick, Tana Patrick and possibly a few true freshmen could make an impact, but experience will be a shortcoming for the defense next season.
2. What are the chances for a repeat championship?
Coach Nick Saban has said his hardest season of coaching came the year after his LSU team won the national title. Refocusing those who come back will be a new challenge, because the first three Crimson Tide teams Saban has coached didn’t have to deal with the kind of expectations the 2010 will have to address. In spite of heavy losses on defense, several preseason rankings already call for a Crimson Tide repeat.
3. Who leads?
Quarterback Greg McElroy will be a clear leader, but most of the vocal and experienced players from 2009 will have left the program by the time spring practice starts in April. Permanent captains Mike Johnson, Javier Arenas and Rolando McClan made an impact that reached well beyond the games. All were hailed by teammates as teachers in practice and in the film room. This is hardly a new issue. College football teams always deal with attrition. The same questions were asked last January after players such as Antoine Caldwell and Rashad Johnson departed.
4. Who will be the future quarterback?
It’s a question most coaches would love to address: having too many talented quarterbacks. Saban already has an undefeated returning starter in McElroy. Right behind him is rising redshirt freshman AJ McCarron, who impressed coaches all season in practice. He moved past formerly heralded recruit Star Jackson to take the No. 2 spot. Then there is another outstanding prospect, Phillip Sims, who was due to enroll this semester. Rated the nation’s best quarterback recruit by ESPN’s Scouts Inc., Sims will be one to watch in spring and preseason practices.
5. Has a dynasty begun?
It was suggested on the cover of Sports Illustrated, so it’s not a ludicrous idea. So much offensive talent returns, but that typically steady defense becomes an issue — the opposite of last year’s preseason problem. USC had a run in the mid-2000s. Then it was Florida’s turn on top. Now, is it Alabama’s time? That question will be answered in January 2011.