"Alabama's 2006 forecast is cloudy...and difficult to know."
Over the past month or two, preseason rankings have begun to trickle out from various football "pundits." As always, we'll focus on where they've ranked the Crimson Tide.
Sports Illustrated writer Stewart Mandel gave us his Top 25 and has Alabama ranked at #22. Mandel views this as a transitional year for Alabama and cites the fact that the defense losing seven starters is going to be difficult to cope with.
ESPN's Ivan Maisel didn't have Alabama ranked in his "post-spring" Top 25. Nor were they listed amongst seven teams he had as "also receiving consideration" (BYU, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Utah and Wisconsin.) His explanation in his mailbag column was this:
College Football News has Alabama ranked at #20. They cite a weakened defense and a road schedule of Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and LSU as the reason they won't do any better.
Rivals.com has Bama at #24 due to an inexperienced QB.
Southern Pigskin places the Tide at #23 and only mentions a loss of senior leadership.
Autumn Spectacle lists Alabama as a "close but no cigar" for the Top 25. They state that making a bowl game will be the mark of success in 2006.
Tom Dienhart predicted Alabama at #25 overall and third in the SEC West in The Sporting News SEC Preview. He had this to say:
Lindy's has Alabama at #36 overall (behind Rutgers & Tulsa) and #4 in the west (behind Auburn, LSU and Arkansas) saying that the 2006 defense won't be good enough to win games by themselves.
Athlon has Alabama unranked nationally and 4th in the SEC West.
The general vibe this year is that Alabama will be lucky to finish in the Top 25 (primarily due to a rough road schedule) and perhaps will go to a decent pre-New Year's bowl. There's a consensus amongst the pundits that Alabama is on the rise, but they've still got some growing to do and that last year's success may have gotten fan hopes too high too early.
I don't think anyone can feel particularly slighted by many of these predictions despite last year's 10-2 record. There are a lot of big shoes to fill on defense and the offense is still questionable.
I imagine Alabama is one of the harder teams in the SEC to predict this year. I've seen projections ranging from 7 to 10 wins and I think a solid argument could be made for either end of that spectrum. My season previews of all 12 games will finish a few weeks before the season so you'll have my take on that as the summer moves along (I've posted the Hawaii and Vanderbilt games so far.)
2006 is unquestionably a rebuilding year, but one where the team is rebuilding off of a successful year, not a dismal one. That's cause for hope. Now we'll just have to wait and see how it plays out on the field.