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The Crimson and White Roundtable Rides Again

It appears the malaise that so often caused the Tide football team to stumble down the stretch hit us bloggers as well, since the Crimson and White Rountable started off strong this year, then petered out to nothing somewhere mid-season. But, like the football team, the young guys really bought in and are trying to do things the right way, as the Tide Druid has revived it for a post (regular) season session. My thoughts are below, and any of you guys are welcome to answer in the comments section as well.

1. What surprised you the most about this football team? Good or bad.

Todd: The lack of discipline and focus, even with the new staff. It's amazing to me just how destructive and far reaching the previous decade's failings have been. We've got guys on this team that are so used to losing that they've gotten used to it and, worse, seem to be perfectly fine with it. I told the Girl after the Iron Bowl that ending the season in such miserable fashion is probably the best thing that could have happened to us. The players, the administration, and we as fans have to really look at the depth of the problems facing this program and football team and admit what we've been loathe to think all this time. We are a damn sight farther away from the Gene Stallings teams of the nineties than we thought, and getting further and further away each season (I mean that metaphorically, of course, though it's also true literally). Sure, every coach has managed a ten win season, and DuBose even won an SEC Championship, but we've coasted by on blind luck and exceedingly fortunate confluences of talent (Shaun Alexander pretty well won that SEC crown himself, the '05 season had more to do with an NFL caliber defense and Tyrone Prothro than anything else, etc.) and fooled ourselves into thinking we're right there, we just have to do one little thing to be back on top. And we've gotten nothing but stretches of losing (or "non-winning") seasons bracketed by miracle seasons with their own special letdowns (DuBose lost to La. Tech and UT, Fran's ten win season ended in an Iron Bowl loss, and Shula's ten winner ended in a two game skid to both LSU and Auburn) that keep us from remembering them too fondly to show for it. But on the plus side, we've gotten our wake up call, and I don't think any of us will have our heads in the sand anymore. Saban told us before the season started not to count our chickens before they hatched, and we went right on along and did it anyway like we always do. I suppose we can finally take our heads out of the sand and realize all of this because Coach Saban is on the sidelines, and if a guy like him can't immediately turn Alabama around, then we know there are problems to be fixed. Mike Shula couldn't do it? Well, what do you expect, he was young and wasn't ready to be a head coach yet. Fran couldn't do it? He was a snake oil salesman, what did he know? DuBose? That guy should have never been a head coach to start with. But Saban? Man, if he says it's busted, it's busted. But fortunately, he's the guy to fix it, and we can all finally realistically sit back and hope and believe in a better future for the Tide.

2. Who must shape up or ship out by next season?

Todd: Now that I'm looking at this one, it's kind of a weird question. I don't know if there is anyone that will be sticking around that will need to "ship out." It might sound crazy, but DJ Hall can't be gone soon enough for me. To have broken all those receiving records and still be considered a disappointment, you know something ain't right, and his off the field issues, bad attitude, and just generally not stepping up to be a leader despite all the talent in the world will make him an after thought in most Bama fans' minds. But he's graduating, so I guess we won't have to worry about him. So really, I don't know. It seems like the "bad eggs" are either all guys that will be graduating or are guys that are buried on the depth chart as it is.

3. Do you expect any assistant coaching changes?

Todd: I sincerely doubt it. I'm sure that this season was pretty much a "let's see what we have, and build from that" kind of year for Saban and his staff, so any perceived shortcoming there are likely to be excused so long as they are made right for next season. The only way I could see a staff change happening is if one of the assistants took a job at another school or in the NFL of their own free will.

4. What bowl game should Alabama go to, if one at all?

Todd: I think we'll land in the Independence, but there is some talk that the Music City or Liberty Bowl would take us in a heartbeat since it's a guaranteed sell out for them. I personally don't care which one we go to, but I do hope we go, and I'd love for Saban to treat it as a chance to get the young guys that have bought in and played for him (guys like Kareem Jackson and McClain) some more game experience and to really treat this as a sort of preview of next season. Plus, it gives guys like Gilberry and Mustin, two guys that have played their hearts out for the Tide, a chance to go out winners.

5. It seems that underclassmen are playing more and more these days. How much playing time should we expect from Saban's first two recruiting classes?

Todd: Probably a lot. He's been very vocal about the personality and character of this team, and he's going to play his guys over anyone he thinks isn't going to go out and do it right. I'm personally looking forward to seeing a lot of new faces on the field since it means we've rotated out some of the players who have grown accustomed to losing.

6. What did Saban do well this season? Where was he lacking?

Todd: I think the most important thing Saban did this year was remind us that great coaching can only go so far with limited talent, and that we are still a little ways off from where we want to be. We needed someone like him to come along and tell it like it is, but to also show that he's the kind of guy that is going to do it right by bringing in great players and teaching them to play the game as a team, not as a bunch of guys who are quick to blame someone or something else for their troubles and then not give a damn if they play well or not. Changing the entire culture of Alabama football is no small task, but it's something he is capable of doing, and he's already gotten a solid start this year. Where was he lacking? I kind of want to say that he cost us some games with his whole "I'm playing guys that are going to do it my way, whether they are the best player at that position or not," and I do believe that is true, but by rewarding guys that aren't buying into the staff's philosophy on how to build a championship program just to win games would have defeated the whole purpose, so I can't really say that's an area where he was found lacking. I can think of a few calls I disagree with (the onside kick in the Iron Bowl and staying in the same coverage on three consecutive third downs against UGA when you know they are going to run a screen come to mind), but as a whole, I'm pretty pleased with him so far.

7. Who is someone that we didn't expect much from this season who really showed up big for the Tide?

Todd: It's kind of a toss up between Darren Mustin and Zeke Knight for me. I'm a sucker for feel good stories like Mustin's, guys who transferred and paid their own way just to be at Alabama despite no guarantee they'll ever get to start, and then he earns a scholarship and has a huge impact on the defense in his final season in place of a guy like Prince Hall that we all thought would be the starter and a real force on defense. And it was nice to see Knight come out well, too. He should have never been a receiver, and after all of his health troubles over the past few years, I'm glad he had a few moments in the sun while wearing the Crimson and White.

8. What young player are you glad is staying and think will really make big contributions over the next few seasons?

Todd: Kareem Jackson, definetely. He has the making of a shutdown corner, and I don't really remember him being highly recruited. Considering he is a true freshman, this kid is going to be amazing.

9. Which senior are you saddest to lose, for whatever reason?

Todd: I have to go with Gilberry here. He has always been a good kid, always gone out there and given it his all, and was always good for a quote, too. He really gave us someone on the line to be proud of the past few years, and I'll definitely miss him.

10. Give your absurdly premature prediction of the Tide's regular season record for next year.

Todd: I think 8-4 is reasonable right now, but I wouldn't be surprised if, at mid-season, we're right back in the thick of the SEC race with dreams of a double digit year again. Hopefully next season we'll improve in November instead of regress, and the young guys and new recruits are going to have to shape up quick to make that happen.