Don't worry, be happy.
It's not just a line from a Bobby McFerrin song, folks.
The 2007 season starts less than ten days from now, and the truth is, we really don't know what to expect. We may do really well, pull off some big upsets, go 10-2 and play in a New Year's Day bowl game. On the other hand, we may crash and burn, and end up with losses to the likes of Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. We'll beat Western Carolina -- after all, they are a 2-9 Division 1-AA team -- and you can bet the farm on that, but once the Catamounts take their check on back up into the Appalachians, we really just don't know from there.
I would imagine we'll go somewhere between 7-5 and 9-3, but again, you just don't know. It could very well be worse than that. Even Vanderbilt isn't a given. They almost beat us a year ago in Bryant-Denny, and they return essentially everyone for 2007. No one should be overly shocked if an upset happens. Again, I think we'll have a decent year, but perhaps not. The offense has the potential to be very good, but it's had that potential for the past two seasons as well. Potential doesn't count, points do. As the one and only Bum Phillips once put it, "Potential is just a French word that means you're not worth a damn yet." Indeed. And the defense may be a train wreck. Again, I don't think that will be the case, but it very well could.
The truth is that first year coaches, as a whole, simply don't do that well, here or anywhere else for that matter. Take a look at our coaches in their first year at Alabama, going back to Bryant:
As you can see, not too good. Overall they are barely .500, and if you look at Stallings on (1990-present), first year coaches at Alabama are below .500. And the reason is simple, first year coaches generally inherit programs in bad shape, and a rebuilding effort is needed.
Unfortunately, Nick Saban may be one of those coaches. After all, there was a reason we fired Mike Shula, and it wasn't because we were on the brink of a national championship. Bottom line, we fired Mike Shula because he was running the program into the ground, and we just might not be very good this year. That's not what everyone wants to hear, but it's a possibility.
Hellfire and brimstone talk aside, more likely, we'll beat most of the teams we should beat (Western Carolina, Vanderbilt, Houston, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Louisiana-Monroe), and then probably come up with a couple of wins in the "big" six games (Arkansas, Georgia, FSU, Tennessee, LSU, and Auburn). We should end up the season, most likely, either 7-5 or 8-4 and get into a small bowl game. But it's going to be your typical season: we're going to lose some heartbreakers, we're going to have some poor performances, and we just might get our asses handed to us once or twice. Such is the course of a football season of that nature.
But alas: don't worry, be happy.
The program is in good hands, and the outlook is very bright. Saban is, without doubt, the most accomplished coach we've had since Bryant. Even Stallings -- who won 70 games in seven years, and a national championship at the Capstone -- was a complete disaster as a head coach before coming to Tuscaloosa. He was head coach of Texas A&M for seven years, and had six losing seasons, and only one win over Texas. Almost twenty years later, he was hired as the head coach of the Phoenix Cardinals, where again he was a complete disaster. Nonetheless, he won and won big at Alabama.
And again, we don't know what Saban's first year will bring, but the first year for any head coach is going to be a bit of a crapshoot. That said, everything seems to be ripe for a breakout year in Saban's sophomore campaign at the Capstone. All told, we're going to return somewhere in the area of 18 starters -- likely 20 if you count the place-kicker and punter -- and we could really take off. Also, another year in the S&C program will have us in better condition, and year two in the Saban system will have positive benefits. Moreover, the recruiting class that we are gathering now seems to be one of the best we've ever had, and we'll have several freshmen who will make valuable contributions as true freshmen for the 2008 season.
The 2007 season, as a whole, is really nothing more than a foundation to build the 2008 season upon. The bottom line is this: However the 2007 season pans out, it is what it is, and it's more of statement of how quickly Saban can piece together the wreckage of the Shula regime than anything else. No one should freak out if we don't set the world on fire, it should be expected, if anything. If we can just go somewhere in the area of 8-4, we'll be in great shape. If we can do that, with all we have going for us in 2008, we could very well make a legitimate run at the SEC championship.
Whatever happens in 2007: don't worry, be happy. Things are looking very good.