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2014 Alabama Football Season Preview: Tempered Expectations

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Expectations are once again sky high in 2014, but what could trip up the Tide during its pursuit of #16?

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Putting 2013 behind us, finally

Ten days prior to the 2013 season, Alabama fans were waiting patiently for the beginning of the Crimson Tide's march to a third straight national championship. We had the quarterback, a stable of running backs unmatched in college football, weapons at wide receiver, an experienced front seven and a sure thing, first round pick at safety. The team and the fans alike were poised for greatness and college football history.

What transpired over the course of the next 14 weeks was indeed historic but certainly not the memorable season we had all hoped and dreamed of for nearly nine months. Infighting, injuries, suspensions, and a lack of experience at key positions, were the teams eventual undoing.

These failures have been well documented and discussed ad nauseum and I see no reason to rediscover old pain here today. So finally, after the longest off season in recent memory, the team and fans can put 2013 in the rear view mirror and move on to something more positive —Like revenge.

2014

Here we are again, this time just nine days before the kick-off of yet another football season and though Alabama will not be in pursuit of that elusive three-peat, expectations have never been higher. Alabama finds itself ranked 2nd in the nation in both preseason polls and despite question marks at quarterback, offensive line, and once again the secondary, the Tide was picked at SEC Media days as the heavy favorite to win the SEC West and the conference title. Not to be outdone, RBR's preview of each conference game this season has the Tide unbeaten.

Different season, same expectations.

However, as the West Virginia game draws near, if we step outside of our crimson colored boxes and look objectively at this version of the Crimson Tide, and its schedule, we find that tempering these expectations is the best course of action. Even with the three national titles notched since 2007, Alabama has gone undefeated only once under Nick Saban and how many times has a team ranked in the top two of the preseason polls gone on to win the national title? Not many.

There's also this battle at quarterback that's largely gone noticed (/sarcasm font) that many feel could make or break Alabama's chances of being one of the top four teams to make the first ever College Football Playoff. We've now had nearly six months of speculation on who the starting quarterback will be and this past Wednesday Coach Saban gave no indication on who is the leader, let alone who the starter will be.

"I would like to see somebody take the bull by the horns from a leadership standpoint, a consistency standpoint and win the job here sometime. "But we're not going to make a decision until somebody does that."

Yikes

If uncertainty at the quarterback position isn't enough for fans to tap the breaks on the expectations this season, I'm not sure what else will.

The good news on offense, especially for a first year starter at quarterback, is that Alabama has the deepest and likely most talented wide receiver and running back corps in the entire country. TE O.J. Howard (5*), WR Amari Cooper (4*), WR Christion Jones (4*), WR Chris Black (4*), WR DeAndrew White(4*), RB TJ Yeldon (5*), WR Robert Foster (5*) RB Derrick Henry (5*), RB/HB Jalson Fowler (4*), and RB Kenyan Drake (4*) will give Lane Kiffin plenty of weapons and relief valves for whoever is named the starter at QB.

But there's one possible glitch in an other wise endless drove of talented skilled position players— the offensive line. This is an unit that must replace two key starters (both of which started in Alabama's last national title game). Who will replace them? True freshman Cam Robinson at left tackle, and at right guard, Leon Brown or JUCO transfer Dominick Jackson, neither of which have started an SEC game or any game for that matter. And regardless of their perceived talent, how confident are we that these two (or three) players are upgrades over their predecessors? Confident enough to expect a national championship birth?

I'd be remiss if corner wasn't also mentioned as yet again a possible weak link. Much maligned Cyrus Jones and junior Bradley Sylve, who struggled to overcome nagging injuries in his sophomore season, have been pinned, as far as we know, as starters against West Virginia. Not to bring up past wounds but we all have nightmares of Cyrus in the Iron Bowl and with Eddie Jackson yet to be cleared (as far as we know) you have to, at the very least, feel anxious about the secondary in 2014.

And speaking of the secondary, few people have mentioned safety as a cause for concern, but inexperience at free safety and the two deep, should be raised as a plausible issue. If we are hit with the unthinkable at either strong or free safety, not to mention the money or star position, the Tide defense may have to turn to true freshman Laurence Hootie Jones or a senior in Nick Perry who seemingly couldn't beat out — corner back turned safety —  Geno Smith.

Thankfully, the two strongest units on the defense can be found upfront but are not void of their own question marks. At linebacker, seniors Xzavier Dickson and Trey DePriest return along with sophomore Ryan Anderson, but Trey has been hampered with a knee injury for most of summer camp and by all accounts isn't back to 100%. And we still haven't found the guy to replace three down linebacker and first round draft pick C.J. Mosley. The three man rotation of Reggie RaglandReuban Foster and true freshman Shaun Dion Hamilton will be asked to take the place of just one man. So depending on the person, a three man rotation can either be seen as a positive or a negative—  I'll let you decide for yourself which one.

Many believe that this will be the most talented defensive line we've seen since Saban arrived, and though I tend to agree, the DL has been dealing with suspensions and injuries since camp began. Brandon Ivory, (LB) Tim Williams and Jarran Reed started camp off with suspensions and Williams made his first appearance of camp at yesterday's practice. A'Shawn Robinson injured his knee two weeks ago and has just this week returned to the field. If there is a bright side to these minor setbacks, it's that the younger guys (Rashaan Evans, Joshua FrazierDa'Shawn HandJohnny Dwight, etc.) who would normally be fighting just to make the three deep, have now gained valuable playing time and experience with the first team defense.

The optimistic gump in us all believes this team can win a national title and to some, it's now an expectation. But are we at a place where each season is seen as a national title or bust? Is there room for Alabama to lose a game or two and we aren't, as fans, sulking in defeat for months on end?

Well, if last season was any indication, the answer is an emphatic no.

Frankly, outside of maybe the current defending national champions, there isn't a more talented team from top to bottom than Alabama, and our schedule sets up nicely for a run at the championship. Just like in the previous three seasons, Alabama will be favored in every game but unfortunately, and as we've all seen play out many times over, talent doesn't always equate to rings. So, for Alabama to return to the mountaintop and college football greatness, they'll have to exorcise the demons of 2013 and reclaim it's once proud, unmatched trademark, our M.O., identity and..

Make their ass quit..

Roll Tide!