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Roll ‘Bama Roll 2023 Alabama Crimson Tide Football Preseason Roundtable: Part One

We’ve got lots of questions...we also have a lot of answers.

<p zoompage-fontsize="15" style="">Alabama Spring Football Game

Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images

Ladies and gents, boils and ghouls, Gumps and Basics, we made it: We have endured our last weekend without college football for the rest of the calendar year — think about that for a second. The 2023 season begins this weekend with New Mexico State / UMass (Stop! it’s almost like football!).

And, with the season upon us, and with the Alabama program at a true inflection point, in search of an identity and stability, we have so very many questions in a year where, frankly, not much is expected of the Crimson Tide. Let’s dig in to our annual Roll ‘Bama Round Alabama Football Preseason Roundtable.

This is the first of two parts. We’ll have Part Two for you tomorrow.

1. For the first time in many years, Alabama is not favored to win the West. LSU is the clear favorite and reigning champion. Should they be favored? Is the Tiger hype machine overlooking Alabama this season?

CB: It’s yet the latest round of “The Dynasty Is Dead” narrative to drive clicks. Nick Saban seems especially grumpy and he’s not going to go gentle into that good night.

Josh: Not sure that I’d call LSU a clear favorite since Alabama won the SEC Media Days straw poll, but my feelings on LSU are well known. When does a 4-loss team, that narrowly escaped a 5th loss at the hands of a mediocre Arkansas team without its star QB, come into the next season overhyped? When they manage a one-point home win over Alabama despite being outgained by 100 yards, that’s when. The jury is very much out on this Alabama squad, but LSU is hardly a can’t miss juggernaut.

Brent: Should LSU be a “clear favorite?” I don’t think so. They have some nice pieces, but also have a lot of limitations as a team. And don’t forget that they had twice as many losses as Alabama last season... They just happened to lose out of conference so they ended up getting to go to the SEC title game despite it. At the same time, I don’t necessarily think it’s fair to say Alabama is being overlooked, either. There are some very serious question marks around the Tide as well. I wouldn’t give either team a clear advantage in the division race, and I’d add Texas A&M right into that mix as well.

Erik: This is a program playing with fire. For the second straight year, Brian Kelly is relying on a team heavily-staffed by transfers and Jucos to fill key spots. There were some big losses in the draft. And, for all the hype, I really hate the quarterbacking on this team. Jayden Daniels is a pair of legs and some YOLO shots down the field...that usually come up short. Alabama’s loss to this Duke’s Mayo Bowl team last year got both coordinators fired. I would have done one better, and left their ass in the swamp. As for the Tide, is UA being overlooked? I don’t think so. The doubts around the program as-constituted are valid — I’m just not sure that LSU is your default champion, even if Alabama falls short.

2. Who is the biggest sleeper in each division? Teams that may not necessarily win, but they’re going to at least make life miserable for far too many opponents.

CB: In the East, it’s my opinion that Kentucky actually improved at quarterback with the departure of Will Levis and addition of NC State transfer Devin Leary. I hate to say it but in the West, it is probably Auburn playing “us against the world” spoiler.

Josh: Mississippi State has to be the pick as a sleeper. Will Rogers is a pain to deal with, and you know they will play inspired football this season.

Brent: In the west, unfortunately, it will be Auburn. Longer term, I think Hugh Freeze is going to be a flame out for the Tigers, but Year 1 Head Coach syndrome is absolutely a thing in Auburn, and they’ll be dangerous this year despite not having any right to be. The east....I dunno. South Carolina was that team last year. Can they make a step up and actually win things this time? Kentucky’s also quietly had a couple of really solid recruiting classes lately, so I wouldn’t count them out.

Erik: Can a team even be a “sleeper” when you poach a Top 5 quarterback, return a veteran offensive line, a solid defense, and a much better running game? I dunno. I do know that if Stoops wants to get Georgia, Kentucky will never have a better shot than this year. I also quietly like what Mizzou is doing to get talent in CoMo: that defense will be filthy...the offense needs to come around though. In the West, I’m going with Aggie — not just a spoiler, but winning the whole danged thing (or at least a tie). Solid play under center, great OL, excellent coordinators, even better skills players, very competent defense. If this team doesn’t win 10 games and isn’t in the hunt in Late November, fire everyone for Christmas: $77 million be damned.

3. Outside of quarterback, what was your one biggest question mark coming into Fall Camp, and halfway through, do these questions remain?

CB: Wide receiver. For the second straight year, the Tide has no Alpha Dog. Jacorey Brooks is close but he is plagued by inconsistency as are most of the members of the unit.

Josh: This one’s easy: can the offensive line dominate games sufficiently to make life easy for whoever wins the QB job? That won’t be answered until the season.

Brent: Wide receiver, obviously. I’ve made it very clear that I believe drops in bad moments cost Alabama national championship in 2021 and likely the division lead and a chance at the playoffs in 2022. And Alabama basically just returns all the same guys. It’s not just the drops, either. Think back to last year... How many times can you remember any of the receivers catching an easy pass and picking up first downs with their legs? Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa get a significant chunk of their stats by letting their receivers do a lot of work after the catch, and that was just nonexistent last year. Now, how much of that was Bryce Young’s playstyle or Bill O’Brien’s scheme? My hope is quite a lot. But either way, the WRs HAVE to be able to hold onto a 10-yard catch on 3rd down, and they need to be able to make plays happen sometimes to keep the offense moving.

Erik: I don’t have high hopes for this passing offense, even if Ghost of Baby Tua were under center. So, while the wideout drops are bothersome, I have far more worries about the interior defensive line play. Games are won up front. Period. Alabama has been positively despicable 50% of the time since 2019. They were quite competent in 2020, especially in pass rush, and 2021 was an exceptional outlier in both run and pass. But 2019? 2022? Trash. And you can point a big giant finger to misses in the recruiting class. Entering the 2019 season, the Tide went nine deep at defensive line. Their total output? A first-rounder, a second-rounder, three transfers, and a third-rounder — with Tim and Justin remaining to be seen.

Go back and watch the LSU game..the K State game...the Auburn game. I assure you, it was far, far worse than you remember. And this year, Alabama is relying on Oatis’s conditioning to hold up, Justin’s health and neck to withstand a season, and either Tim Smith to finally be competent or someone to take the job that Nick Saban has so desperately been begging for? Absolutely terrified of this group. You can’t return to Joyless Murderball, with so few dogs up front.

Now would be a nice time for Payne to remember he’s a five-star recruit....And for Freddie to remember that he is one of the highest paid position coaches in the country.

4. What player has surprised you the most in Fall Camp so far?

CB: You’re going to think I’m going for low-hanging fruit but it has to be Jalen Milroe. I really thought he was done in T-town after after the Texas A&M turnover-fest.

Josh: Tough to say since Saban controls the flow of information, but all indications are that Amari Niblack has helped himself immensely thus far, despite the presence of transfer CJ Dippre.

Brent: I think the amount of praise I’ve heard about Amari Niblack has been the most surprising. He was essentially a wide receiver in high school, and most of Nick Saban’s track record with those kind of guys at TE has shown him not to trust them until year 3 or 4. If the rumors are legit and his blocking is up to Saban standards AND he can be the dynamic TE in the passing game we’ve yeared for for 16 years now.... Hoo boy.

Erik: Man, it’s hard to not be impressed with Dylan Lonergan. He was the rawest of the Tide’s quarterback signees; he was the last one to sign; he did so after Julian Sayin had already committed...and all he has done is come into Fall Camp as a true Freshman, get some reps with the ones, rotate with the Twos in scrimmages, and press everyone ahead of him. I have a prediction: I don’t think that he will be Alabama’s QB this year, but he and Sayin are going to have a battle for the ages next year — and whoever transfers out, will make us positively sick that you can’t play two guys at the same spot. Whatever it is, he has it: every bit the BDE of Baby Mac Jones back in 2017.

5. Objectively, what do you think is Alabama’s ceiling this year? And what is the worst-case scenario? What is the most realistic outcome?

CB: Ceiling: National Championship. Worst-Case: 7-5, Most realistic: 11-1 with a shot at the playoff

Josh: The ceiling is a national title. While not everyone, or even most, will pick Alabama to win it all, only a fool would say that this team has no chance. The worst case scenario is probably three losses due to terrible QB play. Considering the way the schedule lines up, heading into Atlanta with one loss somewhere along the way is probably what I’d project.

Brent: I mean, it’s Alabama. The ceiling is a National Championship. The Tide has question marks, sure. They lost more production to the NFL and graduation than anyone else in the country. But their last 4 recruiting classes have also been ranked #2, #1, #2, and #1. When you have that level of talent waiting in the wings, you’ll always have a better shot than any to be at the very top. I think worst worst case would be three losses if the QB situation just winds up being a disaster. Most likely, Alabama will go 11-1, likely dropping a game fairly early with QB still unsettled and getting back to the SEC title game.

Erik: Worst case? Go 0-fer the state of Texas, including a crushing home night loss to Sarkisian; drop an egg on the road in the Iron Bowl; struggle to a home loss to LSU for a grisly 8-4. Best case? 11-1 SEC West champions, playoff contender. The talent is there, the headspace may not be. This is a broken record, but Rees has to show me something before I believe in him. I simply don’t, nor has he given my any reason too. And I think his inability to develop quarterbacks is both evident now, and will bite ‘Bama’s butt at some point in the season — assuming that grim playcalling does not. Most likely? 10-2, SEC West runner-up or divisional tie. The defense has the potential to be special. Ditto the running game. But the UT game comes really early in the season; the Aggie road game is always tough, and better teams than this one have lost it before; the Arn Bow is always an exercise in stupidity. And that pre-Iron Bowl trip to Lexington is sneaky-hard. Do not overlook the Wildcats. I think Alabama goes .500 against that slate (but, FWIW, I also think that they do stomp a mudhole in the Vawls on Third Saturday, and embarrass Lane Kiffin in BDS...again).

Up Next Tomorrow: RBR 2023 Alabama Crimson Tide Football Roundtable — Part Two