After a loss to the Texas Longhorns, Alabama is now facing a question that is alien feeling to Crimson Tide fans: Is the Tide even a National Championship-level team? Only once under Nick Saban has Alabama lost early in the season, against Ole Miss in 2015.
And while a lot of fans are drawing parallels to that team (and the subsequent declarations of “The dynasty is dead”), there is a major difference: that loss to Ole Miss was one of the flukiest games ever witnessed, with multiple turnovers on kick returns, a QB with the flu, a barely legal forward pass that got ineligible man downfield rules changed, and a fumble-helmet-bounce-pass-touchdown. The loss this year to Texas, though? It was a more old-fashioned loss. The Tide just got beat on every section of the box score and wilted in the 4th quarter.
Is the Tide still a top-4 team in country that took a loss to another great team (it happens)? Or is it a continuation of the failings from last season, with Nick Saban looking at multi-loss seasons back-to-back for the first time in his tenure at Alabama? With that question in mind, I tried to visualize what would it would look like if either scenario happened:
Best Case Scenario
Hey, it’s sports. We all enjoy sports as a distraction from everyday life, and things are more enjoyable when you imagine everything will be awesome in the future. And, for Alabama, awesome is more achievable than most teams. Here’s what that looks like:
After an offseason of wanting to reestablish a tough mentality, Alabama got a good lesson in Week 2 in the difference in wanting something and what they actually need to do to get it. The good news is, they learned that lesson, and apply it in Week 4 vs Ole Miss. The offensive line shows a lot of improvement, especially as true freshman left tackle Kadyn Proctor gets more used to the speed of the college game. The Tide rushes for over 200 yards and the passing game hits a few plays here and there to keep things moving.
Meanwhile, Alabama’s defense focuses on sustaining their efforts of the first three quarters of the Texas game to applying to ALL four quarters. The pass rush still isn’t quite there against Lane Kiffin’s misdirections, but the secondary keeps things in front of them and the linebackers are just absolutely brutal. It’s a solid win over a team that many have been worried about the last few years.
After that, do any of Mississippi State, Texas A&M, or Arkansas actually scare you? Sure, Alabama lost to Texas, but the Longhorns look to legitimately be one of the best in the country. Meanwhile.... Aggie? They’re as dysfunctional as they are talented.
Alabama uses this time to sort out the passing game and continue to build on a strong running game and defense. Is it with Jalen Milroe, or another QB? I don’t know. Don’t really care, either. If the offensive line improves (again, it will with Proctor getting more experience), it makes things good enough that whoever the QB is can keep the ball moving.
The edge rushers start to show some more teeth in this stretch, possibly due to a younger player stepping up in rotation and showing out (Keon Keeley, maybe?)
There’s then a two-game stretch that likely defines the season: Tennessee and LSU. The Tide lost to both last year, and, I’m going to be honest, I think they blow out the Vols in 2023. For all of Alabama’s warts last year, that was still a loss that took monumental stupid bad luck in multiple aspects for the Tide to lose the game, and now Tennessee lost their QB and the WR that did all of the damage.
And it was a schematic thing that gave Saban’s defense fits last year, and if there’s one thing about Nick Saban, he rarely loses to a new offensive scheme twice.
LSU? As long as the team doesn’t have a meltdown again like they did in Baton Rouge, what are we really worried about here? Jayden Daniels is a weaker runner and equal passer to Jalen Milroe, and the Brian Kelly offense is just... eh.
Kentucky could be a tough trap game afterwards, so even in this scenario, we’ll say this is an ugly clunker of a game after such a strong hot streak for the Tide. Finally, Alabama will have to survive in Jordan-Haire while Auburn is still riding their patented first-year coach high. It’ll be tough, but by this point, the team knows who it is. There are still some weaknesses: QB play can be limited and the pass rush is inconsistent, but the coaches have learned to work around that by focusing on the more dominant parts of the team. This allows the Tide to maintain composure and focus better in hostile stadiums.
Plus, let’s face it, Saban spent 2015-2019 trying to figure out how to shut down the Hugh Freeze offense. He’s not just waltzing up in here with his 2015 playbook and doing much of anything useful.
At this point, Alabama locks up the West, and who wins the East? Are we even sure it’s Georgia? The Bulldogs haven’t really looked to have a competent offense against even the cupcakes. But no one else from the East steps up, so UGA shows up thinking they can win without any semblance of an offense. It’s a lower scoring affair, but Alabama pulls away near the end.
At that point, it’s all playoffs and who knows what happens. Probably a rematch with Texas, to be honest, and MAN, wouldn’t that be completing a circle of destiny. We all know what happens in post-season championship rematches at this point, and I’ll take it.
Worst Case scenario
Ok, the fun section is behind us, and now we have to flip the coin and have the creepy jack in the box jump out at us.
Alabama cruises through USF this weekend and Tide fans relax a little, as things seem to look better. Unfortunately, Lane Kiffin, after a few years of giving us some close calls, finally pulls off his ultimate dream to beat Saban. The defense plays well the first two drives, but QB play is back to same disaster we saw against Texas and the Rebels get up to a 2-score lead by halftime. Saban makes the QB change to Tyler Buchner, and it definitely makes the offense different. They march down the field and score twice, with Alabama fans going nuts as the Tide ties things up. After a few stalled drives back and forth, Ole Miss takes a 3 point lead and Alabama gets the ball with 6 minutes or so in 4th quarter. Buchner gets some pressure on first down and throws a horrendous pick-6, sealing the game, even though he does get one more scoring TD to get it to a 3-point loss.
At this point, it’s clear that Milroe was holding the offense back some, but Buchner brings so much of a wildcard to the position that we just don’t know what will happen. Alabama demolishes Mississippi State before having a weird one against the Aggies. The offense bogs down in this one, but the Alabama special teams saves the day with 2 touchdowns.
Arkansas? Another demolition, and the Tide is sitting at 5-2. There’s clearly a lot of warts: the OL is leaky, pass rush non-existent, and the right cornerback just can’t seem to get it together (which, honestly, has been a problem in like 75% of Saban’s teams since 2012 anyway). Buchner is a bit wild with the ball, but the offense is definitely more exciting, the run game is in a bit of a groove, Malik Benson looks like a 1st round receiver, the linebackers are playing hard and fast, and Caleb Downs is adjusting to the point of locking down the entire deep center of the field.
Problem is, Tennessee knew how to attack one weak link in the secondary, and they do it again this year. It’s another shootout, like last year, and another loss for the Tide. Just utter disaster to lose to the hill critters twice in row.
LSU comes around, and they’re pretty beat up at this point in the season. The Tide lays a whooping on them, holding the Tigers to 10 points, but Buchner is injured while trying to scramble THROUGH a linebacker for a first down and Milroe comes back to take over late in the 3rd quarter. He scores a TD, runs a few times to convert the chains, and then the game’s over with an easy win.
It turns out to be a season-ending shoulder injury for Buchner. Alabama survives a low-scoring game vs Kentucky before rolling into the season finale against Auburn.
And, just like the Ole Miss game, the Tide falls to a 10-point deficit in the 1st quarter as they go three-and-out twice to open the game and the Tigers have one good punt return to give them a short field.
Saban tries one more time to channel the QB swap magic, and this time, Ty Simpson gets the nod. It goes very poorly. Simpson throws a few nervous incomplete balls on easy passes, get’s one first down on a slant, then spins the wrong direction into a sack and a fumbles for a scoop and score. 17-0 Barn. The following drive sees Benson take a screen pass 60-yards, but the drive stalls and we go to halftime losing 17-3.
Did I say only one more QB change? Nope. We’re desperate now. Dylan Lonergan, step up. The freshman comes out the second half firing, and drives right down the field to get Alabama’s first touchdown. Fans are going absolutely bananas, and the Tide defense forces a three and out. Lonergan again drives down the field looking like an utter superstar, and, while it’s only a match between an an 8-3 team and a 6-5 team, it feels like the 2017 National Championship with Tua Tagovailoa all over again. Alabama ties things up at 17-17 with about 10 minutes left in the 4th, and this time, the Tide offense manages a field goal to take the lead.
Unfortunately, Auburn completes a deep bomb to take the lead back, and Lonergan get’s one more drive to get the game winner. It goes really, really well, up until Seth McLaughlin snaps a dirt slider at Auburn’s 10 yard line about 10 yards behind the QB. Auburn recovers. Ball game.
Alabama gets some random consolation bowl game, and obliterates some poor, overmatched foe with Lonergan at QB. There’s now some hope for the future after this season was squandered on a poorly managed QB battle, but that’s just how things go for teams in the middle tier trying to get up into the upper tier next year.
What will happen?
Honestly, I have no idea. I was pretty down on the team immediately following the loss, but my spirits have rebounded a bit after hearing Saban’s Wednesday press conference. Plus, I think Texas is just a good bit better than the rest of the schedule, and Alabama was always going to have some early season issues with such a young team of so many fresh new starters.
What are your thoughts?
What is Alabama’s more likely final season outcome?
This poll is closed
12-1, SEC Championship, Playoff appearance (and maybe a Natty)
Sorry, no hedging. Pick one or the other.