THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. The team should run the ball effectively.
At this point, it's easier to count how many SEC teams shouldn't be running the ball effectively as it is the count those who will. Alabama lost a couple guys up front, but they return some quality with William Vlachos, James Carpenter, and Barrett Jones. If you're that concerned about the losses, the poor Crimson Tide only has guys like five-star D.J. Fluker (6-6. 340) to turn to to fill the holes. You're well acquainted with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson by now, especially since both of them made preseason first team All-SEC at SEC Media Days. An expanded role for Richardson will probably prevent a Heisman repeat for Ingram, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
2. There are plenty of good receiving targets.
When you think of Alabama, you don't generally think of receivers. Running backs? Yes. Linebackers? Yes. Not so much on pass targets, but this year's crew might change some minds. Julio Jones needs no more pixels sacrificed in his honor, though it's worth noting that he should be healthy this year after battling through some injuries last year. Marquis Maze is a dangerous, field-stretching option, while Darius Hanks is an up-and-comer. Losing tight end Colin Peek is like losing Greg McElroy's security blanket, but Ingram and Richardson make up for that a bit by being sure-handed out of the backfield.
3. The talent is there on defense.
We've all heard ad nauseam about the losses on defense, but there's not exactly a dearth of talent there. As a whole, the unit is the only defense in the SEC to average four stars per player. The now-healthy Dont'a Hightower should be able to step into the leadership role that had been staffed by Rolando McClain. Marcell Dareus, once he is cleared of his NCAA issues, will be a monster on the line. Mark Barron is the only one back in the secondary, but he tied for fourth nationally in interceptions last year with seven. Rod Woodson's
getting cut decision to transfer leaves some depth issues at safety, but overall, it's hard to complain too much with the personnel on defense.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
1. Greg McElroy's ceiling.
I'd bet that McElroy is one of the more controversial guys in the conference. Not because of behavior or anything, but because of his play. He finished near the top of the conference in SEC play last year in passing efficiency, but most people think of him more as a game manager than a standout player himself. The way the '09 offense was designed goes a long way towards that, as it was geared towards protecting its first-year starting quarterback. When he was on, he could be brilliant. When he wasn't, he could be flat-out terrible. Which McElroy will start more often? We don't know, but the Tide could do without his October swoon. If Good Greg doesn't go on hiatus, the Tide can dream of big things. If he does, a loss is out there in 2010's tougher schedule.
2. How quickly the new defense will gel.
To a man, Alabama's reloaded defense is probably about as fast, talented, skilled, and all the rest as the defense that dominated in the SEC the last two years. That departed defense was special, but just because similar numbers are being plugged into the same formula, it doesn't mean the end result will be the same. It will take some time for everyone to get used to one another and play as one to the same degree as the old defense did. Sometimes, it takes new defenses no time at all (see '06 Ohio State: nine new starters, 12-1 season). Sometimes, it takes longer. Whatever the process ends up being, it'd be advantageous to get the new drill down by the trip to Fayetteville the last week of September.
3. How good special teams will end up.
Alabama is one of the few teams that lost both of its specialists at the end of the 2009 season. Punter P.J. Fitzgerald was steady, if unspectacular, but his loss is not the big one. Kicker Leigh Tiffin was an All-American who hit 30 of his 35 field goal attempts in 2009. If you doubt how important he was to the team, just imagine if he had missed one of his four attempts versus Tennessee. In the mix to replace him are two freshmen, Cade Foster and Christian Kauffman. They are talented, but not even Tiffin was all that great as a freshman. How much the coaches can trust them will affect game planning and decision making on fourth down in opponents' territory. Replacing Javier Arenas's return magic is only a minor issue, as Jones and Richardson are likely to be the ones shouldering that load.