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Alabama’s ‘Rebuilding Year’ Ends; Tide Favored To Win It All in 2022

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Well, it looks like Alabama coach Nick Saban will make it to the 2022 season without getting fired despite losing two games in a season for the second time in three years as the Tide fell to Georgia 33-18 in the national title game Monday, finishing 13-2.

Before an 11-2 season in 2019 in which the Tide did not reach the College Football Playoff, Alabama’s previous season of two losses or more was way back in 2014 at 12-2. Saban is also 2-3 in national championship games since 2016.

So, is Nick Saban slipping? He is 70 now.

No.

2021 was a rebuilding year.

Saban did say entering the past season that he had a young team following Alabama’s 52-24 win over Ohio State for the 2020 national title on Jan. 11, 2021. No less than 10 Alabama players were taken in the 2021 NFL Draft, including six in the first round — wide receiver/kick returner Jaylen Waddle, cornerback Patrick Surtain II, Heisman Trophy winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith, quarterback Mac Jones, guard Alex Leatherwood and running back Najee Harris.

Two more went in the second round — guard Landon Dickerson and defensive tackle Christian Barmore.

LSU would have not worn white jerseys at home to have such a “rebuilding” year after so many losses. The Tigers have still not recovered from winning the 2019 national title and having 14 taken in the 2020 draft, including Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Joe Burrow and four others in the first round and two in the second. They’re 11-12 since, amid a disastrously depleted roster.

Against Georgia on Monday night, Alabama started seven underclassmen. The sophomores were quarterback Bryce Young in his first year as the starter, center Seth McLaughlin, guard Javion Cohen, safety Brian Branch and outside linebacker Will Anderson. The freshmen were wide receiver Ja’Corey Brooks and cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry,

After junior top wide receiver Jameson Williams went down in the second quarter with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee, the wide receiver reinforcements included freshman Agiye Hall and sophomore Traeshon Holden.

“We’ve probably had to overcome more adversity and have more resiliency from a competitive standpoint than probably most of the teams we’ve ever had,” Saban said after beating Georgia 41-24 in the SEC title game on Dec. 4. “I’m really proud of them for that.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart had no problem admitting he beat a battered and youthful team on the Tuesday after the national championship game as the Tide was without Williams, wide receiver John Metchie and cornerbacks Jalyn Armour-Davis and Josh Jobe. There were also injuries on the offensive line and to wide receiver/kick returner JoJo Earle throughout the season.

“Really probably one of the best jobs he’s ever done with his team, because they were really young at some positions,” Smart said. He should know. He was a Saban assistant at Alabama form 2007 though 2015.

And most of that team will be back. All the above players return and more. Young won the Heisman Trophy as he was probably the best quarterback in the nation. He finished second in the nation in passing yards at 4,872 and in touchdowns with 47. Anderson was probably the best edge rusher in the nation as he finished No. 1 in sacks with 16.

“These two guys sitting up here, they’re not defined by one game,” Saban said at the podium on Monday when he was seated next to Anderson and Young, “They played great for us all year. They were great competitors, great leaders on this team, and they contributed tremendously to the success of this team. And we would not be here without them.”

And they will bring Alabama back to the next national championship game on Jan. 9, 2023 in SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

The junior starters who may or may not enter the NFL Draft and return are wide receivers John Metchie III and Slade Bolden, tight end Cameron Latu, guard Emil Ekiyor, defensive linemen DJ Dale and Byron Young, linebackers Christian Harris and Henry To’oTo’o, cornerbacks Jalyn Armour-Davis and Khyree Jackson, safeties Jordan Battle and DeMarco Hellams and kicker Will Reichard.

Metchie and Armour-Davis missed the national championship game with injuries.

Junior tight end Jahleel Billingsley, sophomore linebacker Drew Sanders, junior linebacker King Mwikuta, junior offensive lineman Tommy Brown and sophomore wide receiver DJ Rias — all backups — are among the Alabama players to enter the fashionable NCAA transfer portal since Tuesday.

Williams, a junior, is expected to enter the draft as he recovers from the knee injury. So is junior left tackle Evan Neal. The only regular senior starters were tailback Brian Robinson Jr., right tackle Chris Owens, defensive end Phidarian Mathis and cornerback Josh Jobe, who also missed the national title game with an injury.

Now add the No. 3 recruiting class in the nation by Rivals.com with tailbacks Emmanuel Henderson and Jamarion Miller, wide receivers Shazz Preston, Isaiah Bond, Kendrick Law, Aaron Anderson and Kobe Prentice, tight ends Amari Niblack and Elijah Brown, offensive linemen Tyler Booker, Elijah Pritchett and Dayne Shor, defensive linemen Jahiem Oatis, Khurtiss Perry and Isaiah Hastings, linebackers Shawn Murphy and Jihaad Campbell, cornerbacks Earl Little Jr. and Trequon Fegans and safeties Antonio Kite and Jake Pope.

Two significant transfers are LSU cornerback Eli Ricks and Georgia Tech tailback Jahmyr Gibbs.

Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien may leave for the NFL, but Saban will find somebody if that happens. He always does. His ability to keep replacing assistants who leave for head coaching jobs is why Saban has won six national titles at Alabama as much as his recruiting. An inability to hire quality assistants is why Ed Orgeron lost his job less than two years after winning it all. It eventually got his predecessor, Les Miles, as well.

So, it is no wonder that Alabama has been listed as the No. 1 favorite to win the next national championship with 5-2 odds by Ceasars Sportsbook. Georgia is No. 2 at 9-2, followed by Ohio State at 7-1, Clemson at 12-1, Oklahoma and Michigan at 15-1, USC at 20-1 and Notre Dame and Texas A&M at 25-1.

Other SEC programs and their odds of winning the national title in the 2022 season are Florida at 40-1, LSU and Auburn at 75-1, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Kentucky at 125-1, Tennessee and South Carolina at 150-1, Mississippi State at 200-1, Missouri at 500-1 and Vanderbilt at 5000-1.

“You don’t want to feel that way again, especially in a game like this. That’s all I’ve got,” Bolden said after the loss Monday.

“It’s about never losing that tension you’re feeling, remembering how this feels,” To’oTo’o said. “And coming back in the off-season and grinding harder than ever so we don’t feel this again.”

That’s exactly the type of comments that Saban wants to hear entering a new season.

Consider the rebuilding job of 2021 done.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau has been on the LSU beat since 1998 with multiple outlets in Louisiana, prior to that he had covered both Auburn and Alabama. He won first place for his game feature on LSU's upset at Florida last season from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He was also named Beat Writer of Year, by Louisiana Sports Writers Association in July; placed in three Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) categories – Beat Writer, Explanatory, Game Coverage – last spring. Guilbeau was also the FWAA first-place winner for columns in 2017 and was also the top overall winner in 2016 FWAA placing first for his game story, second in columns, and receiving honorable mention for features.

2 Comments

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  1. Sustained success at the highest levels in sports ALWAYS breeds intense resentment and dislike by a large majority of fans of that sport. Nick Saban and Bill Belichick being the consummate examples.
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    The slightest slip from the highest pinnacle of their sport brings knee-jerk predictions of their obvious (?) demise from the great unwashed of fandom. Consistent defying of those predictions is the ultimate proof of their greatness.
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  2. Saban is certainly not slipping but 2021 was hardly a rebuilding a year. Not when you have the best QB and defensive player in the country. Sure Bama had some injury issues but so does every other team. Bam is a great program and Saban is the greatest coach in college football history. Bama has benefitted over the years from a lot of great players returning to play an additional year because they could count on competing for a national championship. We were long overdue for this win and there will be more just like it. Look out Saban Georgia is coming for you and your dynasty.

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