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Well, if Alabama’s 13-2 season with a Southeastern Conference title, national championship game appearance and Heisman Trophy was a “rebuilding” year in 2021, according to coach Nick Saban, what was LSU’s?
The Tigers, who were mysteriously picked No. 16 in the 2021 Associated Press preseason poll after a 5-5 campaign in 2020, finished 6-7 with an embarrassing, 42-20 loss to Kansas State in the Texas Bowl last season. So, would that be an “imploding” year? Or a “burial” season?
“I don’t think our standard is like everybody else’s standard,” Saban said Thursday at a news conference following his team’s first day of practice for the 2022 season.
And that was one of the biggest understatements in the history of college football.
Alabama has won six of the last 13 national championships under Saban and reached the championship game and finished second three other times over that span, including last year. Alabama has not had 12 losses in two years like 2019 national champion LSU had over the previous two seasons since losing 13 in 2006 and ’07 – 6-7 under mistake-hire Mike Shula in 2006 and 7-6 in Saban’s first year in 2007.
“But when you have a lot of young players playing, you’re actually trying to rebuild,” Saban said. And Alabama did play a lot of youth last season.
“So those guys get the kind of experience you need, so they can play at the level you need them to play at, so you can play at the standard you want to play to,” he continued.
On the McElroy and Cubelic In the Morning radio show on WJOX in Birmingham, Alabama, on Wednesday, Saban said, “Last year, we had kind of a rebuilding year.”
The first question to Saban on Thursday was for his reaction to the headlines his comments on WJOX created.
“Well, I don’t understand what’s so hard to understand,” he answered. “The point being, we were young. And we should have nine starters back on offense and nine starters back on defense. That’s the point I was trying to make. Six guys went out for the draft. So, as we usually have to do, we have lots of rebuilding to do again this season. So, that’s the point that I was trying to make.”
So, let me get this straight, Alabama will be rebuilding again in 2022? Even with Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young returning for his junior season and his second season as the starter?
Also back will be junior edge rusher Will Anderson Jr., who won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy last year as the nation’s best defensive player and was a consensus All-American and SEC defensive player of the year. Retool may be a better word.
But a closer look at the 2021 Crimson Tide reveals that Saban’s use of “rebuilding” is not far off . He did go 13-0 and won the national title in 2020. Then in 2021, he lost to an average Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC) and struggled to beat bad LSU (6-7, 3-5) and Auburn teams (6-7, 3-5) by 20-14 and 24-22 in overtime, respectively. In Saban’s world, that is a rebuild.
Alabama will be more veteran in key areas this season, but Saban wants the offensive line rebuilt – not so much with personnel as with approach under new coach Eric Wolford, who left that position at Kentucky. He replaced Doug Marrone, who returned to the NFL as the New Orleans Saints’ offensive line coach.
“I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that we need to play better in the offensive line,” Saban said. “I think we need to be more physical up front first of all and get movement on the run. We need to be more consistent. I think having more diversity in the running game would also help. Overall, we just have to have a different mentality up front in terms of the intangibles that we play with – the toughness, the effort. You know, the offensive line is a place where that gets established on your team.”
Alabama finished 10th in the SEC last season in rushing yards per game at 150, which was 75th in the nation. And that was with offensive tackle Evan Neal, who was the seventh pick of the 2022 NFL Draft.
“We need leadership, so that the players actually understand the standard that we need them to play to,” Saban said. “And somebody is going to have to not accept the fact that guys aren’t playing that way.”
Saban sounds like he is taking a shot at Marrone.
“But I like the players that we have,” he said. “I like the attitude that they have played with to this point, and I like the coach that we have now.”
Saban will not have to rebuild his coordinator unit for a change. He returns both offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien and defensive coordinator Pete Golding. This is just the second time that is happening since 2015 at Alabama under Saban.
“I think it’s really good for the players,” he said. “Same play caller. Same signal callers. Same system. Same presentation of that system. We don’t change the system when we change coordinators, but the personality and how that gets presented sometimes is a little different. So, there’s a lot of comfort level. It’s always good to have continuity in a staff.”