TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Reeling from a loss that ended Alabama's national championship hopes during the 2008 season, the Crimson Tide followed up with a shaky Sugar Bowl performance.
After losses to Florida and Utah, respectively, the Tide rebounded with three national championships and 49 wins over four years. The challenge now is to do it again after a similar end-of-season fade — a last-play loss to Auburn and a beating from Oklahoma in New Orleans.
"The time is now to resurrect the identity of the Alabama football program," coach Nick Saban said.
It might be more of a reboot than a resurrection, but the ending did cast a pall on a season that seemed pointed toward a shot at a third straight national title.
There's little question Alabama remains talented enough to again contend for at least a Southeastern Conference title, even minus stars like quarterback AJ McCarron and linebacker C.J. Mosley.
The T.J. Yeldon-led backfield is loaded. Amari Cooper headlines a deep, talented group of receivers. The defense has preseason first-team All-SEC picks in safety Landon Collins, linebacker Trey DePriest and defensive end A'Shawn Robinson.
And the latest No. 1 recruiting class is in place to lend a hand. The newcomers include the leading contender to be the starting quarterback, Florida State transfer Jacob Coker.
"We're ready to get back out there and prove to the NCAA that we can be one of the top-notch teams," safety Landon Collins said.
5 things to watch in Alabama's season:
QUARTERBACK PLAY: Three-year starter McCarron left with many of Alabama's passing records, awards and two national titles as starter. His replacement will either be Coker or McCarron's backup Blake Sims. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Coker is more in McCarron's mold, even coming from the same Mobile high school and saw action in 11 games for the Seminoles over the past two years. The 6-foot, 208-pound Sims is athletic enough that he was moved to running back as a redshirt freshman. He spent time with a quarterbacks coach during spring and summer break trying to improve his passing technique.
LANE CHANGES: Lane Kiffin made his name as an offensive whiz as a Southern California assistant. Fired last year as USC's head coach, now he's Saban's fourth offensive coordinator in eight seasons. The core philosophy should remain the same. "We're going to run the ball effectively and we're going to start off with great play-action passes just like we always have," tight end Brian Vogler said. "It's our style."
3 BACKS, 1 BALL: T.J. Yeldon is the first Alabama running back to start his career with two straight 1,000-yard seasons, while Derrick Henry dazzled in the Sugar Bowl and Kenyan Drake averaged 7.5 yards on 92 carries last season. Even for Alabama, this backfield is imposing, but it remains to be seen how the carries will be divvied.
SECONDARY: Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is back in charge of a secondary group that built experience even as it was up and down with youth and injuries last season. Landon Collins was a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist while Jarrick Williams is back at the other safety spot. Cyrus Jones, a converted receiver, is likely to start at one cornerback position while the other is up for grabs. Freshman Tony Brown participated in spring practice and is almost certain to be in the rotation, possibly as a starter. Ditto for fellow five-star prospect Marlon Humphrey. Eddie Jackson is recovering from spring knee surgery.
ATTITUDE: Players including McCarron have said a sense of entitlement crept into the locker room last season. If that shortcoming was evident, it was in the Sugar Bowl. Three defenders, including starting nose guard Brandon Ivory, opened camp on suspension. Drake and junior college transfer Jarran Reed were arrested over the summer. Saban said the coaches like this team, but ultimately the outcome may boil down to one question: "What's their mind-set?"
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