5. Is Saban a year ahead of himself? - Recent Alabama football history dictates that a head coach's third season at the Capstone will be his breakthrough year. It happened for Gene Stallings, Mike Dubose and Mike Shula. After Saban's unexpected success in year two, many so-called experts claimed that Alabama is one year ahead of schedule (meaning Saban would be entering historical year four). That sounds good on paper, but doesn't bode well for the aforementioned recent Alabama football history.
- Stallings: Year three: 13-0. Year four: 9-3-1* (all wins later vacated by NCAA)
- DuBose: Year three: 10-3. Year four: 3-8.
- Shula: Year three: 10-2. Year four: 6-7.
Will history repeat itself for Saban, or will be break the mold?
4. The 10-game jinx - In the same vein as the year three/year four coaching paradox, Alabama hasn't pulled off back-to-back 10+ win seasons since 1991-1992. Here are the numbers:
- 1992: 13-0 / 1993: 9-3-1
- 1994: 12-1 / 1995: 8-3
- 1996: 10-3 / 1997: 4-7
- 1999: 10-3 / 2000: 3-8
- 2005: 10-2 / 2006: 6-7
- 2008: 12-2 / 2009: ???
So there you go, if history is a guide, 2009 won't be a 10-win campaign.
3. Life after Andre Smith? - In the two games that celebrated left tackle Andre Smith missed last season, Alabama struggled mightily: a 20-6 slugfest with Tulane and an embarrassing Sugar Bowl loss to Utah. Of course, part of the reason Alabama struggled was psychological, as Smith was there, but unavailable to play. Now that he's gone, the team has no choice but to find his successor. Tyler Love? James Carpenter? D.J Fluker? Whoever it is must fill some pretty big shoes, or the Alabama offense could be stuck in neutral.
2. The rise of the SEC West - Did Alabama win the West last season because they were good, or because the rest of the division was down? The answer is both. Regime change hung menacingly over both Auburn and Mississippi State, while Ole Miss and Arkansas needed time to adjust to new coaches Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino, respectively. And all the while, LSU was struggling to find a serviceable quarterback. This season figures to see each of Alabama's five SEC West counterparts in better shape than last season. The question is, has Alabama improved enough to meet their challenge?
1. An inexperienced quarterback - Want to know how difficult it is to replace a veteran SEC quarterback? Ask Auburn and LSU. In 2007, the Auburn Tigers, led by Brandon Cox, finished 9-4 with a win in the Peach Bowl. In 2008, despite having a back-up with some game experience, the Tigers finished 5-7, having never definatively settled on a signal caller. LSU, which entered last season as the defending national champions, finished with an 8-5 record in large part because Andrew Hatch and Jarrett Lee couldn't step up in Matt Flynn's absence. Only the late season emergence of Jordan Jefferson saved the Tigers' season from being a complete bust. Can Alabama adjust to the loss of John Parker Wilson in time for it's high-profile opener with Virginia Tech in 136 days? The odds are against it.