Will 2021 be a transition year for Alabama football? If so, could the Tide win another title anyway? | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
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Will 2021 be a transitional year for Alabama football? Or will it be another march through the Southeastern Conference, into the College Football Playoff and another national championship?

The salient question might be “could it be both?”

That seems contradictory but with less than a week to go before A-Day arrives, ending a relatively normal spring practice, the answers might depend on whether your point of view is ground-level or mile-high.

The broad view is that this has to be a transitional season because (a) even Nick Saban admits that modern college football is evolving into a game where a prolific scoring offense is a necessity, and (b) there is simply no way that Alabama can replicate last year’s point production.

The semi-myth that Alabama simply replaces five-star NFL-ready talent with equal or better young players is firmly entrenched in the collective college football consciousness. The true part is that, as much as it rankles Saban to hear it, there is a steady stream of new talent arriving annually.

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Expectations can only go so far, though. The idea that any college program can replace a first-round NFL draft choice at quarterback, a Heisman Trophy finalist at running back, two first-round NFL picks (including a Heisman winner) at wide receiver, most of an offensive line and an offensive coordinator stretches credulity to the breaking point.

Approximating the offensive success of 2020 will begin at quarterback. Saban has talked a great deal about Bryce Young, the sophomore who seems ahead in the competition at the position after the early scrimmaging. (To be fair, Saban has been asked about Young on every Zoom call this spring, so he can hardly avoid talking about him.) On Friday, senior running back Brian Robinson was asked about Young as well and sang a tune straight out of the Saban hymnal.

“Bryce has definitely stepped into (Mac Jones’) shoes,” Robinson said. “He has accepted the fact that, being a quarterback, he has to be one of the most vocal guys on the offensive side of the ball, and he's been doing a great job with that."

With A-Day being the only scheduled public glimpse behind the Alabama football curtain between now and the season opener against Miami, the scrutiny on Young this week will be intense. That’s always the case with quarterbacks, even if A-Day – one practice out of 15 in the spring – is a small sample size in a controlled environment. But it looks like a game, and that’s what matters as you break down the big picture into its constituent parts.

In other words, is Alabama good enough to win every game in a transition year? The return to the 12-game pre-COVID schedule introduces some non-conference games in which the Crimson Tide will be the prohibitive favorite. The neutral-site game returns, against Miami. The four SEC home games seem navigable. LSU will have talent, but who on Earth knows what will be going on in Baton Rouge six months from now? Lane Kiffin and Ole Miss might test the “got to outscore them” theory.

Then there are four road games, each presenting its own issues. Florida will be transitioning as well. Texas A&M feels like this is its turn in the SEC West, but must replace Kellen Mond at quarterback. Auburn is a mystery with a new coach, and it remains to be seen if Gus Malzahn took the Jordan-Hare voodoo and a few of the People of the Shrubbery with him to Orlando.

Assuming Alabama handles all that, there is also an SEC Championship Game, probably against Georgia. Someday, the law of averages will take hold unless the Crimson Tide remains far above average. An A-Day Game may not be the best measuring stick, but there isn’t another one available so assumptions will be made, right or wrong.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or via Twitter @cecilhurt

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