15 December 2008
I've been called out by one of our readers, so I guess that means I'll have to find time to do this today. I was going to let it sit for another day to try and build some suspense - is there really anyone out there who can't guess these final four? But HiFiGuy1, this one is just for you...
We're up to the #3 and #4 newcomers for the 2008 season. These last four guys should be obvious to anyone who watched the Tide play. While the previous six guys in this countdown all made contributions to the Tide's success this year, these last four were a major part of the battle.
#4 Dont'a Hightower
There were games where, quite honestly, Dont'a seemed a bit lost. And there is an argument to be made that had Prince Hall not started the season on suspension that Dont'a might not have started at the will linebacker. But that argument would, again quite honestly, be foolish. Prince Hall was eligible for the final eight games of the season, and Dont'a continued to start in every one of them.
In all Dont'a started 12 of the Tide's 13 games, only missing a start against Western Kentucky because the Tide opened in the dime defensive package. Normally I'd be able to go back into the history books a while to try and figure out the last time that happened, but his running mate in the middle Rolando McClain pulled the trick last season - ironically enough, also boosted by a Prince Hall suspension.
Similar to Rolando, Dont'a had a huge game against one of the Tide's most fierce rivals. While McClain's came against Auburn in 2007, Dont'a lit up the LSU Tigers for 11 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss. His numbers in the Tide's final few games were not as huge, but he appeared to increase his understaing of the scheme in the Tide's final few weeks. I was worried sick that Florida would really pick on him, but he held his own against the Gators, and is looking to possibly make the same kind of huge jump between season one and two that McClain made.
That's a lot to put on a guy, as McClain has become one of the nation's best at his position, but Dont'a has the advantage of playig alonside an elite linebacker, and that should only help him. Having a brief time off before heading back into two solid weeks of bowl preparation can be a huge thing for a guy who is still learning, and I expect that we'll see him have a huge game in New Orleans.
Normally you'd see a guy who started this much get the nod over the next guy, but a singular accomplishment by our next newcomer gives him the slight edge.
#3 Mark Ingram
Simply put, Mark led the Alabama team in touchdowns. Technically speaking John Parker Wilson's nine passing and five rushing were tops, but Mark actually crossed the goal line with the ball in his hands more times than anyone else that donned a Crimson or White jersey for the Tide. Let that sit in for a moment.
A true freshman finished second (to Leigh Tiffin) on the team in points scored. His 12 rushing touchdowns set the Alabama record for TDs by a freshman, and ranks as the ninth best total in school history. The majority of those TDs were short ones, but that is much more of a testament to Mark's running style than it is to situational luck.
It's rare for a freshman running back to make this huge of a contribution, but it is even more rare for it to come the way that it did. Mark's emergence not only sent 2007's leading rusher - ironically redshirt freshman Terry Grant - spiraling down the depth chart, but it went a long way towards helping Alabama set it's season long identity.
It was clear from the season opener against Clemson that Alabama would be a team that would attempt to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The end result of that night would not only be a 34-10 whipping, but a complete domination on the ground, where Alabama held an astonishing 239-0 edge in yards gained on the ground.
Guess who the leading rusher was that night? The University doesn't keep track of such things, but a check of the memory banks tells me that it is very likely that the last time a true
freshman led the Tide in rushing in the season opener was very likely 1985, when either Gene Jelks or Bobby Humphrey likely turned the trick. Regardless of whether or not that is correct, Mark's 96 yard effort helped to set the tone for the season.
The most amazing thing about his performance that night, and the entire 2008 season, is that so many of his yards came on hard runs between the tackles. It typically takes true freshman a season or two to reach the physical maturity to withstanding that type of beating for a full season, but Mark was Bama's short yardage guy from the first game forward.
He led the Tide in rushing three times on the season, including a season high 113 yards and two touchdown night against Arkansas State. For the season he ended up with 702 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, along with six receptions for 46 yards.
Up next will be the top two... and if you can't guess who they are, then you simply didn't pay attention this season.
#5 Marquis Maze & #6 Josh Chapman
#7 Courtney Upshaw & #8 Brad Smelley
#9 Mark Barron & #10 Marcel Dareus