02 September 2011
Well... almost. It's just over 12 hours until the 2011 season finally begins. I know that folks say it every year, but I think for most Alabama fans, this offseason was the longest one ever.
The let down against Auburn... the demolition of Michigan state... Auburn winning the national title. If it was just those three things, we would all be ready to run through a wall to get this football season started. Needless to say, those three things are all but a blip on the radar screen.
How many times can a team say that the death of a teammate is not the top story of the offseason? With all due respect to Aaron Douglas, his tragic death is not what will get the most headlines tomorrow. There will be a pregame moment of silence in his honor, a some very knowledgeable fans will likely talk about him during their tailgate party. I am not making light of things, either. There are several guys on this team, most notably Barrett Jones, who were very close to Aaron, and those guys will play with on their mind throughout the rest of the season... and probably throughout the rest of their football careers.
If you haven't been back to Tuscaloosa since April 27th, though, you will likely have most of your pregame talk centering on the way that Tuscaloosa looks. Especially if you get to the stadium by driving down either University Boulevard through Alberta City or down 15th street away from McFarland Boulevard. Those are two of the areas with the heaviest damage, especially Alberta (Holt is by far the worst). You won't see that much damage at this point, as the city has cleaned a lof it up by now. What you will see is what you no longer can see. If you aren't very familiar with what those areas looked like prior to the storm, you might just think that there are a lot of empty lots in Tuscaloosa. If you are familiar with the areas, though, you will notice that you there are very few landmarks remaining, and it's sometimes difficult to tell exactly where you are.
A lot of the pregame ceremonies on the field will deal with the storm and its aftermath, and hopefully some time will be dedicated to the Kent State players who made the trip to Tuscaloosa in July to help. The emotion is likely to be thick in the stadium, and will likely last throughout a great deal of the game; if not a large portion of the season.
At some point, though, the season will once again become about blocking and tackling. And fortunately for Alabama fans, this year's football team is damn good those things. This year's football team is good, folks. The #2 preseason ranking is well earned, and this team is likely to be in title contention all season. I have said it before, but it bears repeating... there is a difference between winning each game during a season and winning every game in a season. This Tide team is very capable of winning each game. Winning every game is about more than just talent. Motivation, drive, and focus are all major parts of that. So is luck, to be honest.
So while I'm not prepared to tell you to book your hotels in New Orleans, I am comfortable in saying that this team is one of probably half of a dozen teams in the nation that are realistic possibilities to play in the game. The SEC is once again loaded, and the west is especially good. Making it through that gauntlet will be a tough task, but the schedule does line up far more favorably than it did a year ago. If Bama is still sitting undefeated when the team returns home from Gainesville, then it might be time to start calling your favorite Crescent City hotel.
For the first time in a long time, we're sitting on the eve of an Alabama football game and we have no clue who the starting quarterback will be. Even during the Andrew Zow vs. Tyler Watts era, there was usually an indication given by the staff at some point during the week as to who the starter would be. That's not so in 2011. There has been no real indication given as to whether we'll see A.J. McCarron or Phillip Sims get the start against Kent State. Coach Saban did indicate that each guy will get three consecutive series to open the game before the staff starts to rotate them.
Two weeks ago I said that if the season had begun that day that I thought that Phillip Sims would be the starter. I also said that two weeks was a long time and that A.J. McCarron still had time to win those first snaps. At this point I am guessing that McCarron has done just that, and he will get the first snap of the season. Though to be honest with you, that's just a guess.
Either way, both guys will play against Kent State... along with 70 or so of their teammates. We probably won't really know much more about the team on Saturday night than we did prior to the game. The good news is that Penn State won't either.
Look for Bama to roll big and coast to a victory. Also look for their to be a lot of tears and a lot hugs in and around the stadium. It should be a pretty special day in Tuscaloosa. And while the specifics of the game won't have much to do with it, the fact that football has returned certainly will.
2011 should be a lot of fun. Roll Tide!
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