No. 4 Alabama reloads, strives for bounce-back season and a return to championship form

Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe (4) tries to get past Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders (42) on Oct. 1 in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods, File)

Alabama offensive lineman JC Latham has been feeling disrespected during the offseason.

It’s not as if anybody is truly badmouthing Nick Saban’s always-formidable Crimson Tide, still regarded a potential national championship candidate despite having more question marks than usual. But ‘Bama, which enters the season ranked No. 4, is clearly second fiddle to two-time defending national champion Georgia in the Southeastern Conference these days.


And that, Latham says, is “disrespectful.”

“I love being an underdog,” said Latham, oblivious to the irony of calling Alabama an underdog. “That just fuels me when y’all don’t think you can do something or people kind of downplay somebody. I love the underdog stories.”

Even if Alabama goes undefeated and wins the national title, it won’t be a heart-tugging, underdog story. It would, however, be a nice redemption tale for Saban’s powerhouse, winner of six national championships since 2009.

The Tide, after all, did lose two games last season — both on the final play — to fall short of even the SEC title game. Gone are No. 1 draft pick quarterback Bryce Young and No. 3 pick linebacker Will Anderson, among other stars.

Those voids and last year’s disappointments make for a feeling of unease among some Alabama fans, along with lingering uncertainty at quarterback.

Three contenders are vying to replace Young: Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner, 2022 backup Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson, the highest rated recruit of the trio.

Saban also brought in new offensive and defensive coordinators.

The expectations? Well, they’re the same as always.

But perhaps Saban’s team has a chip on the shoulder instead of a big head generated by a championship run. And that is something he can work with.

“I never look back at the past,” the 71-year-old coach said. “It’s always about the future. Most of the things that I remember about the past are the games we didn’t win, the national championship games that we lost, the games that we lost a year ago on the last play of the game. And how that impacted our chances to have a successful season.”

Replacing Bryce Young

The Tide’s national title hopes could well hinge on a quarterback swiftly taking over the offense.

Alabama has had a few QB battles carry into the season, or close to it. But this time, the Tide seems to have three legitimate candidates. Saban showed a certain dissatisfaction with the situation when he brought in ex-Notre Dame starter Buchner after spring practice.

Milroe started the Texas A&M game last season and Simpson was a five-star prospect.

Saban does feel like a receiving group that was fairly pedestrian last season should be better, including Ja’Corey Brooks, Jermaine Burton and top junior college signee Malik Benson.

New coordinators

Saban brought in defensive coordinator Kevin Steele for his third stint in Tuscaloosa, along with 31-year-old Tommy Rees from Notre Dame. Steele has an intimate knowledge of Saban’s system and has employed similar philosophies in his stints elsewhere. The Rees-Buchner connection from Notre Dame certainly hasn’t hurt either.

Steele replaced Pete Golding, who left for the same job at Mississippi, and takes over a defense led by cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry and linebacker Dallas Turner. Bill O’Brien headed back to the NFL with the New England Patriots.

Another key for Rees: Offensive line play, with three new starters led by Latham at right tackle.


Do-it-all running back Jahmyr Gibbs was picked 12th overall by the Detroit Lions. Jase McClellan has been a capable backup and ran for 655 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Highly touted freshman Justice Haynes joins the deep backfield that also includes Roydell Williams and Jam Miller.

Top newcomers

The nation’s top recruiting class most likely brought in some instant reinforcements. Among the candidates: Safety Caleb Downs, offensive tackle Kadyn Proctor and edge rusher Keon Keeley — all positions of need for Alabama. The speedy Benson was the top-rated JUCO recruit. Keeley is wearing Anderson’s No. 31.


Alabama has five games scheduled against preseason Top 25 teams, including a Sept. 9 visit from No. 11 Texas. The two teams that beat the Tide last season — No. 12 Tennessee (Oct. 21) and No. 5 LSU (Nov. 4) — also visit Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama hosts No. 22 Mississippi on Sept. 23 and visits No. 23 Texas A&M on Oct. 7.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email