HOOVER, Ala. — The voting won’t be revealed until later this week, but it will take an App State-Michigan type of upset for Alabama to not be named the favorite to win the SEC this season.
The media can be easily distracted, but we aren’t blind to facts. Not only is Nick Saban still the head football coach in Tuscaloosa, but he also returns his starting quarterback and reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year, a group of talented running backs and one of the best receivers in college football.
Couple that with an LSU team in transition, Auburn pinning its hopes on an unproven quarterback and Ole Miss being in the midst of an NCAA investigation, and the path through the SEC West is relatively calm. The East, while marginally improved from last season, doesn’t have a single team to be afraid of.
“Every team in this conference is trying to play catch-up,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of his former employer, Alabama.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said: “There’s nobody out there doing it better.”
But that doesn’t mean Alabama is free of drama. There are a number of questions facing this year’s team, and they’re magnified by championship-or-bust expectations and the pressure of trying to sustain a dynasty that has experienced nary a hiccup during its nearly decade-long run.
Take Jalen Hurts, for instance. He was spectacular as a true freshman, winning the starting job by the time the season opener against USC was over. He accounted for 36 total touchdowns (23 passing, 13 rushing), had single-digit interceptions (nine) and became the first rookie to win SEC Offensive Player of the Year since Herschel Walker rumbled between the hedges at Georgia.
But Hurts’ 14 wins last season were somewhat overshadowed by his lone loss. Late in the season, which culminated in a College Football Playoff National Championship loss to Clemson, he came back to earth, struggling to throw from the pocket. Alabama didn’t win the title and Hurts became a scapegoat (never mind that the defense gave up 35 points to Clemson). By spring, the buzz inexplicably shifted from Hurts to true freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.