Head Coach: Nick Saban (14-1, 232-63-1 overall)
2018 Record: 14-1
Returning Starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
I already know what you’re thinking.
Why the hell are we previewing this game?
The Tennessee Volunteers have lost the past two matchups to the Alabama Crimson Tide by a combined score of 103-28. Even worse, Tennessee has lost the last 12 consecutive matchups on the Third Saturday of October.
But nevertheless, it’s a new dawn, and with a new dawn comes new hope. Whether or not that hope is sustained is a different story, but this is the game of football and this is a game for men, not boys. And these men can rise above any and all circumstances if the correct effort is given.
Wow. That escalated quickly. Sorry. On to the preview:
Coaching: Really? I mean, really?
A 232-63-1 overall record with six national championships speaks for itself.
But it’s not like Saban can do it all on his own. I mean, he probably could, but everyone needs help at some point.
Steve Sarkisian has re-entered the fold as offensive coordinator, joining the Crimson Tide after a two-year stint with the Atlanta Falcons. He will also handle quarterback coaching duties.
Sarkisian was the offensive coordinator when the Tide reached the 2017 College Football Championship. He’s also been the head coach of two Division I football programs in the University of Southern California (2014-2015) and the Washington Huskies (2009-2013).
On the defensive side of the ball, Pete Golding will try his turn at defensive coordinator in 2019. He will also coach the inside linebackers, making it the second year in a row doing so. Golding takes over for the departed Tosh Lupoi, who is now the defensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns.
Golding was the co-defensive coordinator last year, so there is plenty of familiarity with how the position is ran in Alabama. And don’t forget: not much will change under Saban’s ever-watchful eye.
Jeff Banks enters his second year as special teams coordinator and is looking to improve upon a very successful 2018 season. Banks’ punt return defense unit ranked fifth nationally and freshman Jaylen Waddle finished second in the SEC in punt return average (14.6 ypr).
Offense: The starting quarterback position is beyond settled with Tua Tagovailoa entering his junior year.
But behind him should get interesting as the season goes on. Mac Jones and Tualia Tagovailoa - Tua’s little brother - will duke it out for the backup spot. Jones was very solid in Alabama’s A-Day Game, but don’t count out the younger Tagovailoa.
Najee Harris leads the way at running back with plenty of options behind him. As always, the Tide has a seemingly unlimited supply of backs that can fill in at any moment and not miss a beat.
Brian Robinson is one of those guys. He didn’t get much playing time last season, but could easily become a breakout player this year.
Alabama RB Brian Robinson is as shifty as they come. Footwork is gorgeous. Processing and vision are great too. Keep an eye on him as he gets a bigger role this year. pic.twitter.com/6PJNih8bMe— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) July 9, 2019
In case you didn’t know, Alabama is loaded at wide receiver this year.
Jerry Jeudy is an absolute freak. He is everything you want in a number one receiver and his counterparts, Henry Ruggs III, and DeVonta Smith are primo players as well.
Throw in the aforementioned Waddle and you have an elite group at the position. Those four receivers caught 201 of the Tide’s 301 completed passes in 2018, so I’d say Bama’s receiving corps is clearly defined.
The tight end position and the offensive line will be an interesting evaluation this year. Both areas lost multiple contributors who garnered a lot of playing time over the years. Gone is tight end Irv Smith Jr. and Jonah Williams, just to name a few.
But just like the running back position, Alabama always finds a way to replace those who leave the program. Cameron Latu is a name to watch at the tight end position. He may find his way into a contributing role thanks to Kendrick James’ four-game suspension for a NCAA rules violation.
Alabama is dealing with another suspension, but this time it’s in the shape of offensive lineman Deonte Brown. Brown’s absence is a big deal considering the Tide lost two starters (Jonah Williams and Ross Pierschbacher) from the 2018 unit. Despite the transition, there is still plenty of depth to keep the offensive line at the top of the list this year.
Defense: There will be plenty of new names called in 2019 after the departure of several key players on defense.
Gone are Deionte Thompson, Quinnen Williams, Isaiah Buggs, Savion Smith, and Christian Miller. The key part about all of those names that were listed is the fact that there are now holes to fill on three levels of the defense.
Williams was arguably the best defensive lineman in the country and it will take a group effort to replace him. Raekwon Davis returns, but will need Phidarian Mathis, Antonio Alfano, and LaBryan Ray to pitch in.
DJ Dale, a true freshman, is a defensive lineman that really turned the heat up during the spring and was actually starting at nose tackle by the end of spring for the White team. Make sure to keep an eye on him.
The linebacker corps is practically in the same position. Terrell Lewis’ return is a highly anticipated one that should help anchor the position as long he has fully recovered from his season-ending ACL injury.
Mack Wilson’s early departure paves the way for players like Joshua McMillon, Ale Kaho, Jaylen Moody, and others to make a name for themselves. It would pay major dividends on defense if any of them step up and help out Dylan Moses on the inside.
The secondary will be manned by sophomore Patrick Surtain II, Trevon Diggs, and Shyeim Carter. Those three will be more than effective, with Sutain II and Diggs as the starting corners and Carter manning the STAR position.
Carter has been out due to a sports hernia injury, but should be good to go by camp. Xavier McKinney is back at safety but Thompson’s absence is a bit of a concern with Jared Mayden taken over.
There will be some depth concerns early on at certain positions on defense, but as long as the youngsters step up as expected, the Bama defense will be in good shape.
Special Teams: As mentioned earlier, this was one of the better units in the country last season.
Waddle is back returning punts, plackicker Jospeh Bulovas (14-of-18 in 2018) is back kicking field goals, Mike Bernier is punting the ball, and Banks is back as coordinator.
All that’s missing is Josh Jacobs returning kicks and this unit would be fully-intact for another round, but something tells me Banks will find a suitable replacement for Jacobs.