SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Alabama Crimson Tide

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Mike Shula (1st year)
2002 record: 10-3
SEC finish: 1st (West) *not eligible for postseason play
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 213.2 ypg
(2nd in SEC, 18th in nation)
Pass: 190.2 ypg (7th, 77th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 80.2 ypg (1st, 4th)
Pass: 177.2 ypg (5th, 17th)
Projected Starters
Offense (6 returning starters in bold)
WR   84   Triandos Luke   Sr.  
WR  80  Zach Fletcher  Sr. 
LT   70   Wesley Britt   Jr.  
LG   78   Justin Smiley   Jr.  
74  J.B. Closner  So. 
RG  73  Dennis Alexander  Sr. 
RT   51   Evan Mathis   Jr.  
TE  88  Clint Johnston  So. 
QB  12  Brodie Croyle  So. 
FB   31   Greg McLain   So.  
TB   21   Shaud Williams   Sr.  
Defense (7)
DE   90   N. McKay-Loescher   Sr.  
DT  95  Ahmad Childress  Sr. 
NT  97  Anthony Bryant  Sr. 
DE   98   Antwan Odom   Jr.  
WLB   18   Brooks Daniels   Sr.  
MLB   8   Freddie Roach   So.  
SLB   16   Cornelius Wortham   Sr.  
CB   26   Charlie Peprah   So.  
CB  Anthony Madison  Jr. 
FS   20   Charles Jones   Sr.  
SS  41  Roman Harper  So. 
Special Teams
43  Kyle Robinson  Sr. 
13  Bo Freeland  Fr. 
KR  27  Ray Hudson  Jr. 
PR  21  Shaud Williams  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  #South Florida 
Sept. 6  Oklahoma 
Sept. 13  Kentucky 
Sept. 20  Northern Illinois 
Sept. 27  Arkansas 
Oct. 4  at Georgia 
Oct. 11  Southern Miss 
Oct. 18  at Ole Miss 
Oct. 25  Tennessee 
Nov. 8  at Mississippi State 
Nov. 15  LSU 
Nov. 22  at Auburn 
Nov. 29  at Hawaii 
   #Birmingham, Ala. 
College football fans old enough to remember Bear Bryant know there was a time when Alabama football inspired not only fear and awe, but also the highest esteem -- from friend and foe alike. With Dennis Franchione staying for a cup of coffee and blowing town, and then the Mike Price debacle, 'Bama athletic director Mal Moore knew what he had to do to restore respect to his football program -- bring the head coach's position back in the family. Outsiders just haven't worked out.

Enter Mike Shula.

The 37-year-old Shula is an Alabama graduate whose father, Don, is in the NFL Hall of Fame. The younger Shula lettered four years and started for three seasons at quarterback for the Crimson Tide in the mid-1980s. He entered school to modest expectations and wound up All-SEC. He didn't play for Bear Bryant, but his coach at Alabama -- Ray Perkins -- did. And that's close enough.

Shula has spent his entire career as an offensive assistant in the NFL. During his four years as offensive coordinator with Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers qualified for the playoffs twice and made it to the NFC championship game in 1999. And they did it with a two-back offense. Some of the fullbacks who switched positions during the Price interlude probably will return to fullback.

Shula never has been a head coach on any level, and the crippling effects of scholarship deprivation due to NCAA sanctions are right around the corner. Given the probability of a precipitous descent into the lower echelon of the league standings until the latter years of this decade, the timing might be right to bring in a young trainee with the loyalty of an alum who's in it for the long haul.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Alabama fans are eager to see how quarterback Brodie Croyle responds to a third different offensive philosophy in two years. Croyle showed signs of big things as a redshirt freshman in Franchione's ground-'em-out attack last season, then picked up Price's pass-happy spread offense quickly during spring practice. Now he will be piloting Shula's offense that, judging from his time as an offensive coordinator in the pros, should offer a balance between those two extremes.

Croyle is just the start of a solid offense. Juniors Justin Smiley, Wesley Britt and Evan Mathis return for their third year as starters on the offensive line. Shifty Shaud Williams leads a running back contingent that includes speedy Ray Hudson and dependable Kenneth Darby . Greg McLain, who switched to tight end for Price, should be a fullback again.

The group of receivers wasn't quite as deep as Price had hoped, but Shula's more conventional attack generally employs two wide receivers, and seniors Triandos Luke, Dre Fulgham and Zach Fletcher should more than suffice. The return of Antonio Carter from a lingering leg injury would be a big boost.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

The heart and soul of the Alabama defense left with the graduation of linemen Jarrett Johnson, Kindal Moorehead and Kenny King.

Fortunately for Shula, there are few other holes to fill on that side of the ball. The linebacker corps returns intact, and the group is very good. Brooks Daniels is on pace to become the all-time tackle leader in Alabama history, Cornelius Wortham is an under-appreciated complement at the other outside linebacker and the tag-team duo of Freddie Roach and Derrick Pope at middle linebacker is superb.

Defensive end Antwan Odom has All-America ability, and the defensive tackle combo of Ahmad Childress and Anthony Bryant is tough to move, provided they show up in shape. A concern is at the other defensive end, where projected starter Nautyn McKay-Loescher must receive clearance from the NCAA to return after illness forced him to drop out of school in the spring.

Free safety Charles Jones is poised for another big year, and the experienced cornerback pair of Charlie Peprah and Anthony Madison need to play like veterans. Sophomore strong safety Roman Harper won a job in the spring by making plays all over the field.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Placekicking duties will be handled by either Brian Bostick or Kyle Robinson, who combined to make 12-of-18 field goals last season. Robinson ended 2002 as the starter, but neither distinguished himself as the leader in the spring. The punter will either be Bo Freeland or Jeff Aul. Neither has punted in a college game.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

Shula spent his entire career as an offensive assistant in the NFL before returning this May to his alma mater. He never has been a head coach before. His players' resiliency will be tested as they adapt to a third offensive style of attack since this time last year. This could be their last hurrah before scholarship deprivation resulting from NCAA sanctions sets in.

Croyle must stay healthy, which means an experienced offensive line must protect him. Alabama also must develop depth on defense, especially up front. This is a solid team with few weaknesses, but it might be too much to expect to have the best record in the SEC West for the second consecutive season.

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