And with that, we're off with this week's version of the C&W Roundtable. The third edition comes courtesy of Picture Me Rollin. As always, I'm answering these questions for fun, despite the fact that I'm not a 'Bama blogger. Just saying.
1. Other than the contest against Little Brother, what do you think is a “must-win” for Alabama this season?
Here's what makes that question so hard to answer: at Alabama, every game is a must-win. At this time last year, we were all sitting around wondering if Week 2 at Vandy was a must-win. Of COURSE it is! There's a story one of the bloggers -- and I can't remember which one -- told about going to a random Kentucky basketball game like last year, and wearing an Alabama hat (without really thinking about the implications). And what happened to him? More than one UK fan took the opportunity to heckle him ... about Kentucky's overtime win over 'Bama in 1997. The point, simply, is that every game is must-win in Tuscaloosa. It's the best and worst part about the job.
As for this season, let's go with Mississippi State. I recall being a freshman in 1999, and people wondering if Alabama was ready to get over the hump -- specifically, could they beat Tennessee (a four-year losing streak then). And Mike DuBose, in a rare moment of prescience, pointed out that 'Bama hadn't beaten Mississippi State or Arkansas since '96. You have to walk before you can run.
Well, the Tide is back here -- losing to Mississippi State, whether Bulldog fans like it or not, simply isn't acceptable for a team playing at a championship level.
2. Every year there seems to be a player that no one is really talking about pre-season that garners accolades by the end of the year. Who will that be for Alabama this year?
Does John Parker qualify here? Pretty much everyone is discussing him, but as a liability more than anything else -- most fans are basically crossing their fingers that he doesn't screw up the season, instead of hoping he'll actually win the game.
There's a historical precedent here: Jason Campbell at Auburn. Going into his senior season (2004), most Auburn fans saw Campbell as a liability, after Hugh Nall's "everybody get open" offense pretty much destroyed his confidence. So he got an actual OC (Al Borges), played the season of his life and wound up a first-round NFL draft pick.
JPW doesn't possess the raw ability of Campbell (not even close), but the fans' attitude towards him is eerily reminiscent. I'm not sure I can see him on any All-American list, but he could play his way onto the all-conference team.
(Did I just jinx him? We'll see.)
3. In your opinion, how many true freshmen will start against Clemson? How many will start against Little Brother?
Will start? I have no idea. Will play? A lot. And they'll have to grow up in a hurry, too.
4. Pick one player on offense and one on defense and give a match up with an opponent that you are really looking forward to watching this season.
It's difficult to say you're looking forward to a matchup between linemen because it's so hard to focus on linemen and still watch the rest of the action. That said, I'm looking forward to seeing how Alabama's front matches up against opposing offensive lines. As Joe Kines proved in 2004 and 2005, a solid front can make up for a number of glaring deficiencies elsewhere.
Offensively, weirdly, I'm looking forward to the coaching chess match as much as anything else -- I'm interested to see what manner of personnel groups McElwain and company put on the field, and how they come up with ways to get them the ball with a chance to create something. Yes, I'm a geek. But you knew that already.
5. What, if any, SEC school’s head coach will be out after this season?
Either Spurrier or Rich Brooks are my picks. Brooks is one of the more entertaining figures annually at SEC Media Days, if only because his job's been in jeopardy the last two or three years and he seems to be pretty jocular about the situation. My guess, without his hoss, he'll suffer a number of frustratingly-close losses (a la Vanderbilt) and decide he's too old to keep doing this.
And the same thing goes for Spurrier. He's never been terribly interested in working 20 hours (like Saban or Urban Meyer), and it seems his "Evil Genius" moniker is morphing into "Crazy Uncle Stevie." Also, you don't realize this about Spurrier -- because he looks very much the same as he always has -- but he's in his 60s, has made a ton of money and seems bored by the whole thing. I think even he's realizing, slowly, that South Carolina won't ever be anything more than ... well, South Carolina.