It’s an odd take to have one week into the 2021 season, but here’s my overriding thought after watching six straight days of college football over an extended Labor Day weekend.
Alabama’s team in 2022 will be the best Nick Saban has ever coached and in the conversation for being best in college football history.
Brad Edwards was on my radio show last week and had a fascinating take on what Saban has accomplished in Tuscaloosa.
Edwards was a longtime analyst at ESPN (he originally came to prominence by being the authority on the BCS rankings system) and recently published the book “Dynasty by the Numbers: Why Alabama now owns the Greatest Decade-Plus Run in College Football History.”
Edwards says the most recent six years of Alabama’s 12-year dynasty far trump the previous six years. Every data point on the graph of recent success shows the gap between Alabama and the rest of college football should continue to widen.
The only factor detractors can cling to is the fact that Saban turns 70 on Halloween, and even he can’t do this forever.
But 2022 does not qualify as forever. And the Tide’s roster then should be by far the best Saban has ever coached.
Here’s the greatest anomaly about next year’s team: The most important players on this year’s team on offense (quarterback Bryce Young), defense (outside linebacker Will Anderson) and special teams (kicker Will Reichard) won’t be headed to the NFL draft like most of the Tide’s best players in recent years. Young and Anderson are a year away from being eligible for the draft, while Reichard is a kicker, a position that has less value in the pro draft.
The worst news to come out of Saturday’s blowout of Miami was the likely season-ending foot injury to all-star outside linebacker Chris Allen. That was excruciating news for Allen and very bad news for the 2021 Bama team. But it could make 2022 even stronger if Allen is convinced to come back to play for the Tide instead of what would surely have been his destination in this coming draft.
Here’s a long-range overview of how Alabama will look position-by-position heading into the 2022 season.
Quarterback will be much better. Young was great in his first start against Miami. Imagine how good he will be with 14 or 15 starts under his belt. At worst, he will enter the season as the Heisman favorite. At best he will be back to try to repeat as the winner.
Running back will be much better. Brian Robinson is this year’s starter, but he’s the least explosive of the five backs who will get carries this year. Jase McClellan and Trey Sanders will be the best running back duo in the country in 2021.
Wide receivers will likely have to find some new answers. Starters John Metchie, Jameson Williams and Slade Bolden are all eligible for the coming draft. But expect two to return along with three explosive freshmen, led by JoJo Earle, who are going to be more involved as this season progresses.
Tight end will be better. Cameron Latu had two touchdown catches against Miami, and will return next season. Jahleel Billingsley could be a first-round pick, but it’s looking more likely that he could stick around for the 2022 season.
Offensive line will be talented and experienced. Losing Evan Neal will be a huge blow. But by the end of the season there will be at least three players starting who will return for 2022.
Defensive line will be better. Phil Mathis is the only player among this year’s top eight performers who won’t be back next year.
Linebackers will again be the best in the country. Anderson is already the best defender in the country. Even if Allen doesn’t return, Drew Sanders is ready to be a star. Henry To’o To’o could return in 2022, which would make for an incredible pairing with Mobile Christian grad Deontae Lawson.
Secondary will be better. Former St. Paul’s player Jalyn Armour-Davis may have been Alabama’s most steady player against Miami. He will return in 2022 to be joined by players such as Brian Branch, Malachi Moore and Kool-Aid McKinstry.
I know it’s silly to be talking about “wait till next year” when Alabama is currently ranked No. 1 in the country and in the midst of a 15-game winning streak.
But it’s worth pointing out that the dynasty that now seems to be at its peak power is, in fact, still ascending.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 19 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart app.
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