A look into the future: Alabama Crimson Tide 2021 football preview

2020 was a stellar year for the Alabama Crimson Tide football program. Under the leadership of legendary head coach Nick Saban, they have built a reputation of longstanding success, with 5 national championships since Saban took the helm in 2007. They rang in the year with an emphatic 35-16 win over the Michigan Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl to cap off their 12th consecutive 10-plus-win season (dating back to 2008). They steamrolled a 10-game SEC schedule to go unbeaten during the regular season, convincingly beating such teams as No. 9 Georgia and No. 5 Texas A&M. Their final performance of 2020 came in Atlanta, a place where they just don’t lose, in the SEC title game against No. 7 Florida. They overcame the feisty SEC East champions to polish off a perfect year. They had three players finish in the top 5 of Heisman Trophy voting, and the presumptive winner wears crimson on Saturdays. The next game of the 2020-21 campaign is slated to take place on New Year’s Day 2021. It will mark the Crimson Tide’s return to the College Football Playoff after a one-year absence. Even with more games to be played during the course of the current season, it is intriguing to speculate what the immediate future holds for a football juggernaut. 

From an offensive standpoint, it is easy to marvel at what the Tide did in 2020. Top wideout Devonta Smith became the first receiver to win the AP Player of the Year award and is one of Alabama’s two Heisman finalists. The other, redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones, used the shortened season to pass for 3,739 yards and 32 touchdowns up to this point. Although Smith will not be back next year, and Jones may be going pro along with him, there exists some possibility that the latter could return. If he does, Alabama will again boast one of college football’s very best quarterbacks, and his play this year has simply been stellar. Alabama loses several dynamic players on the offense like Smith (1,511 yards receiving), Najee Harris (1,262 yards rushing), and the electrifying Jaylen Waddle, but whoever is under center for the Tide next season won’t be bereft of weapons. John Metchie, now known for his highlight-reel hit against Florida, has 782 yards and 6 touchdowns this season. Tight end Jahleel Billingsley, who to date has notched 2 scores of his own, will also be a name to watch. There has been a lot of focus in recent years on Alabama’s weapons through the air and that will be a prominent talking point next season. The offensive line was fantastic in 2020, and although the departures of Alex Leatherwood and Landon Dickerson sting, look to this group to continue their production in the future. 

On the defensive side, a strength of Alabama’s is an increase in unit experience. A young defensive core weakened Alabama in 2019 but the players are nevertheless extremely talented. As they have now progressed through multiple years of play at the highest level, that talent will be put to good use with championship football under their belts. Christian Harris, Alabama’s 2020 leader in solo tackles, will likely step into a leadership role next season. His breakout play in 2020 is just one way in which the increased experience on defense has been evident in the on-field product. Defensive backs Jordan Battle and Malachi Moore are only going to go up in terms of production; as such, they too will be key names next year. Dylan Moses and Patrick Surtain II, two more in a long line of Alabama defensive All-Americans, will be playing on Sundays next season (Surtain is a junior but will likely declare), but those players taking their place will be formidable challengers for opposing offenses. In fact, Harris tied Moses for the team lead in total tackles.

Special teams, notably placekicking, has emerged as a rare Alabama weakness of late. The Tide’s kicking woes during the 2010s are well documented and many field goal attempts through the years have had fans averting their eyes. However, this was patched up in 2020, as sophomore kicker Will Reichard (a Hoover Bucs alum) is a Lou Groza Award finalist. He is perfect this year on both field goals and extra points. Should that hold true by season’s end, he will be the first Bama kicker to accomplish the feat since Jeremy Shelley did it during his senior season in 2012. Reichard’s season long, a 52-yarder against Georgia, was absolutely unforgettable. 

2021 will definitely be another year of national championship aspirations-and expectations-in Tuscaloosa. The fans at the Capstone are some of the most devoted in the wide world of college sports. The passion they have for their team will be present in 2021 as they watch and support a group which is sure to be a top contender in college football once again. The only question which remains is whether said group will be defending Nick Saban’s sixth Alabama national championship. If they should find themselves in that position, they are surely poised to defend it well.

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