KEY QUESTIONS FOR 2024: Alabama Crimson tide

By George Somerville

As the college football season approaches, we will be looking at the key questions to answer for the leading playoff hopefuls. This time around we look at the Alabama Crimson Tide who are surprisingly in full rebuild mode following the shock retirement of legendary head coach, Nick Saban.

Kalen Deboer
Image Credit: AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)ASSOCIATED PRESS

Can DeBoer rebuild Rome in a day?

This time last year, Alabama football fans were looking forward to another year under the leadership of head coach Nick Saban. Little did they, or anyone else, know that 2023 would be Saban’s last season in charge of the Crimson Tide.

In headlines that shook the sporting world, Nick Saban announced his retirement in January of this year. While Saban said that he had been contemplating retiring for two years before this, the news sent shockwaves across the South Eastern Conference.

However, Alabama Athletic Director Greg Byrne moved swiftly to entice then-Washington Head Coach Kalen DeBoer to take the job in Tuscaloosa. DeBoer has had a stellar rise to the mountain top of college football, most recently taking Washington to a College Football Play-Off spot. However, the job he now has at Alabama will bring pressures that DeBoer has never felt before.

To make life more difficult for DeBoer, Saban’s retirement announcement sparked something of an exodus from the existing player roster, as well as some recruits making a jump for the transfer portal. In all, 30 players entered the transfer portal at the start of this year. In addition a further 11 players left for the draft. Which means that Kalen DeBoer has had to hit the ground not just running but sprinting. 

The transfers caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth with players who elected to jump ship even before a new coach was announced. Caleb Downs joined the Buckeyes revolution. Kadyn Proctor went to Iowa, only to return. But it’s fair to say there was panic amongst the Crimson Tide fanbase.

However, DeBoer has recruited well, with encouraging signs. Many of Saban’s recruits have stayed, and DeBoer has brought his own players, too, which makes for an interesting mix in his first year in charge. The new Alabama head coach will get time to build his team, but you don’t get an abundance of time in Tuscaloosa. The pressure cooker that is the SEC is constant, with only a loss or two from crisis.

The schedule isn’t overly favourable for DeBoer, who I doubt will relish a trip to Wisconsin in only his third game in charge. Worse still, the following fixture has Georgia visiting T-Town. Throw in trips to Knoxville and Death Valley in Louisiana, and DeBoer isn’t getting any favours in year one.

Does Milroe keep the keys of the Tide machine?

The start of last season was a rocky ride for quarterback Jalen Milroe. Benched against USF, he returned for the Ole Miss game and seemed thereafter to settle into a more comfortable role than we had seen in the first two games. In fact, Milroe seemed to have gained Coach Saban’s trust, and Alabama fans saw a different Milroe in the second half of the season as his confidence grew. Milroe attained legendary status following the infamous 4th & 31 play against Auburn and an SEC Championship win over Georgia. Alabama’s season ended following the CFB Play-Off defeat to would-be National Champions, Michigan.

Milroe suited up as QB1 during 2024 Spring scrimmages for the Tide and is fully expected to be named starting QB during Summer & Fall camp. 

However, QB Austin Mack was one of those players that DeBoer brought from Washington in the transfer portal. While Ty Simpson is the incumbent backup, and Dylan Lonergan is the next great hope, Mack has the advantage of being familiar with Coach DeBoer and his playbook. This puts Mack at an advantage over the rest of the QB room. Mack is also a 4-star and impressed in the games he played for the Huskies. So he isn’t in Alabama just for the white BBQ sauce.

However, Milroe is very much a leader of this team now and is also the face of the Tide. Despite his calamitous start last year, his season ended so well that he was placed #6 in Heisman voting. Over the course of the season, Milroe amassed a very impressive 3,400 yards and 35 touchdowns in his first year as a starter. It is noticeable that it was only when Saban let him use his legs that Milroe really came to life. As we know from Washington’s fantastic run last year, DeBoer’s scheme also allowed Penix Jr the freedom to break from the pocket. Will he give Milroe the keys to the kingdom? This is one of the questions we will eagerly await the answer to.

Defense wins Championships!

Alabama Crimson Tide
Photo Credit: Mark Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

While Nick Saban is no longer in charge, his legacy continues into this new season. Defense was certainly Saban’s domain, and he recruited hard on that side of the ball. With returners and new recruits, the Alabama defense is looking particularly strong for new defensive coordinator Kane Wommack.

Freddie Roach remains on DeBoer’s coaching staff, which is very important given Roach’s development of the D-line over the last few years. Roach is generally credited with the development of Christian Barmore, Phil Mathis, Byron Young, and Justin Eboigbe, who have all gone on to NFL careers.

Bama returns a lot of experience for 2024, including Tim Smith, Jaheim Oatis, Tim Keenan III, and Damon Payne.

In the secondary, Alabama has made the most strides in replacing superstars Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold, who left for the NFL. Alabama fans were distraught to see Caleb Downs transfer to Ohio State, leaving a huge hole in the second line. Malachi Moore is staying, and Keon Sabb is transferring in from Michigan, which has calmed nerves in Tuscaloosa. However, Saban’s latest recruits, Red Morgan and Zabien Brown, caught the eye during Spring practice. While it will be vital to get the rookies as many reps as possible in the coming months, Wommack seemed pleased with the talent and effort being made available to him. Throw in true freshmen Dre Kirkpatrick Jr and Jayden Mbakwe, and Alabama seems well-placed to overcome the loss of McKinstry et al.

George Somerville

Touchdown sec correspondent

George is a long standing fanatic of life and football in the deep south and writes his weekly column called “IT’s Only SEC” for the touchdown. he is also co-host and one third of the college chaps podcast, the UK’s first podcast dedicated to the college game.