As the Alabama Crimson Tide football team gears up for the 2023 college football season, there are a few key factors that must fall into place if they hope to secure a spot in the College Football Playoff. Alabama has only missed the playoff twice since its inception under head coach Nick Saban, last year being the most recent. Is there any way the Crimson Tide could be left out for the second consecutive year in a row?
Find a quarterback
One of the primary concerns for the Crimson Tide lies in the quarterback position. With Jalen Milroe, Ty Simpson, and Tyler Buchner vying for the starting role, Nick Saban and newly appointed offensive coordinator Tommy Rees face the task of selecting the most suitable leader for the offense. Whoever it will be will have to follow after the 2021 Heisman winner and the 2023 No. 1 overall NFL draft pick, Bryce Young.
Saban has a history of successful quarterbacks while at Alabama, but as the season draws closer, there's much more uncertainty at the position than in year's past. Saban and Rees will have a tough decision to make while trying to establish a new offensive identity that can propel Alabama towards playoff contention. Plus, can Alabama regroup at the wide receiver position to help whoever the starting quarterback will be?
Better wide receiver play
If quarterback is a question mark, then this year's offense might be in trouble, especially if the wide receiver play from last season returns. After years of what seemed like an endless cycle of flourishing wide receiver talent, last year's group was a let down in comparison. Everyone got used to the DeVonta Smith's, Jerry Jeudy's, Henry Ruggs's, and Jalen Waddle's. For Alabama to start afresh in quarterback play, they're going to have to have some combination of Ja'Corey Brooks, Jermaine Burton, Kobe Prentice and Isaiah Bond step up at receiver, or else it may be a long season offensively and another year not making the playoff.
Bring back a Nick Saban defense
Although the Alabama football fanbase aren't complaining, the departure of defensive coordinator Pete Golding raises questions about the team's defensive performance. After Golding's leave, Saban brought in familiar face Kevin Steele, his very first defensive coordinator at Alabama in 2007, from Miami for the same position.
The pressure is now on Steele to maintain the high defensive standards that have become synonymous with Saban's brand of Alabama football. However, Steele's previous stint at Miami may not inspire confidence. The Hurricanes 69th overall defense allowed an average 28 points-per-game, not to mention 378 yards per game. The degree in talent between Alabama and Miami is vastly different, though.
The defensive struggles witnessed by Alabama last season were perhaps the most surprising aspect, though, especially considering defense has long been a hallmark of Saban's Alabama football brand. Painful memories of games on the road against Texas, Tennessee, and LSU, where the Crimson Tide gave up a total of 92 points, serve as stark reminders of late leads squandered and adjustments needing to be made.
Overcoming last year's schedule woes
Alabama will look to overcome the woes of their biggest losses last season, which is what kept them out of the College Football Playoff. Both losses to Tennessee and LSU were on the road and came at the cost of losing late leads. Fortunately for Alabama this season, they'll host both the Volunteers and Tigers at home.
If the SEC schedule wasn't daunting enough, the Crimson Tide will face an early test in Week 2 with an out-of-conference showdown against the Texas Longhorns. Last season in Austin, the Longhorns pushed the Crimson Tide to their limits, culminating in a nail-biting 20-19 victory for Alabama. This season, Steve Sarkisian and the Longhorns venture to Tuscaloosa, aiming to finally conquer Saban and the Crimson Tide on their home turf. Of course, this will be the last season this will be an out-of-conference game with Texas coming to the SEC next season. If Alabama is going to lose, maybe a close loss to Texas early is still manageable.
Facing another former assistant, Saban and Alabama will still have to travel to Texas, only this time it will be to College Station against SEC west foe Texas A&M. Outside of the famed Johnny Manziel game and Jimbo Fisher calling his shot in 2021, the Aggies are 2-9 since joining the SEC. Surprisingly, last season's encounter with the Aggies was another close one, as Texas A&M made a valiant late push, falling just short after an incomplete pass in the end zone ended the game, giving Alabama a 24-20 victory.
An SEC schedule is never easy, and going unscathed is becoming near impossible. With it being the last year of only four teams making the College Football Playoff, one loss is still manageable of getting in. But as evident from last season, two losses will leave you just on the outside. Alabama has its work cut out for them. How will the Tide roll in 2023?