The Alabama Crimson Tide football team surprised everyone last year when they did the unthinkable—not making the College Football Playoff. It was only the second time since the system's inception back in 2014 that Alabama didn't make the playoff, with the other time being in 2019. Nick Saban and Alabama are hoping to rebound as they have done so many times before, including the year after they missed their first playoff; they came back the next year and won the National Championship. It's difficult to ever write Alabama off as long as Saban is at the helm, but missing two out of the last four playoffs has definitely started to raise some eyebrows in Tuscaloosa. Those in Alabama, who have known nothing but winning championships for almost the last two decades, are now wondering if another championship is possible in 2023. Let's delve into those bold predictions.
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4. Justice Haynes will be a breakout star for Alabama
Let's start on a positive note, because here's a spoiler alert—it doesn't get much better after this one. Justice Haynes is poised to become a premier back this season for the Crimson Tide.
Haynes showcased his abilities and left a lasting impression during the spring, proving that he's ready to contend for playing time as a freshman, even in the company of seasoned running backs like Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams. His promising start serves as evidence that Haynes possesses the necessary skills and potential to truly leave his mark on the field.
Having earned significant acclaim as a five-star recruit, Haynes secured an impressive spot as the second-ranked running back in the nation, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. His substantial physical stature—standing tall at 5-foot-11 and weighing a robust 200 pounds—positions him as an excellent candidate for a versatile, every-down role in the backfield. Even in a loaded backfield with McClellan and Williams, Haynes could tally double-digit touchdowns and 500 yards.
3. Alabama will play multiple quarterbacks for most of the season
You know the old saying: if you have two (or more) quarterbacks, you have none. The Crimson Tide football squad is currently embroiled in a three-man race for who will be their starting quarterback this season. This is a departure from the norm for Alabama, a team that's been blessed with stability at the quarterback position—Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Mac Jones, Bryce Young, and others have held that role in the past. Not having a clear answer at the most important position on the field is very un-Bama-like.
Saban is currently telling the media and his three quarterbacks—Tyler Buchner, Ty Simpson, Jalen Milroe—that someone “needs to grab the bull by the horns,” and that one of them should force him to play them. As the season looms closer, if Alabama continues to grapple with such uncertainty, it's likely to persist throughout the season. In a previous article, I mentioned my belief that Buchner would win the starting job due to his experience and his time with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees at Notre Dame. However, that doesn't guarantee he'll keep it for the entire season or even a single game. This will be something to watch throughout the season for Alabama.
2. Nick Saban loses to another former assistant
Saban has only lost to two of his former assistants: Jimbo Fisher and Kirby Smart, in back-to-back seasons. The rest have a combined record of 0-19 against the future Hall of Fame coach. This year, Saban loses to one more former assistant: Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin.
Kiffin has come very close in three out of his four attempts against Saban. One instance–actually before he was a Saban assistant–was during his sole season as the Tennessee Volunteers' head coach back in 2009, where Alabama blocked a field goal to end the game. The second was an offensive slugfest in 2022, his first season at Ole Miss, where he forced the Crimson Tide offense to score a whopping 63 points to secure the victory. In the most recent matchup, Alabama had to hold off the Rebels with two field goals, winning by six points.
Kiffin heavily utilized the transfer portal this season, with a focus on bolstering the defensive side of the ball, giving Ole Miss the third-best ranked portal class, just behind LSU and Colorado, with 23 new players, according to 247 Sports. If Kiffin had a year to make it possible, it would be this season.
1. Alabama misses the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive season
I still don't feel comfortable saying this because it's Nick Saban and Alabama, but these are bold predictions after all, right? However, it's very possible that Alabama will once again miss the playoff. As we witnessed last year, the competition around Alabama is improving, particularly LSU, which seems to be a strong contender in the SEC West once more. Alabama's most significant struggles last year were at wide receiver and on defense—areas that weren't necessarily terrible but didn't live up to Alabama's usual standards of excellence. These challenges could persist into 2023, compounded by the aforementioned lack of certainty at quarterback. Furthermore, Alabama faces glaring issues at linebacker this season due to the departures of Henry To’oTo’o and Jaylen Moody.
The 2023 Alabama football team certainly won't be bad, but they will fall short in comparison to the high standards set by Saban during his tenure in Tuscaloosa. While they lost just two games last season, I can see—and I say this with hesitation, because, well, it's Bama—they might lose even more than that this season.