Countdown to kickoff: 41

From now until kickoff in Arlington, Texas, we'll be counting down the days before Alabama and Michigan get the season started. Today, we move to No. 41 and what it means to UA football. See all the previous editions here.

When fans and the media set their sights on a less-than-stellar Alabama kicking game last season, they focused the majority of their attention on missed field goals. They looked at what just a few more successful kicks would have done to beat LSU and increase the lead in other games. But when you focus on the scoreboard too much, you lose focus elsewhere.

Through the prism of the SEC, Alabama's kicking game was bad, especially from the tee. UA finished the season next to last in the league with a net average of 41 yards per kickoff. Compare that to the league leader Auburn and its 48 yards per kickoff.

So what's the difference in 7 more yards per kick? Well, it's the difference between 38 touchbacks and five.

Alabama kickers had their trouble with accuracy, but it was strength that troubled the kicking game. UA's five touchbacks was worst in the SEC.

But Alabama might have help coming in the form of a new NCAA rule that will move kickoffs from the 30 to the 35 yard-line in an attempt to keep players safer. Just as 7 yards made a difference in 2011-12, getting 5 yards back this season could be a needed relief to the coverage team that worked harder than any other in the league a year ago.

UA coach Nick Saban had this to say at SEC media days about the new kickoff rules:

"I think all these rules are probably geared towards player safety. I think that's the number one thing we should always evaluate in terms of our game, and rules that we can sort of implement that hopefully don't change the integrity of the game, but enhance the safety of the players. Obviously with the kickoff being moved up, we'll probably see less kickoff returns. But I think there's some facts out there, you know, we tried to change the three-man wedge because there are some facts out there that support there are maybe more injuries on kickoff and kickoff return than we'd like, so we'd like to try to tweak the rules so we protect the players' safety. I don't think there's any question about the fact that a player's helmet coming off is not a good thing. It's probably dangerous for the player. I don't care whether it's stylish or whatever it is, the players need to wear their helmet properly, it needs to fit properly, and it's never good when it comes off. I think whatever we can do to sort of manage that toward player safety would be a real positive for our game."