Team preview: Alabama

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(All information as of June 20, 2008)

How's this for expectations?

The recently built "Walk of Champions" leading from University Boulevard to Bryant-Denny Stadium features larger-than-life statues of each of the national champion coaches in Alabama's history. Bronzed versions of Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Paul "Bear" Bryant and Gene Stallings peer from above in a line of cozy concrete rings decorated with the years of their grand accomplishment. They don't have company. The clear message: If you didn't win a national title during your tenure, your likeness isn't welcome.

Four coaches make the cut, and yet, the row holds five circles. Planners of the "Walk of Champions" made sure to leave one spot vacant, a sign of the overbearing demands fans have been known to place on the head coach of Alabama's football program.
While one could easily imagine that brass version of Nick Saban being polished somewhere, ready and waiting for its place in the school's row of honor, such undying beliefs haven't yet matched the reality of Saban's young tenure with the Tide.

For all the attention and excitement garnered by Alabama's post-2006 firing of Mike Shula and eventual $4 million-a-year acquisition of the Miami Dolphins' head coach, Saban's first year back in college football was eerily similar to those of his Crimson Tide predecessor. There were ups and downs. Alabama pulled out stirring wins against Arkansas and Tennessee and came close to upsets of Georgia, LSU and Auburn, falling short in the final moments of each attempt.

Yet the annual November nose-dive so prevalent in Shula's era also struck Saban.