National championships are the expectation for Alabama, and simply put, the 2022 season was nothing short of a massive disappointment. The Crimson Tide missed the College Football Playoff for the second time since its inception in the 2014 season and failed to win the SEC West for the first time since 2019.
It's safe to say that the 2023 season is a "revenge tour" for Nick Saban's team, and the last thing the college football world wants to see is an angry Crimson Tide.
The foundation for that tour will be set this spring, and there is no shortage of intrigue as the Tide replace numerous stars who are headed to the NFL, as well both coordinators. Let's take a look at what those changes are and how Saban might address them moving forward.
Gone are offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien and defensive coordinator Pete Golding, both of whom departed following the season and were replaced by Tommy Rees and Kevin Steele, respectively, to provide a spark on both sides of the ball.
Rees, a former Notre Dame quarterback, had plenty of success in six seasons as a Fighting Irish assistant -- first, as the team's quarterbacks coach and then as the OC. Last season, in the wake of the season-ending shoulder injury to Week 1 starting quarterback Tyler Buchner, Rees adapted on the fly by making a concerted effort to run the ball for the remainder of the year. The pivot paid off. Notre finished 21st in the country in rushing attempts per game at 40.92. Compare that with Alabama's 35.15 attempts per game -- 82nd in the nation -- and it's obvious that Saban is set on refocusing the unit to take pressure off his quarterback.
Speaking of quarterbacks, the Tide are replacing 2021 Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young. The primary candidates are dual-threat Jalen Milroe and former five-star redshirt freshman Ty Simpson. Saban's decision will likely be an indicator of just how much he wants to return to a run-focused attack.
This will be Steele's third stint in Tuscaloosa, and there's no doubt that familiarity was instrumental in Saban's choice to go back to an old friend. Steele spent last season with Miami following a five-year stint leading the Auburn defense.
Names to know
- Ty Simpson, quarterback: The former star at Westview High School in Martin, Tennessee, was the 29th overall prospect in the Class of 2022. He went 4 of 5 in passing attempts for 35 yards in four games last season, though none of those five passes were in meaningful situations. Still, it's clear that Saban had high hopes for Simpson by putting him in game situations while preserving his redshirt season. Simpson possesses the pro-style attributes that can make him a star, and he is mobile enough to keep opposing defensive honest. If Saban is dead set on going "old school," then Simpson will be the likely winner of one of the most interesting quarterback competitions in the country.
- Dallas Turner, linebacker: Turner played the role of Will Anderson Jr's sidekick over the last two years, but now the spotlight is on him after Anderson jumped to the NFL. Turner, a junior, finished tied for second on the team with four sacks and tied for third with eight tackles for loss last season. Can the 6-foot-4, 242-pound former five-star prospect get the job done without Anderson drawing the attention?
- Jase McClellan, running back: McClellan will be one of two favorites to win the No. 1 running back role alongside fellow senior Roydell Williams, though McClellan's history suggests that he can be the player who sits atop the depth chart exiting spring. Why? His 111 carries last season suggests he's capable of handling the duties of a more run-based attack. McClellan and Williams can work well as a tandem -- a "1A and 1B" situation if Rees so chooses -- but it'll be fascinating to hear how McClellan is used from insiders who are lucky enough to view practices.
This is, perhaps, Saban's most critical spring since he hired Lane Kiffin to run the offense prior to the 2014 season. Like then, the noticeable shift in philosophy has created enormous mystery surrounding the future of the Crimson Tide. Most people won't be able to see how Saban handles this situation; however, there's plenty to talent for Saban to test at essentially every position.
Unlike that 2014 season, though, the transfer portal could affect this team's depth chart heading into the summer. Following the A-Day game on April 22, the second of the two transfer portals opens on May 1. If Saban doesn't feel like critical roles are filled before then, he has a huge opportunity to fix those glitches through modern-day college football free agency.