The Monday After: Nick Saban's Alabama has never looked so vulnerable heading into an offseason

It's December 2019, which makes it an opportune time to look back at the decade that will conclude at the end of the month. While Alabama won its first national title under Nick Saban in 2009, it truly established itself during the current decade by winning four national titles. It is the premier program of the decade. The one that set the pace, and the tone, for every other program with national title aspirations out there.

But as we enter the 2020s, where does Alabama stand? It will enter the 2020 season in unfamiliar territory, as it will miss the College Football Playoff for the first time in its existence. It's about to finish two straight seasons without winning the national title for the first time since the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The only other time that happened during Saban's tenure was his first two seasons in 2007 and 2008. Of course, Alabama immediately followed the latest one with two national titles in three years.

Can they do it again? You'd be an idiot not to think it was distinctly possible, and I'm not here to write about how the Alabama dynasty is over. I'm sure others are ready to make that proclamation, and they can go ahead and do so, but I'm not prepared to join them. That said, every dynasty ends at some point, and the program that dominated this decade will eventually pass the torch on to somebody else. That process might have already begun as Clemson has won two of the previous three titles and will likely have a shot at adding a third this year. All of which makes this a fascinating offseason to watch in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama just seems more vulnerable than ever before. In 2014 when it finished its second straight season without a title, the Tide at least reached the College Football Playoff where they lost to eventual national champion Ohio State. You looked at that team and knew it would be back.

The 2019 Alabama team was something I'm not used to seeing from Alabama. There were injuries on defense had a significant impact on its overall ability. It was also a young group, but as that youth gained experience, I never felt like I saw it improve. On Saturday against Auburn, it all came to a head as an Auburn offense that averaged 296 total yards in its games against LSU, Georgia, Florida and Texas A&M went for 354 against Alabama. An Auburn offense that averaged 4.24 yards per play against those same four teams averaged 5.45 yards per play against Alabama.

It's an odd feeling to be watching an Alabama game in which the Tide need one defensive stop, and you aren't confident they can get it. It's just as odd to see an Alabama team lack discipline, but the 13 penalties against Auburn was nothing new in 2019. The Tide finished the regular season averaging 7.5 penalties per game, the most in the SEC. They'd never averaged more than six per game in any season under Saban.

Also, as is usually the case with Alabama, it will have to reload in 2020. A lot of the defense will be back, and you'd hope the experience gained this year will help it improve. But it was the offense that led this team in 2019, and it's the offense that will lose so much.

Jaylen Waddle, who scored four touchdowns in the Iron Bowl, and at times seemed to be willing his team to victory on his own, will be back. That's great news for Alabama and college football fans in general. We can't say the same about his fellow receivers Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith or Henry Ruggs. All three are juniors, and all three have NFL futures they might like to start on. Running back Najee Harris is likely gone as well, and he'll probably be joined by starting tackles Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills. Landon Dickerson is a grad transfer, while guard Deonte Brown is a redshirt junior. Alabama may need to replace four offensive linemen, its three leading receivers, and its leading rusher.

Oh, and Tua Tagovailoa is likely gone, too. His status is now somewhat cloudier after his hip injury, but most expect him to still make the jump this spring.

Alabama will enter the 2020 season with questions on both offense and defense, and it will do so in a conference that has seen LSU take a step toward dominance itself and will likely be a playoff team this year. Georgia could make the playoff for the second time in three years itself. Auburn and Florida aren't going away, either, and Texas A&M is recruiting like a team that could soon take a step forward.

The Alabama dynasty isn't over, but it's vulnerable. 

Stat of the Week

One of the side effects of being a dominant team like Alabama is that everyone is always looking for a reason to bury you. In that aspect, Alabama has a lot in common with the New England Patriots. Any time the Patriots lose a game or two, people wonder if the dynasty is over. So when Alabama lost on Saturday and the Patriots lost on Sunday, it led me to wonder when the last time the two teams had lost on the same weekend since losses seem so rare for both.

To find the last time it happened, you have to go back a while. On Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011, Alabama lost to LSU 9-6 in a game you might remember. It was the last time Alabama had lost to LSU before this season. The next day, the Patriots lost 24-20 to the New York Giants. That same year, Alabama would reach the BCS Championship and avenge its loss to LSU by beating it 21-0. New England would reach the Super Bowl where it would face the New York Giants again, but it could not get revenge, as it lost again, 21-17.

So, basically, Alabama and the Patriots lose on the same weekend as often as LSU beats Alabama.

Swaggy Kicker of the Week

Last week, FIU's kicker was doing the throat slash as he buried Miami in a baseball stadium, and this week, Iowa kicker, and Lou Groza Award finalist, Keith Duncan is blowing kisses to a Nebraska team whose season he just ended. Considering how often kickers are missing these days at both the college and NFL level, I guess they've learned to cherish the moments they make it.

Ridiculous Theory of the Week

You ever get an idea that you realize is ridiculous, so you pass it off as a joke when sharing it with others, yet there's still a part of you that very much believes it to be true? Well, here's one for you.

On Sunday, there was a report that USC was parting ways with Clay Helton. The story was refuted by other reporters (including one from the same outlet reporting it!), and as I write this, Clay Helton is still USC's coach. That doesn't mean he will be in 2020, however, because USC has had plenty of time to come out and say he'll be back, but it hasn't. This leads me to believe that USC has a couple of possible candidates in mind, and it wants an answer from them before it makes a definitive judgment on Helton.

For instance, if USC were to approach somebody like, say, oh, I don't know, Urban Meyer, and Meyer told USC, "I want the job," Helton would be gone quickly. Does Urban Meyer want the job? I don't know. Does USC want Urban Meyer? I don't know, but probably.

Well, I couldn't help but notice Boston College fired Steve Addazio on Sunday, and South Florida fired Charlie Strong. Addazio was an assistant at Florida under Meyer for six seasons, including four as assistant head coach and two as offensive coordinator. Strong was Meyer's defensive coordinator at Florida for five seasons (he was also the interim coach between Ron Zook and Meyer) before leaving for Louisville.

Meyer is out there. His old offensive coordinator is out there. His former defensive coordinator is out there.

URBZ IS GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER!

Do I really think this is happening? No. Do I kind of think this is happening? Definitely.

Dancing Coach of the Week

You know what they say: "Dance like you're somebody who is old enough that nobody will judge you for it."

Stat of the Week II

Just in case you thought that it only felt like Alabama missed more field goals than other teams because it's missed so many in key moments ... nope. Alabama just misses a lot of field goals, even when you aren't watching.

Tom Fornelli Team of the Year Dropouts of the Week

Beginning in 2019, The Tom Fornelli Team of the Year Award, presented by The Tom Fornelli Foundation For Football Exceptionalism, is to be given out to one incredible football team that best displays the values of The Tom Fornelli Foundation For Football Exceptionalism. Every week, teams will be eliminated from the running for reasons. Those reasons are at the sole discretion of Tom Fornelli and The Tom Fornelli Foundation For Football Exceptionalism, which is comprised of Tom Fornelli and nobody else. Here are the teams eliminated from consideration in Week 13.

School

Reason for Elimination

Alabama

You didn't want this award anyway.

Minnesota

In high winds, boats require sails, not oars.

Oregon State

If you'd reached a bowl game, you would have won.

Western Michigan

That loss to NIU was more costly than you knew.

Wyoming

I can't believe you didn't cover against Air Force.

Teams eliminated: 124 / 130
Teams remaining: Boise State, Clemson, Florida, Louisiana, Ohio State, Utah

For a full list of eliminated teams and the respective reasons, click here.

Eye Black of the Week

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“KILL” eyeblack #FootballGuy

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Do we know for a fact that it was Virginia linebacker Zane Zandier's eye black that ended the Cavaliers losing streak to Virginia Tech? No, but we can't prove it wasn't, either.

AP Voters of the Week

This week's recipients of the prestigious AP Voter of the Week award are two who have been here before. They are The Albuquerque Journal's Steve Virgen, and Soren Petro of Sports Radio 810 in Leawood, Kansas. Why are they here?

Because they're still out here putting 7-5 Iowa State on their ballots! Virgen had the Cyclones at No. 23 on his ballot, while Petro placed them at No. 24.

Iowa State has played three teams currently ranked in the AP Top 25 poll (Oklahoma, Baylor and Iowa). It has lost to all three of them. It has also lost to two teams receiving votes (Oklahoma State and Kansas State), and that Kansas State loss just came on Saturday. Virgen responded to that loss by not moving the Cyclones at all on his ballot, while Petro dropped them from No. 22 to No. 24.

Iowa State's best win is Texas, as Texas is the only bowl-eligible team it has beaten this season. Not counting Northern Iowa (a solid FCS program), the combined record of the teams Iowa State has beaten in 2019 is 24-36.

So congratulations to Mr. Virgen and Mr. Petro for being so damned stubborn about their insistence that Iowa State is a top 25 team no matter the evidence placed in front of them, and congratulations to Iowa State on being the new Texas A&M. I mean, not even the Aggies received a vote this week, and three of their five losses came to teams ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll at the time.

College Football Playoff Projection of the Week

  1. Ohio State
  2. LSU
  3. Clemson
  4. Georgia

Until the next Monday After!

CBS Sports Writer

Tom Fornelli has been a college football writer at CBS Sports since 2010. During his time at CBS, Tom has proven time and again that he hates your favorite team and thinks your rival is a paragon of football... Full Bio

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