14 Burning Questions for 2012: #3 – Alabama

14 SEC teams and 14 burning questions. One for each. Today we take a look at our favorite team, Alabama.

# 3 – Will Alabama fare better in 2012 than they did in 2010?

As a Tide fan, the 2010 season is one that can stick in your craw. For a lot of reasons.

The Tide entered that season as the defending national champions, ranked No. 1 again and riding a 14 game win streak. On top of that, the offense returned eight starters and many thought the unit could wind up being the best in school history. Among others, the unit returned Julio Jones, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson (although not a starter) and Greg McElroy. The offense was stacked.

The defense, on the other hand, returned only two starters, but most folks thought Nick Saban could work his magic and the D would be fine. (Only two starters returned, but we did have a lot of experienced players returning.)

Well, you know how 2010 turned out. Bama rode the No. 1 ranking for five weeks, but was ambushed by South Carolina in 35-21 thumping. The LSU game slipped through our fingers and then there was the Auburn game. We shall not discuss that one here.

The autopsy on the 2010 season revealed the following:
* Injuries hurt a bunch. Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Marcel Dareus, DJ Fluker and Barrett Jones each battled through injuries, and though none weeper season-ending, when these guys were out they were missed and when they were less than 100%, you could tell it.
* It was tough to replace all of those All-Americans. Terrence Cody, Javier Arenas, Rolando McClain, Mike Johnson, Leigh Tiffin. When guys like these walk out the door, you don’t just replace them. You may have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country arriving, but you don’t replace a 22 year old man with an 18 year old freshman.
* The schedule was insane. Remember all those open weeks?
* Saban wasn’t happy with the leadership or effort of this bunch. You can’t overcome the items above without top shelf leadership and apparently Saban didn’t think it was there.

So what does this tell us about 2012? Well, let’s take a look at the above related to this season.

* Injuries. Obviously, we don’t know yet how this will play out this season, but heading into the off-season the Tide was pretty healthy. Running back is one area of concern with Eddie Lacy and Dee Hart coming off injuries. Cyrus Kouandjio is returning from a season ending knee injury as well, but should be 100%. CJ Mosley returns from an ugly hip injury suffered in the BCS title game, but should also be back to full speed.
* Replacing All-Americans. Richardson, Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick. All those guys are gone and that’s going to hurt. Like with the 2010 season, you can’t lose that many quality players and expect to replace them straight up. We have talent back at all of these spots, but that doesn’t mean the transition won’t be interesting.
* Schedule. Unlike 2010, this schedule is somewhat manageable. Opening with Michigan should be interesting, especially as we break in new talent, but games with Arkansas and LSU will carry the same importance as last year. Thankfully, there won’t be a matchup with Georgia or South Carolina unless it’s in Atlanta at the SEC Championship game.
* Leadership. This also remains to be seen, but it doesn’t hurt to have folks like Barrett Jones, AJ McCarron, Robert Lester and Nico Johnson returning.

If the 2012 squad finishes with a 10-3 record we will no doubt be just as disappointed as we were following the 2010 season. But as you can see, it’s very, very difficult to repeat as a champion. One thing not mentioned above is this: The Tide continues to be circled on everyone’s calendar and that certainly won’t change this year.