Tide may have it easier this season

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 29, 2002

It has been eight chaotic months since the University of Alabama ended its 2001 season. Since then the school has fended off rumors of Coach Fran taking another coaching job, suffered through an NCAA investigation that makes the Spanish Inquisition look like a cakewalk, and was handed the harshest sanctions since SMU’s &uot;death penalty&uot; in 1987. But the investigation is over and Bama’s appeal for leniency had been made. Finally, it is time to play football.

All the Crimson Tide fans I have talked to are optimistic. Long time fan Mike Little predicts an 11-2 record (losses to Oklahoma and Tennessee) and notes the improvement the team made late in the season.

Wayne Vardaman, owner of Selma Steam, says the key to a successful season will be keeping every player healthy. &uot;A tough schedule and the probability of a lot of freshman being red-shirted makes the lack of depth even worse,&uot; Vardaman says. One area of concern may be at receiver. Sam Collins and Antonio Carter are the only returning starters. Despite this, Vardman feels talent at the position is adequate. &uot;You don’t need five world class sprinters to catch passes. We also need possession receivers who can run good routes.&uot;Several receivers have stepped up in recent practices including Triandos Luke, Dre Fulgan and Terry Givens. To take pressure off of the running backs, and have a more balanced offense, these players will have to step up.

One fan gave a totally different opinion about being on probation. Instead of hindering the team, he feels it may actually help out. Keep in mind this in no ordinary fan. This is Norman Copeland and his world is viewed through Crimson colored glasses. Copeland feels the pressure will be off the team this year since they are not eligible for a bowl or SEC Championship game.

The Tide opens the season with Middle Tennessee. Anyone who thinks they will be a push-over may be in for a surprise Saturday. The Blue Raiders were 8-3 last year and had one of the most potent offenses in college football. Running back Dwone Hicks is largely responsible for that. He has scored 39 touchdowns and ran for over 2,400 yards the past two years. Alabama’s experienced defensive line will have its hands full. Seniors Jarrett Johnson, Kindal Moorhead, and Kenny King should be up for the task.

The Blue Raiders quarterback and top receiver are gone from last year’s squad. Considering how Alabama’s secondary played last year that could be a blessing. Look for freshmen Roman Harper, Anthony Madison and Charlie Peprah to make an impact at safety and cornerback.

The best defense against Middle Tennessee will be a ground-control running game by Alabama that chews up as much clock as possible. After all, they can’t score if they’re not on the field. Alabama’s running backs and offensive line return intact, which is a definite advantage. The game plan should be pretty basic with a lot of running plays and short passes. Alabama doesn’t want to show too much of their hand to Oklahoma, next week’s opponent.

Look for this game to be a good indicator of how the season will go for Alabama. It’s a game the Tide should win but could easily lose if it doesn’t execute on offense and defense. We’ll see on Saturday.