The Opponent: The Alabama Crimson Tide
Date: September 24, 2022
Where: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Last year: 13-2 (7-1 SEC.) Beat Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, then lost to the same Georgia in the National Championship Game. Outscored their opponents by almost 20 points per game. This was, allegedly, a rebuilding year.
Series record: Alabama leads, 59-19-4. And even that’s inflated by, well, games 100 years ago when Vanderbilt was good at football. Since 1960, Alabama leads the series 45-2 on the field, though they did have to forfeit the 1993 game. Thanks, NCAA!
The last time we saw these guys: September 23, 2017. Back before the SEC expanded, Alabama played Vanderbilt every year, and even for the first few years of divisional play Alabama remained as a permanent cross-divisional opponent for the Commodores. Since 2002, Vanderbilt has played Alabama four times, and in the last two (in 2011 and 2017), Vanderbilt hasn’t scored. In 2017, Alabama came to Nashville and broke the spirit of a 3-0 Vanderbilt team, beating the Commodores 59-0 in a game that CBS televised for some reason. (This also marks the last time Vanderbilt played on CBS, though not the last time Vanderbilt played on broadcast television — a trip to Notre Dame in 2018 was broadcast on NBC, because Notre Dame.)
Nick Saban, the SEC’s longest-tenured coach, who enters his sixteenth season at Alabama with a record of 183-25, and that was with a 7-6 record in his first season. So, over the last fourteen seasons, Alabama has averaged 12.5 wins a year, and they’ve never won less than 10 games in a season (and they’ve won less than 11 games exactly once.) They’ve also won six national championships under Saban. The consistency here is simply incredible; 2007 is the last time that Alabama didn’t finish the season in the AP Top 10, and since the College Football Playoff started in 2015, Alabama has missed it just once.
The Alabama offense has a couple of questions entering 2022, but not many. The Tide have to replace both of their starting offensive tackles, with Large Adult Son Evan Neal now playing in the NFL and sixth-year right tackle Chris Owens having also moved on. Alabama’s running game was also unusually reliant on a single back (Brian Robinson, who rushed for 1343 yards and 14 touchdowns), who’s also gone, and so are the team’s top three receivers in Jameson Williams, John Metchie, and Slade Bolden.
But keep in mind, these are Alabama problems and not normal program problems. Alabama brought in Tyler Steen (we know him!) as a graduate transfer, and he’ll have to compete with the top two offensive tackle prospects in the 2021 class in JC Latham and Tommy Brockermeyer. Likewise at receiver, Ja’Corey Brooks and Traeshon Holden are very talented even if they looked like a clear downgrade when forced into action due to injuries last season — and Alabama also brings in Jermaine Burton as a transfer from Georgia. Robinson’s backup last year, Trey Sanders, was the #1 running back prospect in the Class of 2019. Alabama will be fine.
Oh, right, and they return the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Bryce Young, who only threw for 4872 yards and 47 touchdowns last year. Returning Young covers a multitude of sins.
Where Alabama’s offense has a few minor questions, the defense doesn’t really have any. The linebacking corps, even with the loss of Christian Harris to the NFL, is still likely the best in the country, with Will Anderson being a legitimate Heisman candidate in the middle of the defense (31 tackles for loss, 17.5 sacks), former five-star Dallas Turner having a solid debut as a true freshman (10 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks), and Henry To’oto’o establishing himself as a reliable tackler in the middle after transferring from Tennessee. I’m not sure who’s going to replace Harris, but it’s probably going to be somebody very talented.
The backfield, too, has few questions: Jalyn Armour-Davis is off to the NFL, but the other starting cornerback (Kool-Aid McKinstry, a grown man who goes by Kool-Aid) is back, as are both starting safeties, and Saban quite likely replaced Armour-Davis by nabbing LSU transfer Eli Ricks out of the portal. Ricks had an excellent debut as a freshman before getting caught up in all the mess that was going on in Baton Rouge last season.
Up front, Phidarian Mathis is a significant loss but again, Alabama, they’ll probably find somebody. The other two starters on the defensive line (Byron Young and DJ Dale) both return. Alabama’s defense has bled more points as the game has evolved, but their 20.1 ppg last season still ranked 18th nationally, and eight starters return. This should be a very good unit.
Alabama’s kicking game has long been a joke, but Will Reichard’s solidified it, making 40-of-49 field goals in his career. Sophomore punter James Burnip was merely okay in his debut (39.1 yards per punt average), but this is less of an issue because Alabama doesn’t punt very often. Slade Bolden and Jameson Williams also handled returns last season, so there’s another thing Alabama will have to find. They will probably find one.
I mean, regarding the actual game that Vanderbilt will play at Alabama on September 24, there’s not a whole lot to say. Alabama will win and it won’t be close and merely scoring at all will be an improvement on the last two times Vanderbilt has faced Alabama. As far as Alabama writ large, they look like the clear favorite in the SEC West; aside from how good they look on paper, of their main competition, LSU is going through a coaching change, Auburn is kind of a dumpster fire, and Texas A&M and Ole Miss both need a quarterback. Given the last decade of results, you can probably pencil Alabama in for 11-1 or 12-0, a trip to Atlanta and the Playoff to follow. I know, I am writing really bold predictions here.