Alabama Lite certainly had a fine season last year. After seeing their Yellow Jacket rivals in Atlanta play in two New Years 6 bowls since their last appearance in one a decade prior, the Fightin’ Kirbys won the Rose Bowl in dramatic fashion over a very talented Oklahoma team and earned themselves a spot in the national title game.
The team from Athens was finally breaking through after all these decades of under-achievement with countless top-10 recruiting classes, massive sidewalk fanbase, and every resource imaginable.
Alabama Lite was facing Alabama on the biggest stage in hopes of winning its third national title. It’s never been lost on the team in Athens that Tech’s most recent title is a decade more recent than theirs as well. This was their chance to return to national relevance.
They were playing the team their entire division has been unsuccessfully trying to emulate for years. Alabama Lite brought in coaches from ‘Bama, philosophy from ‘Bama, attitude from ‘Bama, and even put a barbecue restaurant from ‘Bama in their stadium.
... The latter might be the most damning portion of this whole thing. How this Yeti-wielding, Vineyard Vines-clad fanbase manages to not be able to put on their pastel short shorts, fire up their Big Green Eggs, and properly smoke a large piece of meat is beyond me...
Anyway, Alabama Lite played mightily in the championship game, only to fall short in overtime when their vaunted, defensive-minded head coach managed to blow a 20-point lead and then forgot how to defend 2nd-and-26.
So what’s next for Alabama Lite? Was 2017 a flash in the pan and it’s going to be more under-achievement leading to more Outback and Liberty Bowls? Or has the program turned the corner and is finally on the same level as the team it’s been trying so desperately to copy for several years now?
Well, for starters... Dreamland is not a good barbecue restaurant.
Every team on Alabama Lite’s 2018 schedule has surely breathed a sigh of relief now that team leader and stud-linebacker Roquan Smith has left for the (probably) greener pastures of the NFL (you know their bagmen have that SEC speed). Smith had 137 tackles a season ago, including 14 for loss.
The team from Athens will actually be losing over half the starters from a very good 2017 defense. Also gone are DT Trenton Thompson, linebackers Lorenzo Carter, Reggie Carter, and Davin Bellamy, NT John Atkins, and safety Dominick Sanders. Additionally in the secondary, they will be replacing both Aaron Davis and Malkom Parrish.
On offense, Alabama Lite saw the departures of both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel from their stable of talented running backs. They lose Isaiah Wynn on the O-line, but his absence isn’t expected to be felt too much with plenty of experience and talent behind him.
On defense, Alabama Lite returns what will be perhaps the strongest players for 2018 on that side of the ball in Deandre Baker and J.R. Reed. Despite the aforementioned turnover, the defensive line still returns plenty of game-experience in Jonathan Ledbetter, Tyler Clark, and Julian Rochester. It’s a lot to replace experience-wise, but the talent is there.
Most notably on offense, Jake Fromm returns at QB for his second year. He completed an impressive 62 percent of his passes for 24 TDs and 7 INTs. He’ll be handing off to D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield coming out of the backfield for what seems like an endless supply of 5-star running backs in Athens. Both Fromm and the RBs should be well-protected by an experienced O-line that returns four out of five starters.
On the perimeter, Fromm will lose one of his favorite targets in Javon Wims, but there’s plenty of experience behind him in returnees Terry Godwin, Riley Ridley, and Mecole Hardman.
Though not expected to win the starting position, five-star true freshman QB Justin Fields brings more of a dual-threat ability to the position, and he is at least expected to see the field for some meaningful playing time this fall.
So what’s next?
The 2018 Alabama Lite defense is certainly not expected to return to 2017 levels with the amount of turnover they face. They were one of the best in the nation and were able to be relied upon sometimes when an inexperienced freshman QB in Fromm couldn’t always keep the offense on the field. The difference in the defense’s regression and Fromm’s progression while returning almost everyone around him on offense will more than likely be the biggest variables in the season.
Despite the defensive turnover, things are looking bright in Athens, however, as they still play in one of the worst divisions among the Power 5 conferences in football... which might be even worse this season. Somehow, their biggest threat to another division title for 2018 is coached by Will Muschamp.
Traditional rivals in Tennessee and Florida not only have been on the decline for the past several seasons, but they’re both breaking in new coaches and facing rebuilds. The remaining teams of Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt would currently finish at the bottom of any Power 5 division you wanted to place them in. So anything less than a division title for Alabama Lite would certainly cause some alarms this season.
From the West division, Alabama Lite again faces permanent rival Auburn, whom they split two games with last season, and LSU, who has all of the talent in the world, but their coaching still leaves most experts trying to predict them to just use ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Even with most of the defense turning over, anything more than two losses during the regular season facing this schedule would be a return-to-the-norm season of more under-achievement in Athens. Will a talented but inexperienced defense play well enough to make them conference or playoff contenders? Or will increased pressure on a young QB mean Alabama Lite loses a game or two that they shouldn’t? Will a school that awarded Ryan Seacrest an honorary degree be able to beat Georgia Tech in Athens for the first time since 2012? Time will tell.
One would assume some practice time would be spent this fall defending second and long.