It’s early and no one has said that Mark Ingram’s knee injury is anything more than a slight problem that will keep him out of the San Jose State game, but it’s hardly a plus, and it’s yet another part of the fun ride that great teams have to go on to try to stay at a high level.
Alabama is everyone’s No. 1 ranked team (including CFN’s), but that’s sort of by default. It’s not like there are other options this preseason with Ohio State basically Terrelle Pryor and a bunch of guys, Florida rebuilding, Texas reloading, and Boise State still lacking the respect needed thanks to a WAC schedule. This is a Tide team with several major issues to deal with before its reigning Heisman winner got hurt, and the more problems, the harder it is to get through a year, much less in the nasty SEC, without suffering a few other setbacks. Basically, great teams don’t get all the same breaks twice.
Replacing almost the entire defense is a problem. Yeah, it’s Alabama, and yeah, the talent is there to potentially be even better than last year, but it’s still asking a lot to replace a leader like Rolando McClain, a run stuffer like Terrence Cody and a slew of all-stars across the board. Of course the defense will be great, but can it be national-title great week in and week out? As good as last year’s defense was, it still had some moments when it needed Cody to block a field goal and a big run by Ingram to get by. Oh yeah, Ingram.
Remember, Kentucky gave the Tide all it could handle, and then Ingram took over on the way to a 140-yard, two touchdown day in a 38-20 win. With everyone watching against Ole Miss, Ingram put on a show with 172 bruising yards and a touchdown in a 22-3 win. And then came the 246-yard, one touchdown day against South Carolina that pushed him to the top of the list of mediocre Heisman candidates. The 144-yard game against LSU showed that he wasn’t going to go away, and his dominant performance against Florida in the SEC title game cemented his lock on the award. He came through with the biggest performances in the biggest games, and if he’s anything less than 100% for a full season, it can’t be assumed that he’ll be quite at the same level again.
The loaded offense is supposed to overcome any problems on defense, and it’s supposed to make up for the potential issues in the kicking game with untested freshmen playing key roles But now that Ingram is already hobbling, his workload, his health and his durability will be a problem all year long. It’s a distraction, and it’s not going to go away.
Can he handle the touches he did last year? Is there going to be the equivalent of a pitch count against mediocre teams? Can Trent Richardson really pick up the slack and be the back everyone is assuming he is? The Ingram injury is yet another concern for a team that has enough on its plate with everything stacked against repeating for a national title, starting with the Marcell Dareus controversy involving a party with an agent, followed up by Nick Saban’s stump speech and unfortunate “pimp” comment.
Six teams get two weeks off to prepare for the Tide. The SEC West is by far the nastier of the two divisions, there are games against Penn State and Florida to deal with, and then there’s the issue that this is the shakiest No.1 defending national champion in decades. There’s a lot for Saban and the program to deal with, and not having a fully healthy workhorse isn’t going to help.
Even if Ingram’s knee is no big deal, Alabama has to quickly decide which way it’s going to go this year attitude-wise. Will it take the "nobody believes in us" route and come in with a mega-attitude, or will it be crushed under the weight and the pressure of expectations like Florida did last year?
Some teams are able to use the little problems to focus harder and take every game seriously, while others struggle to focus with all the attention on outside issues. Considering that no one has repeated as the consensus national champion since Nebraska did in the mid-1990s, there’s a lot stacked against the Tide going into this year, and not starting out with your best player isn’t a positive no matter how this ends up being spun.