NCAA Football Preview - Alabama Crimson Tide
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From The Sports Network By Pat Taggart, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: For a proud program such as Alabama, the 2003 season was undoubtedly one to forget. Mike Price was supposed to be the leader of the team, but he was dismissed before ever coaching a game because of some questionable moral conduct off the field. Desperate and embarrassed, Alabama turned to former Tide standout Mike Shula to restore the prestige to the storied program. The son of NFL Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, Mike's first season with his new team could not have been more difficult. Alabama finished the campaign with a 4-9 record, including three straight defeats to close out the year. It should be pointed out, however, that the team was often competitive in defeat, as six of the nine losses came by fewer than 10 points. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: Shula, a former quarterback, is certainly happy to have Brodie Croyle back under center. Last season, Croyle finished with 2,303 passing yards and 16 touchdowns despite battling through a shoulder injury. Croyle is extremely mobile and has plenty of arm strength, and the junior figures to be among the better signal callers in the SEC this year. While the position of starting tailback is a bit of a question mark, expect Ray Hudson to get the nod. Hudson gained 490 yards on 100 carries last year, but he reached the end zone only once and is more steady than spectacular. Ironically, the team's leading returning receiver is fullback Tim Castille, as he grabbed 21 passes for 129 yards as a freshman. Obviously, there is not much proven talent returning at wide receiver. Without question, the best player on offense for Alabama is left tackle Wesley Britt, as he has been chosen as a Preseason First Team All-SEC performer by both the media and the league's coaches. DEFENSE: While the Alabama offensive unit is loaded with questions, the defense should be strong and could actually be outstanding. There are seven returning starters in place, and there are standouts at all three tiers. Up front, expect Anthony Bryant to be tough against the run thanks to his 6-3, 336-pound frame. He will be used to protect an outstanding group of linebackers, highlighted by DeMeco Ryans and Freddie Roach. Ryans was named a Second Team All-SEC performer after recording 126 tackles in 2003, and he is only a junior this season. Roach is a big linebacker at 245 pounds and is well respected by the league's coaches, and he is coming off arthroscopic knee surgery. Of the four defensive backs in place, three are returning starters. Charlie Peprah is the best of the bunch, and he will often cover the opposition's top receiver. SPECIAL TEAMS: Brian Bostick missed nine of the 25 field goals that he attempted in 2003, less than impressive results to say the least. Still, Bostick figures to hold on to his job. The punting duties will fall to the talented Bo Freelend, and he has the potential to be one of the top performers at his position in the SEC. OUTLOOK: Alabama fans are not a patient group, and things can not get any worse than they have been the last couple of years. The defensive unit of this team will be strong, and that group alone should enable the Tide to earn a much-needed bowl bid. With that said, challenging for an SEC title seems a bit unrealistic.