What are the five biggest questions for football in Alabama in 2022?

Alabama begins fall camp Thursday, beginning four weeks of practice that will culminate in the school’s opening game on Sept. 3 against Utah State.

High expectations follow the Tide after missing out on a national championship last season. Alabama was picked again to win the SEC, and no school is less likely to win a national title that would be Nick Saban’s seventh in 16 years.

As the work behind the scenes from players and coaches ramps up, here’s a look at the biggest questions surrounding Alabama this season:

1. Can Bryce Young’s supporting cast help him win another ring? The reigning Heisman Trophy winner returns as college football’s most decorated active player, his trophy case already including the Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award, Associated Press Player of the Year and SEC Male Athlete of Year filled. All that remains for Young in his third and likely final season of college football is a team effort: winning a national championship. Young has one ring when he served as Mac Jones’ backup in 2020, but winning one as a starter would bow to his heritage as a collegiate player. The junior quarterback has the ability to play alone to win games, but winning it all will require the help of his offensive line and receivers. “Bryce Young is a great player, a great leader, obviously a great quarterback,” Saban said last month. “But quarterback is also one of the most difficult positions in all sports when you’re not surrounded by good people. So the challenge for us is to make sure we’re developing the players around him very well so we can continue to be a very productive offensive team.” Replacing rusher Brian Robinson and top lineman Evan Neal could determine how the ending of Young’s Alabama history is written.

2. Can every incoming transmission be plug and play? Before the proliferation of the transfer portal and the NCAA’s relaxed rules on transfers, Alabama was very picky about accepting players from other programs. Landon Dickerson came on as a 2019 graduate transfer and was the heartbeat of the 2020 team, but Alabama has otherwise preferred to develop players from its own system and culture. It dipped into transfer waters very successfully last year when it took Williams and Henry To’o To’o, and pushed deeper into the pool this offseason by adding five incoming transfers – running back Jahmyr Gibbs, wide receiver Jermaine Burton and Tyler Harrell, offensive tackle Tyler Steen and cornerback Eli Ricks. Either way, Alabama is counting on an experienced player to fill a hole. But will it work? As with recruitment, there is potential for “mistakes” and players not integrating well into their new environment.

3. Will the right mentality trickle out at the top? Linebacker and team captain Will Anderson said in the spring that Alabama lacked “really good, strong leadership” last season, which will of course be a talking point this season. Anderson’s relentless drive on the field and work ethic off the field have endeared him to Saban and earned him the respect of his teammates, while Young also had a more vocal presence last year, also being voted captain. But how well can Anderson and Young’s message carry over to the rest of the group? “The challenge is,” Saban said last month, “are the players on our team going to embrace all of the organization’s principles, values ​​and standards, which these guys have been great in demonstrating, so we can create that kind of identity, that kind of consistency and creates performance that we need to have as a real team?” Saban was upset last season at how his team handled his week of practice prior to losing at Texas A&M, and when a similar attitude turned the tide in this season game costs, it could cost the team another championship.

4. How healthy can Alabama stay? Injuries have played a role as Alabama has fallen short of a national championship in recent seasons. In 2018, it was an ankle injury for Tua Tagovailoa before Clemson lost a CFP title game. In 2019, Alabama lost both of its starting inside linebackers before the season and later lost Tagovailoa to ankle and then hip injuries. And last season, the double whammy of losing Williams and Metchie to cruciate ligament tears could have cost The Tide a second win against Georgia. Injuries are a part of football that is difficult to avoid. So when they happen in Alabama in 2022, the impact on who and the team’s reaction will shape the overall arc of the season.

5. Does this ever get old? The preseason version of the Associated Press poll is due out later this month, and Alabama is expected to be No. 1 for the sixth time in the past decade. Alabama fans won’t object, but this offseason has seen a perhaps unprecedented amount of talk about the direction of college football. These include fears that power will be concentrated at the top, particularly in schools like Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson. Improving the prospects for teams outside the upper echelons is a driving factor in expanding the college football playoffs, and Alabama, racing through its schedule to another national championship this season, would only intensify that discussion. Saban himself has been touting college football’s “competitive balance” this offseason, saying Alabama is benefiting from the current model but college football as a whole is suffering. With the same action, Alabama, which will hoist another trophy this January at Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium, would no doubt be good for the program but usher in another offseason of questions about the sport’s statewide appeal.

Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @micerodak.

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