Spring can only mean one thing…college football

Published 5:49 pm Saturday, March 14, 2009

In the midst of college basketball conference tournaments, the final push for playoff positioning in the NBA, the second round of the World Baseball Classic, spring training for the major league baseball players that aren’t participating in the Classic, and Tiger Woods’ second tournament since returning from knee surgery, what could be the hottest topic among sports fans in the state?

The beginning of college football spring practice. If it was its own sport, spring practice might be the third most popular pastime in the state—behind college football and college football recruiting, of course. That’s not an exaggeration—how many other sports see a crowd of more than 90,000 people the way Alabama’s A-Day game did two years ago?

In the spirit of the season, and since the county baseball tournament scheduled for this weekend was rained out, let’s preview the major questions state teams Alabama and Auburn will face this spring. By virtue of its first Iron Bowl win in seven tries, we’ll go over Alabama today and Auburn on Wednesday.

1. The offense. While the Alabama defense returns almost everyone—not only starters; we’re talking the two-deep—the offense will have some significant holes. The most obvious is quarterback. Last year’s backup, junior Greg McElroy, would seem to have a head start, and he performed well when called upon.

Don’t believe for a second that redshirt freshman Star Jackson or incoming freshman A.J. McCarron even have a shot. Dating back to his time at Michigan State, coach Nick Saban has always favored drop-back passers that are upperclassmen at this position.

There are also holes on the offensive line with the departures of center Antoine Caldwell, tackle Andre Smith and guard Marlon Davis. With all the linemen Alabama has signed the past two years, replacements must be available somewhere. So, a bigger concern might be…

2. The possibility of NCAA probation or sanctions over the textbook scandal during the 2006 season. Media representatives are frustrated because UA wasn’t forthcoming with information about appearing before the Committee on Infractions, but fans are probably much more worried about what happens next.

Just when Crimson Tide fans had reason to be positive about the direction of their program for the first time in about 15 years, the NCAA cloud forms again. If the case doesn’t turn out to be serious, though, the only thing to worry about might be…

3. Whether ESPN’s broadcast of the A-Day game will negatively affect the game’s attendance. 78,200 showed up last year, and a capacity crowd of 92,138 was on hand in 2006. Those totals are the top two attendances ever for a college football spring game.

But being able to watch the game on ESPN, a first, could keep some folks at home on their couches, especially if it’s not a nice day.

– Stephen Dawkins is the sports editor for The Clanton Advertiser. His column appears each Sunday and each Wednesday. Read his blog at www.clantonadvertiser.com/weblogs/extra-points. He can be reached at stephen.dawkins@clantonadvertiser.com.