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

Alabama begins fall camp Thursday, kicking off four weeks of practice that will culminate in the school’s Sept. 3 opener against Utah State.

High expectations accompany the tide after it fell short of a national championship last season. Alabama has once again been picked to win the SEC and no school has shorter odds to win a national title, which would be the seventh for Nick Saban in 16 years.

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

1. Can Bryce Young’s supporting cast help win him another ring? The reigning Heisman Trophy winner returns as college football’s most decorated active player, his trophy case already filled with the Maxwell Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award, Associated Press player of the year and SEC male athlete of the year. What’s left for Young in his third and likely final season of college football is a team achievement: winning a national championship. Young has a ring when he served as Mac Jones’ backup in 2020, but winning one as a starter would put a bow on his legacy as a college player. The junior quarterback has the ability to make plays on his own to win games, but winning it all will take help from his offensive line and receivers. “Bryce Young is a great player, a great leader, a great quarterback, obviously,” Saban said last month. “But quarterback is also a position that may be one of the most difficult positions in all of sports to play if you’re not surrounded by good people. So the challenge for us is to make sure we do an outstanding job of developing the players around him so that we can continue to be a very productive offensive team.” How well Alabama replaces the performance of top receivers Jameson Williams and John Metchie, top rusher Brian Robinson and top lineman Evan Neal could determine how the ending to Young’s story at Alabama is written.

2. Can every incoming transfer be plug and play? Before the proliferation of the transfer portal and the NCAA’s relaxed rules for transfers, Alabama was very selective in taking players from other programs. Landon Dickerson arrived in 2019 as a graduate transfer and was the heartbeat of the 2020 team, but Alabama has otherwise preferred to develop players from within its own system and culture. It very successfully dipped its toes into the transfer waters last year in taking Williams and Henry To’o To’o, and pushed deeper into the pool this offseason in adding five incoming transfers — running back Jahmyr Gibbs, wide receivers Jermaine Burton and Tyler Harrell, offensive tackle Tyler Steen and cornerback Eli Ricks. In each case, Alabama is counting on a veteran player to fill a hole. But will it work out? Like in recruiting, there is the potential for “misses” and players who do not assimilate well into their new surroundings.

3. Will the right mentality trickle down the top? Linebacker and team captain Will Anderson said in the spring that Alabama lacked “really good, strong leadership” last season, so naturally that will be a point of conversation entering this season. Anderson’s relentless motor on the field and work ethic off the field have endedeared him to Saban and earned him the respect of his teammates, while Young also became a more vocal presence last year who also was voted a captain. But how well can the message from Anderson and Young spread to the rest of the group? “The challenge is,” Saban said last month, “are the players on our team all going to buy into the principles and values ​​and standards of the organization, which these guys have done a great job of demonstrating, so that we can create the kind of identity that will create the kind of consistency and performance we need to have an actual team?” Saban was upset last season at how his team treated its week of practice before its loss at Texas A&M, and if a similar attitude costs the Tide a game this season, it could again cost the team a championship.

4. How healthy can Alabama stay? Injuries have played a role in Alabama falling short of a national championship in recent seasons. In 2018, it was an ankle injury for Tua Tagovailoa before a CFP title game loss to Clemson. 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 one-two blow of losing Williams and Metchie to torn ACLs might have cost the Tide a second win over Georgia. Injuries are a part of football that are difficult to avoid, so when they happen to Alabama in 2022, whom they affect and how the team responds will shape the overall arc of the season.

5. Does this ever get old? The preseason version of the Associated Press poll will be released later this month, and Alabama is expected to be No. 1 for the sixth time in the past decade. Alabama fans will not raise any objection to that, but this offseason featured what might have been an unprecedented amount of conversation around the direction of college football. Included among that are fears that power is being concentrated at the top, particularly among schools such as Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Clemson. Improving the outlook for teams outside of the upper echelon is a driving factor behind expanding the College Football Playoff, and Alabama racing this season through its schedule toward another national championship would only intensify that discussion. Saban himself has beat the drums this offseason for more “competitive balance” in college football, saying Alabama benefits from the current model but college football overall suffers. By that same measure, Alabama hoisting another trophy this January at Los Angeles’ SoFi Stadium would be undoubtedly good for the program, but would usher in another offseason of questions about the nationwide appeal of the sport.

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

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