Starters returning: 6
Starters returning: 7
In Bear Bryant's .33 years as a head coach there have been seasons when, he says, he didn't know what to expect. This is not one of them; Alabama is loaded. Last year's loss to Nebraska, 31-24, in the team's second game wrecked the Tide's chances for the national championship, despite an otherwise perfect record that included a 35-6 Sugar Bowl rout of Ohio State. Already this year Bryant has made sure Nebraska will not play spoiler again. Last Saturday night 'Bama opened against the Cornhuskers with a devastating 20-3 win and made a believer out of Husker Coach Tom Osborne. "I thought we'd score one TD," Osborne said. "I see no reason why they shouldn't be ranked No. 1."
"Last year I was unsure about our defense," says Bryant. This year it was the offensive line. Led by 6'3", 224-pound Center Dwight Stephenson, a defensive end in 1976, and Tackle Jim Bunch, another junior, that line will prove to be a far greater worry to rival coaches, as Osborne will attest.
Jeff Rutledge is a quality quarterback (the first Tide touchdown of the season came on a Rutledge pass). He threw only five interceptions last season and his 59.8% completion rate was tops in the SEC. Tony Nathan, whom a Tuscaloosa newspaper columnist called "a ballerina with a stick of dynamite on his fanny," was the conference rushing leader with a 6.2-yard average and 15 TDs.
The defense is impressive throughout, featuring a linebacking corps that may be the best in the nation. Seniors Barry Krauss, Rich Wingo and Rickey Gilliland were one-two-three in tackles last season for the Tide with 91, 75 and 63, and are all contenders for All-America honors. On a defense noted for quickness, perhaps the speediest man is Cornerback Don McNeal, a former split end who had three interceptions and broke up 11 passes in 1977.
Bryant is over one hurdle but has others coming up soon: Missouri, USC and Washington in three of the next four games. "I can't blame anyone," says Athletic Director Bryant. "I made up the darn schedule."