Since guiding the Crimson Tide last January to its first national championship since 1992, quarterback Greg McElroy has met the President, grown chummy with the Mannings while teaching at their summer passing academy, and signed autographs for seemingly every man, woman and child in Tuscaloosa. But ask McElroy what the best part of winning the title has been, and his gaze shifts to the future. "The best part is having the chance to win another one," says McElroy, a 6' 3", 220-pound senior. "Now that would be special."
No school has repeated as consensus national champion since Nebraska in 1995, but few defending champs over that stretch have been as talented as this year's Crimson Tide. The team brings back a quarterback who hasn't lost a game as a starter since the eighth grade (McElroy), the reigning Heisman Trophy winner (running back Mark Ingram), a running back who may be better than the reigning Heisman Trophy winner (Trent Richardson), one of the most dangerous receivers in the country (Julio Jones) and perhaps the top linebacker in the nation (Dont'a Hightower).
Nick Saban has had his pick of recruits since he arrived at Alabama in 2007, so it's not surprising he has amassed the kind of talent that's the stuff of a burgeoning dynasty. "We lost a lot of good players on defense, but our offense should be more explosive this year," says Saban. "We expect Greg to be more productive throwing the ball. It's going to be important for us to make more plays down the field. The strength of this team will be our skill-position players on offense."
Last season McElroy started strong, struggled in October and then played the game of his life in the SEC championship victory over Florida. Why was his performance so up and down? "The moment got too big for me at certain points in the middle of the season," he says, "but I'm a different player now. I don't even recognize on tape the player I was back then. I'm comfortable in the offense. The weapons around me are ridiculous. It's my job to get them the ball so they can make plays. There's no reason we can't be a big-play offense."
If Alabama is, McElroy may very well be celebrating another title in January.
COACH Nick Saban (4th year)
2009 RECORD 14--0 (8--0 in SEC)
FINAL AP RANK 1
RETURNING STARTERS 10
Offense 9, Defense 1
4 San Jose State
11 Penn State
18 at Duke
25 at Arkansas
9 at South Carolina
16 Ole Miss
23 at Tennessee
6 at LSU
13 Mississippi State
18 Georgia State
Nick Saban calls this big-play defender "one of the most athletic linebackers I've ever had."
Despite the presence of Trent Richardson, the Heisman winner (20 TDs in '09) should still be 'Bama's goal-line back.
Greg McElroy's go-to wideout was limited by injuries in '09, but 26 of his 43 catches went for first downs.
Photograph by AL TIELEMANS
With the players Alabama has at the skill positions, McElroy will be counted upon to make more plays down the field.
JOHN BIEVER (INGRAM)
Though he won the program's first Heisman last year, Ingram will have to share carries with the emerging Richardson.
DEREK HINGLE/ICON SMI