Al Del Greco and Jay Barker join forces each morning with host Tony Kurre on the air for The Opening Drive show on WJOX 94.5 FM. For the Hoover Sun, the two personalities give their opinions on the upcoming seasons for the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers.
Do you think the preseason predictions for Alabama and Auburn have been fairly accurate this year?
Jay Barker: I think the predictions on Alabama are fair, given their accomplishments of the last few years. Alabama is the logical team to place at number one. They are just so loaded at so many different positions. It really just comes down to injuries. Now it’s so hard to just win one national championship, much less back-to-back. But to win three in a row...the odds are just so much against them, but I still think the number-one ranking is deserved and correct. They are the best team, talent wise and with coaching, in the country right now.
Al Del Greco: Where Auburn is concerned, there are still a lot of questions. How does quarterback Nick Marshall fit in? How does the offensive line come around? How does the defense, with coordinator Ellis Johnson, fit with what Gus Malzahn is doing offensively with the up-tempo offense? And the other thing is, we’ve had all of these great recruiting classes, but how good are these kids? They have been developed well, and they aren’t as good as they could be yet. So how quickly can the coaching staff get them to where they can compete at a level where the expectations are? So really, we don’t know what Auburn is yet, and probably halfway through the season, we’ll have a good idea of what this team is all about.
Complete the sentence: My team will have a great season if...
Barker: For Alabama to have a great season, it’s all about injuries, keeping the depth that they have, and then A.J. McCarron is the key. If Alabama is going to win another national championship, then they need A.J. to stay healthy, and to be out there leading that team.
Del Greco: For Auburn to have a great season, they need Nick Marshall to come through at the quarterback position. That’s where we’ve struggled for three out of the last four years. The year we won it all, we had the best player in college football at that position. Nick Marshall doesn’t have to be the best player; he’s just got to know the offense, to run it without making a lot of mistakes, and to let the other parts of the team, the defense and special teams, play them into winning football games. Most notably, they need better play at the quarterback position than they have had the last few years.
Do you see any surprises on the horizon for the 2013 season?
Del Greco: I really think the new rule change on targeting, and being able to eject a player immediately and call a 15-yard penalty, then you’ll go back to a review and say, well, we may have made a mistake and he really didn’t target a guy so we’ll let him back in the game and initiate the penalty anyway. That’s going to happen somewhere, and it’s going to occur in a game where somebody gets thrown out and could really affect that game and the national championship picture. Talk about an outcry...it’s coming.
Barker: One of the great surprises last year was when Johnny Manziel came onto the scene, and this year I’m looking forward to seeing who that type of surprise player is. Whether it’s a quarterback or a running back, or just someone who has come out of nowhere and is a fun player to watch. I love those types of stories, and I’m looking forward to seeing the surprise stories of 2013.
Which new player do you see having the biggest impact on the team?
Del Greco: Other than at quarterback, the guy who has intrigued me the most is Carl Lawson. Looking at his recruitment, looking at the work ethic that he puts in, the quotes from him and his dad about what it means to play college football, and talking to some of the coaches who have seen him on campus for a month and a half, I can’t help but be impressed. You’re talking about a kid who has a great motor on him. The question is how long it will take him to adapt to SEC football, because there is a bit of a learning curve, but he’s the one who intrigues me the most because of what we’ve seen leading up to this time. He has one goal in mind, and that’s helping the football team.
Barker: For me, there are two guys at Alabama, one on offense and one on defense. Derrick Henry on offense is a big running back who had some injuries during spring practice but has come back strong. The coaches have said that he performed really well in scrimmages, and they are excited about his size, his athletic ability, and his enormous potential.
Reuben Foster, on the defensive side of the ball, has the coaches excited this year. He is a big dude, once an Auburn commitment who flipped to Alabama. I think he will make a tremendous impact immediately, especially with Trey DePriest being out. The coaches hope DePriest will be back for the Texas A&M game, but I think Reuben Foster will make a huge impact this year as a freshman.
What are your own predictions?
Del Greco: I’ve said all along that I think Auburn wins 7 or 8 games this year. The four nonconference games are all winnable. I think the games with Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss are all very winnable. And I think Auburn could surprise one of the other four teams they play: Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU. Again, that is predicated on Nick Marshall or someone running this offense the way Gus Malzahn wants it run.
Barker: For Alabama, the two biggest games are Texas A&M on the road, and then a neutral site for the SEC championship game. After the A&M game, Alabama gets LSU, Tennessee, and Ole Miss at home. Auburn is always tough to play down there, no matter what the records are. Those are the games we should worry about, and Tennessee will be much improved with new coach Butch Jones. I think maybe the toughest game of them all could be Georgia in the championship game, because Georgia has a really, really good football team this year. It’s true that they have to replace a lot of defensive players, but those new guys are talented. They also have the redemption factor they’re striving for, for an entire year, and I really think that matchup will happen again. Georgia got so close last year, to beating Alabama and taking away those dreams. Can Alabama beat them twice in a row? Alabama has a schedule that could allow the three-peat, but it’s just so hard to repeat, much less win three in a row.