Alabama's football team has the talent, the coaching and a favorable schedule to win at least nine games this season.
Anything short of nine wins will give the Crimson Tide a losing decade.
As a result of NCAA sanctions announced last week that requires Alabama to vacate 21 of its 23 victories during the 2005-07 seasons, the Crimson Tide soon will be saddled with a 44-48 record for the 2000s. The university has until June 26 to decide whether it will appeal the ruling, which will change Alabama's 10-2, 6-7 and 7-6 records to 0-2, 0-7 and 2-6.
"It's still better than Vanderbilt," said Roger Shultz, who played center for the Crimson Tide from 1987 to '90.
Framed over the past six seasons, it's not. The Tide would have 24 recognized wins since 2003, which would trail the Commodores by one.
The NCAA deemed seven football players and 15 other student-athletes as "intentional wrongdoers" after they racked up almost $22,000 worth of textbooks through their financial aid and provided them to friends. There were no scholarship reductions, leaving Nick Saban's program loaded for the near future after last season's 12-2 surge, but the vacancies have dented the record books and all but rendered this a lost decade.
Even before last week's verdict, the Crimson Tide had suffered a 3-8 collapse during Mike DuBose's finale in 2000, a 4-9 debacle during Mike Shula's debut in '03 and an inexplicable loss to Louisiana-Monroe in '07. Alabama is 2-7 this decade against Auburn, 2-7 against LSU and 3-5 against Tennessee now that the 6-3 win over the Vols at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2005 will be vacated.
"Any time you give up wins, it's certainly disappointing," former Tide tailback Ahmaad Galloway said. "I'll go along and echo Coach Saban in that it's good that it doesn't hurt the kids that we have here now, and it doesn't prohibit kids from coming in. It's one of those deals where we did it and have to live with it, but there are a lot of tomorrows ahead of us."
Galloway was a team captain for the '02 Tide, who won 10 games but were on probation and banned from playing in a bowl game. Alabama has been on probation more than half the seasons since 1993, when it had to forfeit eight victories and a tie against Tennessee for using an ineligible player (cornerback Antonio Langham).
Alabama had its probation extended last week through June 10, 2012, meaning SEC commissioner Mike Slive's goal of being a probation-free league has been delayed further.
A forfeit takes a win away and awards it to the losing team both in the single-season and series records. Ole Miss went from a losing season to a winning year in '93 after the NCAA forfeited Bama's 19-14 win over the Rebels.
Vacated games can get more confusing.
While Alabama will not be credited for 21 wins, neither will the 21 victims in their season records. So while the Tide will be 0-2 in 2005, Tennessee still will have to accept its 5-6 record.
The Volunteers will get a break, however, in their series record against Alabama because the '05 game in Tuscaloosa no longer will count.
Doug Walker, Alabama's associate athletic director for media relations, spent Monday sending e-mails to his league counterparts explaining what the vacated games will and won't affect. Walker said Alabama will be allowed to leave the on-field result in its media guide but with an accompanying asterisk.
Alabama's permanent records will reflect that the games were never played.
"This will have an effect," Walker said. "Is it an eye-of-the-beholder effect? Sure. But nonetheless it's an effect. It's one of those things I think will bother people more than they realize."
Shultz didn't seem too bothered Monday, stating, "The bottom line is that we still beat Ole Miss and those 10 teams (in '05). Tennessee will probably like it because they'll pick up a win, and they like those cheap wins, but they still lost the game."
Alabama has company in vacating victories. Florida State has been stripped by the NCAA of 14 wins from its '06-07 seasons for the use of ineligible players, but FSU decided in late April to challenge the ruling.
The Seminoles defeated Alabama, 21-14, in a 2007 matchup in Jacksonville that ultimately either winner would have had to vacate.
Savage joining Gold
Former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage has been hired to provide color commentary on Alabama football games for the Crimson Tide Sports Network. Eli Gold will continue to hold play-by-play duties, with former Crimson Tide linebacker Barry Krauss working the sideline.
Savage, who was with the Browns from 2005 to '08, worked Alabama's A-Day game in April. He is a 1987 graduate of Sewanee, where he quarterbacked the Tigers and was a three-time all-conference selection in baseball.
TALE OF THE TIDE
Alabama's decade-by-decade record since the SEC started in 1933:
Decade Record SEC titles
1930s 52-8-5 '33-34, '37
1940s 66-23-4 '45
1950s 50-48-2 '53
1960s 90-16-4 '61, '64-66
1970s 103-16-1 '71-75, '77-79
1980s 85-33-2 '81, '89
1990s 83-40-0 '92, '99
2000s 44-48-0 None