There are so many familiar factors pointing Alabama in the direction of a No. 1 preseason ranking and a run at another college football crown.
Seven-time national championship coach Nick Saban, who's won six of them with the Crimson Tide, is gearing for his 16th season in Tuscaloosa and will be accompanied by the return of coordinators Bill O'Brien and Pete Golding. Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young is back at quarterback, as is Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner Will Anderson at outside linebacker.
Yet it's a new player providing a new wrinkle - former Dalton High School running back Jahmyr Gibbs - who is creating a slew of buzz as well.
"Ja is super explosive and super dynamic, and he is really smart," Young said this past week at the Southeastern Conference's media days event in Atlanta. "He understands the offense really well, even in the short time that he's been here. It feels like he's been here for multiple years with how he understands the offense.
"He's smart not just in running the ball and receiving out of the backfield but in protections. He knows where his eyes need to be, and I'm super excited to watch him and to play alongside him."
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound transfer from Georgia Tech culminated his first spring at Alabama by rushing nine times for 100 yards and a touchdown to earn offensive MVP at the A-Day game. His April performance was merely more of the same from his time with the Yellow Jackets, having averaged 5.2 yards per carry during his two seasons in Atlanta and having been named to last season's All-ACC team at three different positions - first team at all-purpose back, second team at return specialist and third team at running back.
Last season: 13-2 (7-1 SEC)Opener: Sept. 3 vs. Utah State in Tuscaloosa (7:30 p.m. on SEC Network)Fun fact: Should Alabama be the preseason No. 1 team, it would mark the 15th consecutive year in which Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide have held the top spot at some point.Up next: Arkansas
Yet the anticipation for Gibbs to suit up in a No. 1 jersey (he wore No. 13 in the spring) is not as much about his past productivity as it is the many mismatches he could create.
"He's very fast, and he's a great running back, but the scariest thing about him is his ability to catch passes out of the backfield," Anderson said. "To be running with him as a linebacker on wheel routes or slants or anything like that he does - he's just going to be very scary to watch. He made me miss a couple times this spring. He's a great player."
Anderson apparently was far from alone this spring when it came to embarrassing moments against Gibbs, who became the first top-100 national signee out of extreme north Georgia since Ridgeland High safety Vonn Bell in 2013.
"We met each other a few of times," senior safety Jordan Battle said. "I think it was 50/50. I stood him up a couple of times, and he got me a couple of times. That's the thing about Alabama. You're going to compete like that every day.
"With Coach OB having been here for a year now, I'm pretty sure he'll be expanding the offense for Jahmyr to make plays within his schemes. He's going to be a great addition to this team."
The all-purpose talents of Gibbs could be a sharp contrast to the straight-ahead power running of predecessor Brian Robinson Jr., who was plenty productive in rushing for 1,343 yards and 5.0 yards per carry for last year's SEC champions that came up short against Georgia in the title game of the four-team playoff. Gibbs rushed for 746 yards last season, tallied 470 through the air and had 589 on kickoff returns for 1,805 total yards.
Alabama's rebuilding areas are at receiver and the offensive line, so Gibbs and his versatility could go a long way in enhancing the retooling. Gibbs is one of three former top-100 signees the Crimson Tide acquired via the transfer portal, joining former Georgia receiver Jermaine Burton and former LSU cornerback Eli Ricks, and all three were voted first-team preseason All-SEC selections this past week.
"When Jahmyr has the ball in his hands, he creates opportunities to score every time," Battle said. "We're excited to see what he's going to do this year."
Said Young: "He's come in with a very professional attitude, and he's added a lot for us offensively."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org.