Alabama established a Football Bowl Subdivision record last year by becoming the first program ever to win all 12 regular-season contests by at least three touchdowns.
That offense had Mike Locksley calling the plays under head coach Nick Saban, but Locksley spent this season as Maryland's head coach.
Losses to LSU and Auburn and a 19-point victory over Texas A&M prevented a repeat performance this season for Alabama, but first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian did put his stamp on another program first as this year's team scored at least 35 points in every regular-season game.
"This has been a fantastic experience," Sarkisian said Sunday during a news conference previewing Wednesday afternoon's Citrus Bowl between the Crimson Tide and Michigan. "I get to go to work every day with really good people, from Coach Saban to our offensive staff to our players. These guys are fun to coach. They want to be great, and we try to push them every day from a physical to a mental standpoint at a very high level.
"They have responded. There will always be that sour taste, because we felt like we missed some opportunities in a couple of games that we felt like we could've and should've won, but we didn't get that done. The reality is that we've got one more opportunity to show what we're about offensively, and I think our guys are going to be ready to play."
LSU's 63-28 pummelling of Oklahoma in Saturday's Peach Bowl national semifinal improved the scoring offense of the Tigers to 48.9 points per contest. Alabama is a close second nationally, averaging 48.3 a game.
When the Tide hosted the Tigers on Nov. 9, they combined for 87 points as LSU prevailed 46-41. The Iron Bowl had an even higher total, with Alabama and Auburn producing nine lead changes and 93 points in Auburn's 48-45 triumph.
Costly turnovers haunted Alabama in both losses, with Tua Tagovailoa losing a fumble and throwing an interception against LSU, and with Mac Jones having two interceptions returned for touchdowns at Auburn.
This is Sarkisian's second stint under Saban, having served as an offensive analyst on the 2016 team before replacing Lane Kiffin as the play caller for the national championship game of that season, which was a 35-31 loss to Clemson. He was expected to oversee Alabama's offense in 2017 but left to be the coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons, a role he held the past two NFL seasons.
Sarkisian's biggest task this season was managing the transition from Tagovailoa, who missed time with an ankle injury against Tennessee and was lost for the year to a dislocated hip at Mississippi State on Nov. 16, to Jones. Those two games — a 35-13 win over the Volunteers and a 38-7 rout of the Bulldogs — would be Alabama's two lowest-scoring performances.
"Coach Saban does a great job in practice of getting our ones and twos a lot of quality reps," Sarkisian said. "When you're the one, you're taking the reps and applying it to the game, but when you're the backup, you work all week and may not get in. Mac got thrown in against Tennessee, which was a different formula, and then he had a week to prepare against Arkansas.
"Getting those reps and those looks and then performing naturally builds confidence, and Mac's confidence has been building throughout the year. The confidence from his teammates has grown as well. He made throws against Auburn when guys were breathing down his face on third down."
The confidence for Jones and the respect for Sarkisian may be no more evident than the fact Alabama could have had as many as six juniors — running back Najee Harris, receivers Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith, and tackles Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills — choose to sit out the bowl. All six instead will be suiting up against the Wolverines.
"These are highly competitive guys who strive for excellence," Sarkisian said. "For us to have all these guys on offense is needed, because we're going up against a really good defense, but this speaks volumes to the type of character kids we have."