Both the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers come into 2019 hungry for another championship.
The Tide is coming off of their fourth straight national championship appearance in 2018 but may be hungrier than ever before after sputtering out in the national championship.
Alabama fell 44-16 to Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship, which was the most lopsided loss Alabama has ever suffered under Nick Saban.
“I think if you’re a great competitor and you are in a game like we were for the national championship and you didn’t perform well,” Saban continued. “Give credit to the other team who beat us and took advantage of the opportunities that they had – not to take anything away from them – but if you’re a competitor, you’re going to respond in a positive way and learn from the things that you didn’t do.”
Despite the frustrating finish Alabama returns Heisman runner-up quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and four of his top receivers in Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, Montgomery native Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith and speedster Jaylen Waddle.
In total, Alabama returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense.
The Alabama defense will need to replace a number of veterans but may return one of the best – and biggest – groups of defensive backs ever under Saban with Patrick Surtain II, Trevon Diggs, Xavier McKinney and Shyheim Carter all having starting experience in the secondary.
Auburn is coming off the school’s most dominating bowl appearances ever after throttling Purdue 63-14 in the Music City Bowl.
That offensive performance – which saw Auburn roll up 586 yards of offense – came on the heels of an assistant coaching shakeup with head coach Gus Malzahn retaking the play-calling duties from former offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey.
Malzahn said allowing someone else to call his team’s offensive plays was a mistake he doesn’t play to make again.
“When I decided to go back and call plays, that’s really who I am,” Malzahn said at SEC Media Days. “I’m an offensive guy and that’s what got me where I’m at.
“Through the years, you get advice and all of that. And of course I made a mistake. When Chip left, I just decided it was time to get back to being me and call the plays. It’s been a very refreshing thing.”
Malzahn said calling plays was what came natural to him and that his team takes on his personality when he’s at the helm of the play-calling.
“I know the bowl game we played really well, but when I’m back in the swing of things, the day-in-and-day-out coaching on the field, what happens is the whole team takes on my personality,” Malzahn emphasized. “It just feels natural. I wasn’t really good at standing back and watching.”
In total, Auburn has 12 returning starters with six on offense and six on defense, no more important than the quarterback position.
The competition to replace former quarterback Jarrett Stidham has been narrowed down to redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood and true freshman Bo Nix heading into the 2019 season.
Gatewood – a 6-foot-5-inch, 233 pound quarterback – was compared to Cam Newton by Malzahn coming out of high school and in 2018 saw action in one game where he rushed for 28 yards on three attempts.
The strong-armed Florida native’s competition is the son of former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix and was Class 6A’s Back of the Year as a senior in 2018.
Malzahn has stated that he will make a decision on who the starter will be week one in the coming weeks but whoever it is, will have a lot of talent to work with as Auburn returns a number of veterans on the offensive side.