What comes next for Alabama as big decisions loom in strange December – AL.com

Welcome to December in a different college football landscape.

For Alabama, it’s been a while since the 12th month started so quietly. There’s no SEC championship game to play or even watch closely with playoff implications riding on the outcome.

It’s just oddly quiet around here.

In the absence of routine, we thought this was a good time to draw up the roadmap to a December most reading won’t want to remember.

Decisions to be made

The draft

Alabama last played in a bowl game without national title implications in the 2013 season. That Sugar Bowl loss preceded the trend of NFL draft picks sitting out sub-playoff bowl games, so this creates an interesting scenario. Outside linebacker Ryan Anderson before the 2016 Peach Bowl semifinal joked that Alabama doesn’t play in the Birmingham Biscuit Bowl so they don’t have to face that option.

A few parallel factors add to this dynamic.

First, this Alabama roster has between six and eight possible first-round picks if certain underclassmen leave early. This program had 29 first-round picks in the Saban era but never more than four in one season.

Secondly, these possible early draft picks saw Tua Tagovailoa go down with a serious hip injury that cut into a draft stock that once had the quarterback projected as high as the No. 1 overall pick. The image of Tagovailoa on the ground in pain with his nose shattered and hip dislocated won’t soon leave their consciousness.

The coaches

The last few offseasons have looked like hockey line changes at the Alabama football complex. Only three of the 10 on-field assistant coaches remained from last season and it’s hard to imagine that group will remain intact for 2020.

Movement for assistant coaches has been more of a January-February thing. If anyone wants someone for a head coaching job, that’s an early December process with the early signing period looming. Even if they don’t leave before the bowl game, that process was a distraction Saban listed in the wake of last year’s national title game loss to Clemson. If it was a problem with a title on the line … well, it’s not this time.

The recruits

The early signing period is back for a third year and Alabama is in the thick of it again. Closing the class while preparing for a semifinal won’t be a balancing act this time around, a silver lining for which nobody was seeking.

As it stands, Alabama has the No. 3 class in the 247Sports composite of recruiting rankings. With 300.92 points, the Tide is right behind LSU’s 303.11 and Clemson’s 303.97 in the scoring system used by the site. Alabama already lost a commit to LSU in offensive guard Xavier Hill while 5-star tight end Arik Gilbert shocked recruiting observers when he picked LSU over the Tide in October.

Alabama’s class still includes three 5-star prospects and four of the top 32 players in the 247Sports composite.

The calendar

The dates to remember over the next month plus as they relate to Alabama football.

— Sunday: The bowl game assignments are made after the College Football Playoff pairings are announced.

— Dec 12: The College Football Awards Show is in Atlanta. For the first time, no Alabama players were finalists for the honors handed out at the College Football Hall of Fame, but the Walter Camp All-American team is announced that night. It is one of the five that determine consensus and unanimous status. Receivers DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy and kick returner Jaylen Waddle figure to have the best odds of making those All-American teams.

— Dec. 14: The Heisman Trophy ceremony is in New York.

— Dec. 16 range: Alabama will likely open practice for bowl games in this neighborhood the last time the calendar shifted to later conference championship games in 2014. That would leave a week or so to practice before a bowl game before the Christmas holiday.

— Dec. 18: Early signing day.

Bowl games

A few possibilities remain for the actual bowl game destination for Alabama.

Sugar Bowl (Jan. 1): This is the least likely since the highest-ranked SEC team in the playoff rankings who doesn’t make the semifinal is slotted there. A Georgia loss to LSU in the league title game would assure the Bulldogs of that status and it’s hard to imagine they’d fall from No. 4 behind Alabama. The Tide was No. 9 in both AP and coaches polls ahead of the official ranking to be released Tuesday.

Orange Bowl (Dec. 30): After the Sugar Bowl, the next highest-ranked non-league champion from the SEC or Big Ten plays and ACC team in the Orange Bowl. If the AP/coaches polls are any barometer, Florida has the inside track for this spot. The Gators are No. 7 in both and were No. 11 in last week’s CFP rankings. Both Alabama and Florida are idle this weekend.

Cotton Bowl (Dec. 28): Played at 11 a.m. on the day of the semifinal games, this game features two at-large teams. It will be home to the Group of 5 representative, likely Memphis. Several projections have Alabama playing here after the Iron Bowl loss. Possible conference-championship game losers would be the competition here. They include Utah, Oklahoma, Baylor and Wisconsin.

Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1): The game played in Orlando gets the next pick of SEC teams who aren’t picked as part of the playoff or affiliated bowl games. Alabama played there after the 2010 season, the last that included multiple regular-season losses.

Michael Casagrande is an Alabama beat writer for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.

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