It's strange how one game changed everything for an Alabama team that was previously undefeated and considered by many to be among the best of all time.
But give credit to Clemson. It not only dominated Alabama in the national championship game, it changed the entire narrative about the Crimson Tide's season in the process. Suddenly quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was a mere mortal, the defense was an undisciplined mess and the coaching staff appeared in desperate need of reconstruction.
Then a school-record seven underclassmen declared for the NFL draft.
Then seemingly every assistant coach on the staff up and left.
Nick Saban remains, as do Alabama's championship aspirations, but the tone of the offseason was set in the aftermath of its lopsided loss to Clemson. It's one of upheaval. There's obvious talent remaining in Tuscaloosa, but also obvious turmoil.
2018 record: 14-1 (9-0 SEC)
Spring practice starts: TBD
Spring game: April 13
Biggest offseason position battle
Someone is going to have to step up and become the signal-caller of the defense. Linebacker Mack Wilson, who appeared to struggle at the Mike position at times last season, left early for the NFL. So does the uber-talented Dylan Moses slide over from the other inside linebacker spot and assume the role? Or will rising sophomore Ale Kaho develop in time? Redshirt sophomore Markail Benton could be another name to watch.
Spring storyline to watch: Is the defense championship caliber?
If you go back and look at the second half of the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma and the national title game against Clemson, you have to wonder what happened to the defense. Too often it was out of position or flat-out lost. And now that coordinator Tosh Lupoi and half of its starters have moved on to the NFL, questions remain. We've already addressed the Mike linebacker position, but it's not just that. Two-thirds of the defensive line has to be replaced with Isaiah Buggs and Quinnen Williams gone. The secondary needs to be reworked with safety Deionte Thompson and cornerback Saivion Smith gone, and the pass-rush must improve without Christian Miller, who graduated. The good news is that new defensive coordinator Pete Golding will provide continuity in terms of play-calling and there are some nice pieces already in place when you factor in the return of defensive lineman Raekwon Davis, safety Xavier McKinney and linebacker Anfernee Jennings. If Terrell Lewis comes back from injury close to 100 percent, he could be one of the best pass-rushers in the SEC.
Strength heading into spring: Offensive firepower
The decision to bring back Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator raised some eyebrows, but the fact of the matter is that Alabama is going to score points regardless of who is in charge. When you have the kind of skill players coming back that it does, it will be hard not to. It starts with Tagovailoa, of course, but don't forget that his top four receivers all return as well, including Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy. Running backs Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs are gone, but that just means it's Najee Harris' turn to finally step into the spotlight.
Biggest question heading into spring: Coaching turnover
Umm, who are all these coaches again? Saban is vaguely familiar, but his supporting cast is almost entirely unrecognizable for the second straight year. If you thought last year was bad with six new additions to the staff, Saban went a step further this offseason and found seven new coaches to add to the mix. There's Sarkisian, Charles Huff, Holmon Wiggins and Kyle Flood on offense, and Sal Sunseri, Brian Baker and Charles Kelly on defense. If you're looking on the bright side, there might be a better mix of youth and experience compared to last year. But this kind of upheaval in back-to-back seasons could cause instability in the program overall.
Instant-impact additions: OL Pierce Quick & Evan Neal
We're going to split the difference and lay claim to both early enrollee offensive tackles Pierce Quick and Evan Neal. You've got to think that between the two five-star prospects, there's a good chance at least one will emerge as a possible replacement for Jonah Williams. It would certainly fit the Alabama mold under Saban, which saw Williams, Cam Robinson and Cyrus Kouandjio all play as freshmen and start multiple seasons before moving on the NFL.
2019 game to get excited about now: Oct. 12 at Texas A&M
It's going to be a waiting game until Alabama goes to Texas A&M on Oct. 12. Because, let's face it, everything before then appears to be a cakewalk. Duke, which looked like a decent season opener a few years ago, is gutted with its starting quarterback and receivers gone. New Mexico State and Southern Miss aren't compelling out-of-conference draws, either. And with all due respect to South Carolina and Ole Miss, neither SEC foe seems capable of giving Alabama a scare. So we'll have to hold out for a mid-October trip to Kyle Field where Saban will meet his former protege, Jimbo Fisher, who already has one championship under his belt at Florida State and is determined to take Texas A&M to the same lofty heights.