How special is Shaun Alexander to Alabama? Special enough that the Crimson Tide athletics department is making a Heisman Trophy push for the senior running back.
And that's saying something, granted that a checklist of 'Bama greats -- among others, Joe Namath, Ozzie Newsome, Derrick Thomas, David Palmer and Bobby Humphrey -- was never bestowed such efforts.
This season, Alexander won't just be carrying the weight of individual accomplishments upon his shoulders. More importantly, he'll be trying to accord the Crimson Tide the national prestige it has been missing for two years.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder said he didn't pass up the pros for nothing.
"I don't want our team to rally around me because of the Heisman," said Alexander, who needs 1,239 rushing yards to top Humphrey's Alabama career record of 3,420 yards. "I want them to rally around me because I think I can help us win the SEC Championship. I think I've been blessed with that kind of ability."
Apparently, so do quite a few media members; Alexander was named preseason All-SEC last month, and the Crimson Tide was picked second in the SEC West.
A resurgence appears in place for a team that finished 7-5 in 1998 and was soundly dispatched in the Music City Bowl by Virginia Tech, 38-7.
The Crimson Tide had moments of promise last season, but also suffered from inexplicable blowout losses such as the bowl debacle and a 42-6 shellacking at the hands of Arkansas.
Coach Mike DuBose is confident that 17 returning starters and a defense that brings back its linebacking corps mean a return to the top is imminent.
"We have the right talent, character and work ethic," said DuBose, 11-12 in two years at Alabama. "We're going to be a better football team. We have more speed, more strength and more depth."
Expect the first three games against Vanderbilt, Houston and Louisiana Tech to stage a quarterback battle between sophomore Andrew Zow and incoming freshman Tyler Watts.
The 6-2, 225-pound Zow started seven games last season and completed 143 of 256 passes for 1,969 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
"People want to refer to that as a quarterback controversy," DuBose said. "I refer to it as a competitive situation between two very good players."
While the signal-caller's spot might not be a controversy, there's no doubt DuBose has been in the middle of one recently. The school cut two years off his contract recently after settling a sexual harassment complaint filed against DuBose by a university employee.
DuBose admitted that he lied earlier when he vehemently denied rumors that he had an improper relationship with a university employee.
If DuBose's team plays well, this storm might soon pass. Alexander has the benefit of five returning starters on the offensive line, but there's still work to do there. Alabama ranked 11th last season in SEC rushing offense with 115 yards per game.
Sept. 4 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 11 Houston
Sept. 18 Louisiana Tech
Sept. 25 Arkansas
Oct. 2 at Florida
Oct. 16 at Mississippi
Oct. 23 Tennessee
Oct. 30 Southern Mississippi
Nov. 6 Louisiana State
Nov. 13 Mississippi State
Nov. 20 at Auburn
Larry Williams covers the Southeastern Conference for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.