What's next for Nick Saban, Tua Tagovailoa and Alabama? Five questions for Crimson Tide after Citrus Bowl win

Sporting News

No. 9 Alabama beat No. 17 Michigan 35-16 on Wednesday to cap the 2019 season with an 11-2 record. The Crimson Tide responded well to missing the College Football Playoff for the first time, but there are even more questions heading into Nick Saban's 14th season with the Crimson Tide.

Those questions range from the Crimson Tide's 2020 schedule, which players return for their senior season or leave for the NFL draft and what the coaching staff looks like heading into the next decade.

MORE: Breaking down Alabama's Citrus Bowl victory

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Here are the five biggest questions for Alabama this offseason:

Will Tua Tagovailoa stay?

That is the biggest domino for Alabama this offseason. Tagovailoa is recovering from hip surgery and will make his decision on Jan. 6.

If Tagovailoa returns, then the potential rewards are obvious: He has piled up 7,442 passing yards, 87 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions while compiling a 22-2 record as a starter. Provided his rehab works out, he would be ready for one last ride with the Crimson Tide if he spurns the NFL draft.

If Tagovailoa leaves, then Jones likely would be the starter; but former four-star recruits Taulia Tagovailoa and Paul Tyson, along with incoming freshman Bryce Young, would be in the conversation to take over. Saban knows how to manage quarterback controversies, but this would be the most wide-open battle since freshman Jalen Hurts took over the starting job in the 2016 opener vs. USC.

Who else goes to NFL draft?

The Crimson Tide received a lift when linebacker Dylan Moses, a Sporting News preseason All-American who missed this season with a knee injury, announced he would return to school for his senior season.

Let's say Tagovailoa stays. Would that be enough to persuade any combination of receivers Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith to return? What about running back Najee Harris? This is the class that rose to stardom on the spot in the 2018 College Football Playoff championship game against Georgia. Would they want to come back and attempt to finish on top? Offensive linemen Alex Leatherwood and safety Xavier McKinney also have decisions to make.

Alabama has been able to withstand that roster attrition better than anybody else under Saban. This draft class, however, has the potential to be large if everyone goes.

MORE: Alabama tacks on final, unnecessary touchdown vs. Michigan

Will Saban shuffle coaching staff?

Can Saban keep this coaching staff together — and does he want to?

The offense thrived under Steve Sarkisian and made the necessary adjustments after Tagovailoa's injury. Alabama stayed on pace in scoring offense and total offense with the other Playoff contenders. Unless Sarkisian entertains a head-coaching job, which seems unlikely, he should be back. That should mean more of the same on offense.

Defensive coordinator Pete Golding is a little more intriguing. Alabama allowed an average of 47 points in losses to LSU and Auburn, and ranked outside the top 10 in scoring defense and total defense. Those aren't numbers according to standard, and it was clear throughout most of the season that the Crimson Tide did not have a Playoff-caliber defense.

Still, Alabama fielded one of its youngest defenses ever of Saban's tenure, due to injuries to several key contributors. And, given the drama around last year's mass exodus on the coaching staff, some continuity wouldn't hurt.

Can Saban avoid three-year title drought?

Saban will turn 69 on Halloween, and he faces the usual round of retirement speculation as he enters another that 14th season with the program. The Citrus Bowl win marked nine straight seasons with at least 11 wins under Saban, but there is a pressure point heading into 2020. Since Saban arrived in 2007, the Crimson Tide haven't had three consecutive seasons without a national championship.

That is an absurd standard, but it's one Saban has been able to meet with “The Process.” Critics are going to point to cracks in the dynasty, given the high-profile losses to Clemson, LSU and Auburn the last two seasons. Next year's team can use the motivation of watching either LSU or Clemson win the national championship, and there will be enough talent to win a national title no matter who comes back.

Saban will have more than enough to work with, on and off the field.

How will Alabama handle tough schedule?

Alabama should face less criticism for its schedule next season, given a neutral-site opener against USC and a September blockbuster with Georgia. Alabama will travel to LSU as well, making for a tough schedule in the Tide's bid at a national championship.

Here's a look at Alabama's full 2020 schedule:

Alabama 2020 football schedule

Date

Opponent

Sept. 5

vs. USC (Arlington, Texas)

Sept. 12

vs. Georgia State

Sept. 19

vs. Georgia

Sept. 26

vs. Kent State

Oct. 3

at Ole Miss

Oct. 10

at Arkansas

Oct. 17

vs. Mississippi State

Oct. 24

at Tennessee

Oct. 31

Off

Nov. 7

at LSU

Nov. 14

vs. UT-Martin

Nov. 21

vs. Texas A&M

Nov. 28

vs. Auburn

The good news is Georgia, Texas A&M and Auburn all come to Bryant-Denny Stadium, but the season likely hinges on that Nov. 7 showdown in Tiger Stadium. In that regard, nothing has changed. Saban will be on the sideline for that one. It's just a matter of who is coming with him for 2020.

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