North Alabama Football enters 2014 at number 7 in our rankings. Check out our Top 25 Season Preview for more on the top college teams to watch this fall. Can’t find your team in the Top 25? View our full rankings to see where every team stands.
Last Season: 10-3 (5-1) Gulf South Conference
It’s pretty odd to see a head coach leave a team and come back to it years later, but in the case of Bobby Wallace and North Alabama, it just makes sense. Wallace led the Lions to three straight National Titles from ’93 to ’95 before jumping up a couple divisions to coach at FBS school Temple. He coached the Owls for eight sub-.500 seasons, amassing a 19-71 record (ouch) before an 0-11 finish in 2005 ultimately ended his stint there. He then returned to the Great South Conference to coach West Alabama, where he went 26-30 in five years as the head man. Then finally, in 2012, he came home.
Wallace’s first year back was a little rough – a 5-5 finish and no playoffs – but last year we saw flashes of the brilliance of his mid-nineties teams as the Lions returned to the playoffs. They finished the season 10-3 with only one blemish on their in-conference record: a 37-34 loss to Delta State to open the conference season. As the GSC Champions, they earned a No. 3 seed and and advanced all the way to the D2 Quarterfinals where they ultimately lost to the eventual National Runner-up Lenoir-Rhyne, 42-39.
-Tyler Sizemore OL – Starter, first team All-GSC
-David Lundberg OL – Starter
-Kenston Redfearn OL – Starter
-Jason Smith WR – 41 receptions, 829 yards, 7 TDs
-Chris Coffey RB – First team All-GSC 123 attempts, 664 yards, 6 TDs, 15 receptions, 103 yards, 1 TD
-Tavarius Wilson LB – AFCA All-American, GSC Defensive Player of the Year, 123 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 INTs, 3 FF, 1 blocked kick
-Gabe Poe LB – First team All-GSC, 128 tackles, 10 TFL, 1 sack, 3 INTs
-Caleb Massey LB – 80 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 4 INTs
-Brion James DB – 106 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF
What to Watch For
Tight Losses – In their three losses last season, the Lions were outscored by a total of nine points. In their ten wins, they outscored their opponents by a combined 269 points. That’s an average margin of defeat of 3 and an average margin of victory of 26.9. You can look at this one of two ways: 1) they were just three touchdowns from an undefeated season, or 2) they had a tough time winning tight games. This season should show us which is more true.
Turnovers – I’m not talking about on the field – the Lions were the ninth best team in D2 at protecting the ball last season (+1.4 turnovers per game). I’m talking about roster turnover. Three offensive line starters, top wide receiver Jason Smith, second leading rusher Chris Coffey, and defensive players accountable for over half of their tackles last season are gone.
Before we dive into North Alabama’s season expectations, it’s worth noting something here: our preseason rankings don’t take player turnover into account at all. We base everything we do in our ranking system on numbers – broad sweeping trends, not case-by-case player analysis. This means there are teams in the top 25 or top 10 who don’t look like the same team from a year ago – the team responsible for earning the ranking. This might be one of those cases.
North Alabama has a good shot to win the GSC again this season, but it’s going to have to be on the back of unproven talent. The turnover on the offensive line and defense should make fans nervous, but the return of quarterback Luke Wingo for his junior year is a big positive. He looked serviceable in his first season as the full-time starter last year, earning a 149.93 efficiency rating on 145 of 241 passing (60.2%) for 2,035 yards, 18 TDs, and 7 INTs (he also had the most rushing attempts on the team with 146 for 713 yards and 13 TDs). If the Lions are to live up to their top-ten preseason HeroSports, it will have to be on Wingo’s shoulders. They’ll go as far as he can carry them this season.