Replacing a Heisman Trophy winner can be a significant challenge. Yet a quick survey of the various 2016 season previews indicates most observers think Alabama will be just fine without last year’s Heisman winner, Derrick Henry. That opinion gives a great deal of respect to the Crimson Tide because for most programs in that situation, there’s usually a statistical drop-off.
Last year it was Oregon that had to replace its 2014 Heisman quarterback in Marcus Mariota. And while Vernon Adams — the guy who was chosen to fill that role — had a respectable season, his 26 touchdown passes were still 16 less than Mariota’s total from the year before. Likewise, Florida State also played for the first time last season without 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston, and the results were unspectacular to say the least. The Seminoles were forced to share the quarterback’s responsibilities between two players — Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson and Winston’s former backup Sean Maguire — who each threw 11 touchdowns, which combined put them just over half the 40 touchdowns Winston threw for in his Heisman year.
However, Oregon and Florida State had it easy in comparison to one of Alabama’s SEC West rivals, Texas A&M — which still hasn’t effectively replaced 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. In fact, in the three seasons since Manziel left the Aggies, the three quarterbacks primarily heralded as his heir apparent have all since transferred. Kenny Hill is now at TCU, and last year’s signal callers Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray are now at Houston and Oklahoma, respectively.
The forecast for Alabama is apparently to have no such trouble this year with Henry gone. The Crimson Tide opened as the team most likely to win the 2016 national championship when online betting sites first published odds in January, and those same handicappers have already made Alabama the overwhelming favorite to repeat as SEC champions, as well.
The running back who’ll be expected to step in and help the Crimson Tide accomplish those feats is Bo Scarbrough. There are plenty of reasons to expect he’ll be able to have a similar season to what Henry accomplished last year. At 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, he’s built very much like Henry, and coming out of high school he matched Henry by being a five-star recruit, according to the 247 composite.
Further bolstering the confidence of those touting Alabama is the presence of another running back that might prove to be just as effective as Scarbrough. Damien Harris — also a former five-star recruit — averaged fewer than four carries per game last season, but he looks ready to take on a much bigger role this year.
It’s worth noting that not every highly-regarded prospect — even at a program like Alabama — lives up to the hype, and it’s possible that Scarbrough and Harris will eventually disappoint in the shadow of last year’s Heisman winner.
That doesn’t seem likely, though, because the Crimson Tide has such a well-established history of successfully replacing running backs since Nick Saban became coach in 2007.
Furthermore, what confidence the media and oddsmakers have in Alabama’s ability to replace Henry ultimately speaks to is Saban’s relentless approach to recruiting. The Crimson Tide has finished with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country in so many seasons that it has become commonplace — but be assured that it’s no common achievement.
It is — however — that commitment to success on National Signing Day that makes the season Alabama is expected to have possible.
Year after year, the Crimson Tide proves there’s no such thing as having too much talent waiting in the wings. To some, replacing a Heisman-winning running back with two five-star recruits represents an embarrassment of riches. To Alabama, the only thing that would be embarrassing is anything less.