1.How does Bama rebound?: Coming on the heels of a decisive 44-16 defeat to Clemson in last year’s College Football Playoff National Championship, how will the Crimson Tide come out of the gates to open the 2019 season? Under Saban, the Crimson Tide are an impressive 11-1 in the last 10 seasons following a defeat, although the 28 point loss to Clemson represented the worst loss for Alabama under Nick Saban. Will Alabama come out in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game with a chip on its shoulder or will there be a lingering effect from the CFP National Championship Game?
2. Can Duke pull off the upset?: There’s no doubt Duke has a daunting task facing perennial power Alabama, but don’t be too quick to dismiss the Blue Devils just yet. Quietly under the radar, Duke has recently been a formidable force in college football under coach Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils have been a bowl team six of the past seven seasons and have four seasons with eight or more wins in the last six years. Since the start of the 2013 season, Duke has captured 46 victories, and is tied with Virginia Tech as the fifth-winningest team in the conference during that span. Last season, Duke also had four power five road victories (second only to Clemson in the ACC and tied for third nationally with Alabama) and secured six wins against bowl teams.
3. Heisman hopeful: On offense, the Crimson Tide return consensus All-America quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who shattered school passing records with 3,966 yards and 43 touchdowns on his way to winning the Maxwell Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year honors as a sophomore. Tua enters the 2019 campaign as one of the Heisman front-runners and is arguably the favorite to take home the hardware in December.
4. Alabama’s pass offense vs. Duke’s secondary: Led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama boasted the sixth-best passing offense (323.6 yards per game) last season and led the nation in passing touchdowns. The Crimson Tide receiving corps is one of the deepest and most talented in the nation as Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy returns along with fellow juniors Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith, to go with sophomore Jaylen Waddle. The dynamic group combined to catch 201 passes for 3,597 yards and 38 touchdowns a season ago. The Blue Devils secondary that finished 36th nationally in pass defense last season (allowing only 199.5 yards per game through the air) returns four starters that will look to shut down this dynamic passing offense in what should be one of the best defensive backfields Alabama will face all season.
5. Coaching collision: It’s not every day you get two national coach of the year award winners facing off, but this year’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game features just that. When Nick Saban and David Cutcliffe square off, it will feature two former Dodd Trophy recipients, as well as winners of other coaching awards including the Walter Camp Coach of the Year Award, Sporting News Coach of the Year and SEC Coach of the Year. It will mark the seventh meeting between the coaches, but the first in nine seasons. Since that time, both Saban and Cutcliffe have truly established their programs. At Alabama, Saban has created a dynasty that includes five national championships while Cutcliffe has won more bowl games at Duke than any other head coach in the program’s history. Both coaches have taken their programs from down years and turned them around into some of the most successful stretches in their program’s respective histories. Cutcliffe’s 67 victories in 11 years with the Blue Devils are 48 more than the program’s total in the previous 11 seasons, and he also secured the program’s first bowl victory since 1961 and three consecutive bowl victories for the first time in program history. Meanwhile, Saban led Alabama to its first national championship in 17 years (2009) and the program’s 125 wins over the past decade are the most for any FBS school during a 10-yard span in the Associated Press poll era (since 1936).