Alabama Crimson Tide
Head Coach: Nick Saban
2014 record: 12-2 overall, 7-1 SEC West
2014 Postseason results: Lost to Ohio State 42-35 in College Football Playoffs Semifinals (Sugar Bowl)
2015 returning starters: 2 offense, 7 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 37/4
Odds to win 2015 SEC Championship Game: 3/1
Odds to Win 2015 SEC West Division: +215
Regular season wins: over 9 -145 / under 9 +115
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The Alabama Crimson Tide won 3 national titles in four seasons from 2009-12 under coach Nick Saban. However losses in the Sugar Bowl the last two seasons have Alabama fans and boosters a tiny bit restless. Last year, Alabama went 12-2 and won the SEC Championship game by beating Missouri 42-13. The Crimson Tide were the #1 seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff but were upset 42-35 in the Sugar Bowl by the #4 seed Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes would go on to crush Oregon in the championship game despite Ohio State playing with their third string quarterback for the last 3 games of the season.
Despite returning only 2 starters on offense Alabama is favored to win the SEC and is the second choice behind Ohio State to win the College Football Playoff according to 5Dimes Sportsbooks. Strangely, at the SEC media days last week, the media picked Alabama to win the SEC West Division but rival Auburn to win the SEC Championship.
Last year, under coordinator Lane Kiffin, Alabama was #37 or better in total offense, passing, rushing and scoring. KIffin returns for his second year as coordinator. The Crimson Tide averaged 485 yards per game (278 passing and 207 rushing yards) and 37 points per game.
Last season, Blake Sims and Jake Coker competed throughout fall camp for the starting quarterback job. The competition actually went through the second game of the season, when Saban named Sims the full time starter. Sims completed 64.5% of his passes for 3,487 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and he also had 83 carries for 350 yards and 7 touchdowns. Sims set the Alabama single season record for passing yards but has graduated. Coker threw for 403 yards and 4 touchdowns. The senior headlined a group of five players entering the spring to compete to replace Sims. However, Coker and redshirt freshman David Cornwell emerged as the favorites. The two will compete in fall camp, but Coker is expected to start.
Junior running back Derrick Henry will be the feature back after splitting time with T.J. Yeldon the last two seasons. Yeldon is now in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Henry had 172 carries for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns, along with 5 catches for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns. Yeldon departs as the schools #4 all-time leading rusher after he had 194 carries for 979 yards and 11 touchdowns, along with 15 catches for 180 yards and a touchdown. Kenyan Drake should get most of the back-up carries after suffering a horrific broken leg last October in a loss to Ole Miss. He had four rushing touchdowns and 2 receiving touchdowns in just four games before the injury.
The top three receivers are gone for the Crimson Tide, most notably Amari Cooper. Cooper was the #4 overall pick in the NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders. He had 124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns and was a Heisman finalist. DeAndrew White is now with the San Francisco 49ers after making 40 catches for 504 yards and 4 touchdowns last year. Christion Jones is now with the Miami Dolphins after making 19 catches for 264 yards and a touchdown. Tight end O.J. Howard is the leading returning receiver after making 17 catches for 260 yards. Dakota Bell will also start at tight end as Alabama mainly uses 2 wide receivers and 2 tight end sets. Chris Black and Robert Foster will likely start at receiver after combining for 21 catches in 2014. True freshman Calvin Ridley was one of the most highly touted recruits out of high school at receiver and will get plenty of targets.
The offensive line allowed only 16 sacks last season but only two starters are back. Senior center Ryan Kelly and sophomore left tackle Cam Robinson are back at arguably the two most important positions on the line.
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Last season, Alabama was in the top 12 nationally in total defense (328 yards per game), rush defense (102 ypg) and points allowed (18). The pass defense struggled slightly allowing 226 yards per game. Seven starters are back for coordinator Kirby Smart.
All three starters are back on the defensive line with ends Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen, plus nose guard A’Shawn Robinson returning. Allen had 5.5 sacks last season.
The linebackers are headlined by Reggie Ragland on the inside who decided to return to school for his senior season after making 95 tackles last season. Outside linebacker Denzel Devall is also back. Reuben Foster was a highly recruited linebacker coming out of high school but played mostly special teams last year. He should start as well on the inside.
The secondary must replace the starting safeties in Landon Collins and Nick Perry, who are both in the NFL now. There will be a four way competition for the two safety spots. Cyrus Jones and Eddie Jackson both have starting experience at the corners, but Jackson could move to safety.
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Kicker Adam Griffith struggled with a back injury last season and made only 5 of his last 12 kicks. If he is healthy, then he will be a solid option at kicker. Sophomore punter J.K. Scott averaged 48 yards per punt as a freshman and more than half of his punts traveled more than 50 yards. Cyrus Jones takes over as the full time punt and kick returner from Christion Jones. Cyrus averaged 20.5 yards per punt return and 19.2 yards per kick return in limited return action last season.
Alabama opens the season against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas. Then the Crimson Tide host Middle Tennessee, Ole Miss and Louisiana-Monroe to close out September. October brings road games at Georgia and Texas A&M, and home games against Arkansas and Tennessee. In November, Alabama hosts LSU and Charleston Southern, and travels to Mississippi State and Auburn in the regular season finale. The Iron Bowl against Auburn could be a play-in game for both the SEC Championship game and the Playoffs.
Alabama has a lot of questions on offense, but Alabama always has a top recruiting class. Just because they don’t have a lot of experience doesn’t mean they have talent. The road schedule is brutal with trips to Georgia, Mississippi State and Auburn. Still this team should win at least 9 games and probably 10. I think the win the SEC and make the playoff for the second straight year.
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