Alabama Crimson Tide
Head Coach: Nick Saban
2011 Record: 12-1 overall, 7-1 SEC West
2011 Bowl Result: Beat LSU 21-0 in BCS Championship Game
Odds to win SEC West: 7/5
Odds to Win SEC Championship Game: 2/1
Odds to Win 2013 BCS Championship Game: 5/1
Over Under Regular Season Wins: over 10 1/2 -115 / under -115
In 2010, Alabama came into the season as the defending BCS champion. I don’t want to say they were rebuilding that year, because they still won 10 games that season. However, they didn’t live up to the high standards Nick Saban had set when he took over as head coach. To add insult to injury, they watched as bitter rival Auburn won the BCS championship that year.
Last year, Alabama was a preseason top 5 team. The Crimson Tide won their first 8 games easily, with only Penn St coming within 16 points. That game was at Penn St. The winning streak set up the so-called “game of the century” against undefeated LSU in Tuscaloosa. Both teams were undefeated and were the top two teams in the country. Neither team found the end zone, as both defenses were dominant. The game went into overtime tied at 6. Alabama missed a 52 yard field goal in overtime, their fourth missed field goal of the day. LSU made a 25 yard field goal in their overtime possession to win 9-6.
Alabama would not come close to losing another game for the rest of the season, winning their remaining 4 games by 17 or more. That includes the rematch with LSU in the BCS Championship game in New Orleans. Alabama’s defense was completely dominant holding LSU to 92 total yards, and the Tide also forced 2 turnovers. LSU kept Alabama out of the end zone until late in the fourth quarter. However, Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley made 5 of his 7 field goals to give Alabama a 15-0 lead. Tide running back Trent Richardson sealed it with a late 34 yard touchdown run to give Alabama the 21-0 victory. They missed the extra point. It was Alabama’s second national title under Saban in 3 seasons.
There will no rebuilding year like there was in 2010. The Crimson Tide are loaded. They are #2 in both polls despite having to replace Richardson and other key players.
Alabama must replace offensive coordinator Jim McElwain who left to become the head coach at Colorado St. Alabama averaged 430 yards a game last season with 214.5 yards per game on the ground, #16 in the country. The Tide scored 34.8 points a game, which the 20th best scoring offense nationally. Saban hired former Washington offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to replace McElwain. Look for Nussmeier to open up the offense a little, especially in the passing game. No one will mistake Alabama’s offense for say West Virginia or Oregon, but they might throw the ball a few more times per game than they did last season.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron had decent numbers last year. He wasn’t asked to do much because of the dominant defense. As long as he didn’t make too many mistakes, the offense would be fine. They passed when necessary but the running game was more of the focus on offense. McCarron, a junior, completed 66.8% of his passes for 2,634 yards with 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He was sacked 13 times and had 2 rushing touchdowns. He never threw for over 284 yards in any game. McCarron threw 4 touchdowns against Vanderbilt and 3 against Georgia Southern and Auburn. Last year’s back-up Phillip Sims transferred to Virginia. Redshirt freshman Phillip Ely and true freshman Alec Morris are the back-ups in case something happens to McCarron.
Richardson had more than 2,000 combined rushing and receiving yards with 24 touchdowns. His 1,679 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground will be difficult to replace, but Richardson was the #3 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns in the NFL draft. Junior Eddie Lacy returns and will be the feature back. He had 95 carries, 674 yards, and 7 touchdowns, along with 11 catches for 131 yards. He battled turf toe all season and even had surgery to correct it in the off-season. He is healthy as of this writing. Redshirt freshman Dee Hart missed all of last season with a torn ACL but will get a lot of carries. Junior Jalston Fowler had 56 carries, 385 yards, and 4 touchdowns last year. Blake Sims will also get some carries after he had 22 last year. True freshman T.J. Yeldon rushed for just under 2,200 yards with 31 touchdowns as a high school senior. He could be the best running back in the unit, and will get some carries too.
Alabama must replace their top 4 receivers, including Richardson. Marquis Maze, Brad Smelley, Richardson, and Darius Hanks combined for 145 catches, almost 1,600 yards, and 9 touchdowns. Receiver Kenny Bell and tight end Michael Williams are the returning pass catchers. Bell had 17 catches, 255 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Williams had 16 catches, 191 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Junior Kevin Norwood had 11 catches for 190 yards. He had 4 catches for 78 yards in the BCS championship game. DeAndrew White had 14 catches, 151 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Christion Jones will play a bigger part in the passing game after he had 3 catches last year. Freshmen Danny Woodson, Marvin Shinn, Chris Black and Amari Cooper will also get some targets.
The offensive line returns 4 starters with a combined 95 games experience. All-SEC left tackle Barrett Jones won the Outland Trophy last year, but now moves to center. His replacement at left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio could be even better, provided he is healthy. Cyrus tore his ACL last year. His brother Arie also plays on the Alabama line at right tackle. The line could be one of the best in the country.
Last season, Alabama had a defense that was dominant in all phases. They were number one in scoring and total defense, and against the run and the pass. The Crimson Tide allowed just 8 points a game. No team scored more than 14 points against Alabama in any game except for Georgia Southern who scored 21. The Crimson Tide allowed 184 total yards per game. LSU was second with 262 yards a game. The defensive coordinator is Kirby Smart. The defense should still be elite despite losing 5 NFL quality starters and 7 overall.
Nose tackle Jesse Williams returns after he had 24 tackles last year. He doesn’t do much pass rushing but he is one of the best run stoppers in the country. Ed Stinson will start at one end, after he made 19 tackles last year including 5 for loss. Damion Square will start at the other end after making 32 tackles, including 7 for loss. Quiton Dial, Jeoffrey Pagan, and Brandon Ivory will also get time in the rotation.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley dislocated his hip in the BCS championship game, but returns healthy for this season. He had 37 tackles, 4.5 for loss, and 2 sacks last year. Nico Johnson is the leading returning tackler with 47 including 6.5 for loss. Sophomore Xzavier Dickson can play either end or linebacker. Adrian Hubbard will start at the other linebacker. Dillon Lee and Trey DePriest will also get some time at linebacker.
Three members of the secondary were drafted by NFL teams. Safety Robert Lester could have joined them, but decided to come back to Tuscaloosa. He made 39 tackles last year, with 2 interceptions. He had a phenomenal sophomore year with 52 tackles and 8 interceptions. Cornerback Dee Milliner had 27 tackles, 3 interceptions, and he broke up 9 passes as well. Sophomore Vinnie Sunseri takes over at free safety for Mark Barron. Sunseri made 31 tackles last year. JUCO transfers Deion Belue and Travell Dixon will also get significant time in the secondary. They were both junior college All-Americans. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, John Fulton, Landon Collins, and Geno Smith add depth to a unit that should remain one of the best in the country despite the personnel changes.
Alabama used two kickers last year. Senior Jeremy Shelley made 21 of 27 field goals last year. Strangely, 3 of his 6 misses came in the two LSU games. He had two kicks blocked last year. Cade Foster made only 2 of 9 kicks. He missed 3 of the 4 kicks he tried in the first LSU game. Freshman Adam Griffith is the kicker of the future, but he could get some chances if Shelley and/or Foster struggle.
Junior punter Cody Mandell averaged 39.3 yards per punt, but he did have 11 inside the 20 and 17 fair catches. He improved his leg strength during the off-season so he should be even more dangerous.
Christion Jones and Dee Hart will be the primary punt and kick returners. Jones will return both, and Hart will return a few punts.
Alabama opens against #8 Michigan at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX. They then host Western Kentucky, before traveling to #10 Arkansas. Then comes home games against Florida Atlantic and Ole Miss. Alabama then travels to SEC newcomer Missouri and old rival Tennessee. They host Mississippi St before the showdown with LSU in Baton Rouge. The Crimson Tide then host the other new SEC team Texas A&M and Western Carolina. The last game of the season, as always is the Iron Bowl, which is in Tuscaloosa this year.
Though the defense won’t quite be at the same level as last year, it will still be among the best in the country if not the best. Despite losing Richardson, the offense will be fine. The schedule is more difficult with games against top ten teams Michigan, Arkansas and LSU, all on the road or at a neutral site. Back-to-back road games at Missouri and Tennessee won’t be cake walks either. Despite that I think it will still come down to the showdown November 3 in Baton Rouge. The winner of the Alabama-LSU game will likely win the SEC West and have the inside track to the BCS Championship game if they win the SEC title.
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