Alabama Crimson Tide
Head Coach: Nick Saban
2016 record: 14-1 overall, 8-0 SEC West
2016 Postseason results: Beat Washington State 24-7 in CFP Semifinals (Peach Bowl), Lost to Clemson 35-31 in CFP Championship Game
2017 returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense
Odds to win 2018 College Football Championship game: +245
Odds to win 2017 SEC Championship Game: -153
Odds to Win 2017 SEC West Division: -210
Regular season wins: over 10 1/2 -175 / under 10 1/2 +155
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The Alabama Crimson Tide won their first 14 games of the season before losing an epic rematch to Clemson 35-31 in The College Football Playoff Championship Game in Tampa Bay. While a 14-1 season with yet another conference title might be a successful season for some schools, it was seen as a massive disappointment. It is a testament to the success Nick Saban has had in Tuscaloosa with four national titles and five SEC titles since 2009.
As always, the Crimson Tide don’t rebuild they just reload. Alabama is a heavy favorite to win not only the SEC title but the national title as well, despite losing ten players to the NFL. The Crimson Tide return twelve starters including six on offense. Let’s take a look at Alabama on offense, defense and special teams plus the schedule and outlook.
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Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin left the program to become the head coach at Florida Atlantic. Kiffin was supposed to stay at Alabama through the postseason but Saban dismissed him early because he didn’t feel Kiffin’s attention was fully on Alabama. The two massive egos involved did not help either. Kiffin was briefly replaced as OC by former USC and Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian. However, Sarkisian would leave to become the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL. Saban hired New England Patriots’ tight ends coach Brian Daboll to replace Sarkisian. While he has never been an offensive coordinator in college, Daboll has been the OC for the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs in his career. The offense averaged 455 yards and 39 points a game last season.
Since A.J. McCarran graduated several seasons ago, it has been a parade of one and done quarterbacks for the Tide. That will change this year with the return of sophomore Jalen Hurts who had a sensational freshman year last season. Hurts completed 62.9% of his passes for 2,780 yards with 23 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Hurts looks to cut down on the interceptions in 2017. He also rushed for 954 yards on 191 carries with 13 touchdowns. Last year, Hurts entered the season in a three way battle for the starting quarterback job with Blake Barnett and Cooper Bateman. Both have transferred to Pac 12 schools, Barnett to Arizona State and Bateman to Utah. There is no experience behind Hurts. True freshmen Tuo Tagovailoa and Mac Jones will compete for the back-up job. Walk-on Montana Murphy is the only other quarterback on the roster.
The running backs might be the deepest and most talented unit in the country. Damien Harris rushed for 1,040 yards on 145 carries with 2 touchdowns, plus he had 14 catches and 2 touchdowns. He returns as does explosive Bo Scarbrough who rushed for 812 yards on 125 carries with 11 touchdowns, plus four catches. He needs to stay healthy as he battled nagging injuries all year last season. Josh Jacobs returns as well after rushing for 564 yards on 86 carries with 4 touchdowns. He also had 14 catches for 166 yards. Of course, Hurts is basically like a fourth running back. He was second on the team in rushing last year.
The Crimson Tide lose three of their top four receivers from last year to the NFL. ArDarius Stewart is now with the New York Jets, after he made 54 catches for 864 yards with 8 touchdowns, along with 68 rushing yards. Calvin Ridley is back though and will be the go to receiver after making 72 catches for 769 yards and 7 touchdowns. Tight end O.J. Howard (45 catches, 595 yards and 3 touchdowns) and receiver Gehrig Dieter (15 catches, 214 yards and 4 touchdowns) are both with NFL teams now, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs respectively. Seniors Cam Sims and Robert Foster are talented but never really got a chance to shine in their careers as they were lost in the shuffle behind a lot of talent. True freshman Jerry Jeudy is a five star recruit. Sophomore Miller Forristall takes over as tight end for Howard.
The Crimson Tide return a lot of experience at center with senior Bradley Bozeman, and at guard with juniors Ross Pierschbacher and Lester Cotton. However, both starting tackles must be replaced including Outland Trophy winning Cam Robinson at left tackle. Sophomores Jonah Williams and Matt Womack will start at the tackles. The line is big and talented as always.
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Alabama was dominant on defense last year, allowing 262 yards (They were #2 in the nation) including leading the nation in rush yards allowed with just 64 yards allowed per game. The Crimson Tide allowed just 13 points a game and also led the nation in that category. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was considered for some head coaching jobs but he decided to stay in Tuscaloosa. He gets six starters back but he lost a lot of talent to the NFL.
Defensive end Da’Shawn Hand faced a possible suspension after a DUI arrest a few weeks ago. However, he was not suspended when it was revealed he wasn’t actually driving but just passed out in the car. He will start at one end along with fellow senior Josh Frazier. Da’Ron Payne will start at nose guard after making 36 tackles last year. Payne and Hand will be in the NFL soon. Junior college transfer Isaiah Buggs will also get time in the rotation at end. There is a lot of young talent as well with Raekwon Davis and Quinnen Williams. The line must replace National Defensive player of the year Jonathan Allen (now with the Washington Redskins). He had 69 tackles including 16 for loss with 10.5 sacks.
The linebackers lose both Tim Williams and Reuben Foster to the NFL, with the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers respectively. Foster had 115 tackles and 5 sacks, wile Williams accounted for 9 sacks. Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton headline the returning linebackers. Evans had 53 tackles and 4 sacks last year. Hamilton is coming off a torn ACL last December. He still had 64 tackles before the injury. Anfernee Jennings and Christian Miller look to start at the outside positions. The pass rush had 54 sacks last season to lead the antion, and looks to continue that dominance in 2017.
All the starters except for corner Marlon Humprey return to a secondary that was dominant at times, but were vulnerable to big plays. Juniors Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison return at the safeties. Fitzpatrick had 66 tackles and 6 interceptions. Harrison had 86 tackles and two interceptions. Anthony Averett returns at one corner after making 48 tackles last year. Travon Diggs takes over at the other corner. Tony Brown will play often in five defensive back sets.
Ole Miss transfer Andy Pappanastos looks to take over at kicker. He is ahead in a battle with true freshman Joseph Bulovas for the position. Punter J.K. Scott is back for his senior year after averaging 47 yards per punt last year. Trevon Diggs will handle both kickoff and punt return duties.
Schedule and Outlook
The Crimson Tide open the season with a showdown in Atlanta against Florida State, in a battle of top five teams. Two Mountain West teams make the trip to Tuscaloosa the next two weeks with Fresno State and Colorado State. Alabama opens SEC play at Vanderbilt. Then they get four of the next five at home with home games against Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU sandwiched around a road trip to Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide then travel to Mississippi State before a home game against Mercer. As always, the regular season ends with the Iron Bowl, this year on the road at Auburn.
If the Tide can get by Florida State then they should be undefeated going into the Iron Bowl. Although there are no easy games in the SEC, Alabama certainly has the talent to run the table. They hope to play three games in Atlanta as both the SEC Championship and National Championship are in the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I like the Tide to win the SEC title again and to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season. They will also win the national title for the fifth time under Saban.
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