Predicted Record: 10-2
Why Alabama Is No. 1: The offense will be unstoppable. Whether it’s Heisman-winner Mark Ingram carrying the attack, or super-sub Trent Richardson, the running game will be dominant with NFL backs working behind a strong offensive line that should be every bit as good as it was last year. QB Greg McElroy has a year of starting experience under his belt, and more importantly he has Julio Jones and an explosive receiving corps to throw to. The defense might lose everyone of note, but there’s a ton of talent waiting to shine.
Why Alabama Shouldn’t Be No. 1: Alabama is No. 1 almost by default. No one else appears worth of the preseason honor, and while the Tide offense is national title-good, the defense has a ton of work to do. Alabama can replace the star talent with several future pros, but to have everything come together right away and to get the same production out of such an inexperienced group is a stretch. With a few green kickers about to feel the squeeze of the expectations of another national title, there are just enough concerns to argue that Bama should be in the 3-to-5 range in the preseason rankings.
Key to the Season: Tight special teams. It’s not like Bama played a ton of close games last year, but it needed four Leigh Tiffin field goals and a huge blocked kick from Terrence Cody to beat Tennessee. This year, there should be a few more tight ones and the kicking game needs to be solid. That could be a problem with true freshmen Cade Foster handling the placekicking and Jay Williams taking over the punting duties. Throw in that teams were 3-for-3 on converting onside attempts, averaged 25.1 yards per kickoff return, and 9.2 yards per punt return, and there’s work to be done.
Relative Strength: Running Back, Offensive Line
Relative Weakness: Defensive Line
What to watch for on offense: A bit more from the passing game. While it’s not like Alabama will be turning into Hawaii, there will be more balance thanks to a loaded receiving corps and the experience of QB Greg McElroy. The bread will still be buttered with Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and a punishing and explosive ground game, but the passing attack should average more than 200 yards per game mainly because the veteran targets, as well as the backs, should do even more cranking out yards after the catch. The veteran receivers are all great downfield blockers, while McElroy should do a better job of taking advantage of the mismatches.
What to watch for on defense: Not that much of a drop-off. This isn’t going to be the nation’s second-best defense again, but it’s not going to be all that far off. Rolando McClain came up with a huge year at middle linebacker, the secondary was drum-tight, and Terrence Cody was the definition of an anchor in the middle, but it’s a group effort for the Alabama defense. It seemed like someone different was making a big play at a key moment, and it should be more of the same this year with more speed, athleticism, and upside than anyone in America. There might not be that much experience returning, but the D is littered with four and five-star talents with prototype skills and NFL money waiting, almost literally, on the other side of the fence.
Fun Stat: Fourth Quarter Scoring: Alabama 121 – Opponents 32
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