By Mike Craven/@CravenMike and Emily Van Buskirk/@Emilnem
After winning the SEC and reaching the College Football Playoff in 2014, Alabama enters the season ranked third in the nation. The Crimson Tide have the talent to win the whole thing, but a tough road through conference play will be difficult to overcome.
The SEC is really hard. The SEC West is a gauntlet of doom. Nick Saban put five quarterbacks as possible starters in the season opener against Wisconsin. FIVE. If a team with two quarterbacks doesn’t have one, how can a team win a championship when it has five different options this late in the preseason?
The winner of the SEC will reach the College Football Playoff, so Alabama is right in the mix. The Crimson Tide is always in the mix, but the gap between Saban’s factory and the rest of the conference is closing, as is the gap between the SEC and the rest of the nation. Ohio State’s win over Alabama proved that the SEC isn’t the only home to physical football.
No clear-cut quarterback, replacing the best wide receiver in college football and no more T.J. Yeldon means the offense has its work cut out. The defense has holes in the secondary in a conference getting better and better through the air.
But the biggest reason Alabama won’t win the championship is competition. Auburn’s offense is loaded, and the defense is now led by Will Muschamp. LSU is going to be really good. Arkansas is improving. Texas A&M can score with anyone. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are right in the mix.
And the winner of the West in the SEC isn’t guaranteed to win the conference championship game with Georgia and Tennessee being better this year than any team coming out of the East has been in years.
Alabama is Alabama, and writing off a Nick Saban team is a level of stupidity even I won’t reach — but the odds aren’t in the Crimson Tide’s favor in 2015. —Craven
Alabama will win the national title because Fox Sports’ Tim Brando predicted the Tide would.
But seriously, Nick Saban has been stockpiling top recruiting classes, so the loss of quarterback Blake Sims; wide receivers Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones; and the school’s No. 4 all-time leading rusher T.J. Yeldon will hardly be debilitating.
Instead of worrying about the QB battle, which will likely end with junior Jake Coker at the helm, it is more important to focus on the talented targets — junior Chris Black and sophomores Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart, as well as incoming freshman Calvin Ridley. Black is the top returner after catching 15 passes for 188 yards last season. Plus, 6-foot-3, 242-pound junior running back Derrick Henry will be carrying the ball for the Tide — Henry had 172 carries for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns last season while averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
Alabama’s front seven will help the Tide retain its formidable defensive status despite a shaky secondary, but the offense will ultimately carry Saban’s squad to victory. Bama scored 4.96 points per trip inside the 40 last season and allowed opponents just 3.49. That +1.47 margin was the best in the FBS.
Alabama also hasn’t been an underdog in 68 straight games, and this year’s schedule, with the exception of Georgia in Athens, looks to keep that trend intact. It is also worth noting that the Tide hasn’t lost a season-opener since 2001, so no need to worry about that pesky September 5th game against Wisconsin in Arlington. A strong start will keep the Tide rolling all the way to Saban’s fifth national championship, his fourth in Tuscaloosa. —Emily
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