June 20, 2024

2016 SEC West Preview: Alabama Crimson Tide

Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are accustomed to entering the fall as defending national champions, but with ten new starters and questions at quarterback, will Alabama be able to repeat?

Photo obtained via creativecommons.org. No changes made.

Remember when sports media proclaimed the Alabama dynasty dead after the Crimson Tide’s 43-37 loss to Ole Miss early last season?

College football’s resident sith lord Nick Saban and his empire struck back nicely after falling to the Rebels. Behind the legs of Heisman Trophy winner/relentless battering ram Derrick Henry, Alabama plowed through the rest of the SEC before embarrassing Michigan State and holding off a historic performance from Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson en route to the program’s fourth championship in seven seasons.

But with drastic changes in both personnel and coaching, can “Roll Tide” repeat?

Strengths

Saban is currently the quintessential college football coach and arguably the greatest of all time. No matter what deficiencies his teams experience – whether it be under center or in the secondary – Saban always manages to push the right buttons. Despite only 11 starters returning from last season’s championship-winning squad, it’s hard to imagine a Saban-led group entering a game unprepared.

What truly makes the Crimson Tide college football’s premier powerhouse program is their ability to reload. Almost any other program would be devastated at the loss of a defensive coordinator of Kirby Smart’s caliber, but not Alabama. While it may take a few games for the defense to discover its chemistry and rhythm, Jeremy Pruitt is a worthy veteran replacement who has a boatload of talent to work with. Additionally, the Crimson Tide lose numerous NFL-worthy talents on both sides of the ball every year, but still manage to implement the proper replacements. There are only five returning starters on defense from last season, but all six replacements have a legitimate chance at being household names by season’s end.

Weaknesses

Question marks at quarterback is a recurring theme for Alabama since AJ McCarron’s departure in 2014. But the job of a Crimson Tide quarterback is simple: Don’t screw it up. Whether it’s Cooper Batemen or Blake Barnett or David Cornwell taking snaps under center, the formula for success won’t change in Tuscaloosa. However, despite the modest requirements of a Tuscaloosa signal caller, all three lack experience in high-pressure SEC situations, which could spell danger during tough road contests in Oxford, Knoxville and Baton Rouge.

Another potential weakness is off-the-field distractions along the offensive line. Cam Robinson’s troubles are well-documented, as are Alphonse Taylor’s, who was recently suspended after driving under the influence. It’ll be interesting to see if Saban can silence the outside noise and keep this squad focused.

Players to Watch

WR Calvin Ridley, So. – Despite the enormous pressure of replacing Amari Cooper as Alabama’s top receiving threat, Calvin Ridley passed with flying colors, catching 89 passes for 1,089 yards and seven scores in 2015. But with legitimate quarterback concerns and no sure-fire stud in the backfield, Ridley must maintain a high level of production to take some pressure off the defense. He’s more than capable of doing so.

LB Reuben Foster, Sr. – Reggie Ragland gave opposing offenses nightmares last season as the centerpiece of another prolific Alabama defense. This season, it’s Reuben Foster’s turn to lead the charge. Foster finished second on the team in tackles last season and displays a wide skill set, such as the ability to drop in coverage or wreak havoc in the backfield. There are three certainties in life: Death, taxes and a stud linebacker in Tuscaloosa.

Games to Watch

Sept. 17 at  Ole Miss – Revenge is the obvious factor here. While back-to-back losses to Ole Miss ultimately haven’t prevented Alabama from reaching the College Football Playoff, the Crimson Tide face a gauntlet of imposing road challenges in 2016. Another early loss to the Rebels could spell trouble for Alabama’s CFP chances.

Nov. 5 at LSU – Mark this game up as the Battle for the SEC West. Last season, Alabama dominated Leonard Fournette and the Tigers, holding the then-Heisman favorite to 31 yards rushing in a 30-16 victory. However, LSU returns 18 starters and have arguably the nation’s top home field advantage. There’s nothing quite like Death Valley at night, but luckily for the Crimson Tide, they receive an extra week to prepare for the Tigers and always play their best football during the final stretch of the season.

Season Prediction

11-1 (7-1 SEC)

Loss: at Tennessee

Featured image courtesy of Matt Velazquez