Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron throws on the run in front of LSU Tigers cornerback Ron Brooks during their NCAA BCS National Championship college football game in New Orleans

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 3 Alabama


2011 record: 12-1 overall, 7-1 in SEC (2nd in West)

2011 postseason: BcS title game (21-0 win over LSU)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 1/No. 1

Head coach: Nick Saban (146-56-1 overall; 55-12 in five seasons at Alabama)

Offensive coordinator: Doug Nussmeier (first season)

2011 offensive rankings: No. 16 rushing offense (214.5 ypg); 69th passing offense (215.1 ypg); 31st total offense (429.6 ypg); No. 20 scoring offense (34.8 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: Kirby Smart (sixth season at Alabama, fifth as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: No. 1 rushing defense (72.1 ypg); No. 1 passing defense (111.5 ypg); No. 1 total defense (183.6 ypg); No. 1 scoring defense (8.1 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: four

Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821; grass)

Last league title: 2009

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Nick Saban’s a lot of things (insert various one-liners at your leisure), but he’s not someone who allows himself, his coaching staff or his players to make the same mistake again.  Coming off its BcS title following the 2009 regular season, the Tide consistently stubbed its toe on the way to a three-loss post-crystal season in 2010.  Coming off its second title in three years, Saban’s determined to keep a repeat of 2010 from happening again in 2012.  Could it happen again?  Of course, anything’s possible.  But, in the case, I wouldn’t bet on history repeating itself.

The Bad
If the Tide does party like it’s 2010, however, it will likely be because of a defense that led the country in nearly every major statistical in the run to another BcS title last season.  Gone from that suffocating defense are seven starters, including its top three tacklers and four of the top five total; its top two tackles-for-loss producers; and two of the three leaders in sacks.  Certainly, thanks to the bounty that is recruiting, there is plenty of on-paper talent that can fill the depth chart.  How fast those replacements can actually fill the sizable shoes left in the wake of departures, though, will determine whether a third title in four years is in the offing.

The Unknown
The defense wasn’t the only side of the ball impacted by departures.  The loss of running back Trent Richardson will certainly affect an offense that will be under the direction of a new coordinator — former Washington OC Doug Nussmeier.  While there’s plenty of talent in the backfield — starter Eddie Lacy and backups Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon — the addition of the pass-leaning Nussmeier could be a signal that Saban is ready to put more responsibility on the right shoulder of AJ McCarron.  The starting quarterback proved last season that he was more than capable of handling the responsibilities in a balanced offensive attack; if called upon — and that’s a big coaching if right now — can he handle a bigger responsibility in the passing game?  Stay tuned …

Make-or-break game: at LSU, Nov. 3
No offense to Arkansas or new SEC member Missouri or even non-conference foe Michigan, the game on both of these team’s schedules this season is a rematch of the BcS title game.  And the field-goal-laden regular season game that cost the Tide a shot at an SEC title.  Much like with the USC-Oregon game the same day, this contest has the potential to feature a pair of unbeaten, Top 5 teams if the schedule plays out as expected, although in this case it will likely determine which team represents its division in the conference championship game.  The bad news for the Tide is the fact that they will have to travel to Death Valley, a place where the Tide has won just once in its last four attempts.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback AJ McCarron
Should Saban decide to put more emphasis on the passing game, and should the Tide perform up to its preseason expectations, McCarron should at least merit considerations on the fringes of the Heisman discussion early on in the season.  In his first season as a starter last year McCarron completed nearly 67 percent of his passes, throwing for over 2,600 yards, 16 touchdowns and just five interceptions, finishing third in the SEC in passing efficiency.  With even a slight bump statistically, McCarron will likely find himself in the Heisman mix.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Stanford loses FB Daniel Marx for the season to leg injury

Conrad Ukropina, Daniel Marx
Associated Press
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Fullbacks are a dying breed in college football. So for those who appreciate when one of the sport’s finest positions is actually on the field (yours truly included), it’s tough when one goes down to injury.

Especially just before his team’s biggest games of the season.

Just ahead of a date with Notre Dame and the Pac-12 Championship, Stanford fullback Daniel Marx will miss the remainder of the Cardinal’s season with what the program is describing a “lower leg injury.”

“It’s tough,” Stanford head coach David Shaw told ESPN Tuesday. “Daniel has had a phenomenal year. This is a guy who is going to play on Sundays. He’s that good — a very versatile football player.”

A sophomore, Marx has not rushed the ball this season, but he does have three receptions for 25 yards to his credit. Far more importantly, he’s paved the way for Christian McCaffrey to accumulate 260 carries for 1,546 yards and seven touchdowns.

Headed into a showdown against No. 4 Notre Dame with the Cardinal’s College Football Playoff hopes hanging by the thinnest of threads, Marx’s absence will be missed.

Stanford will turn to senior Chris Harrell in Marx’s stead.

“We have a lot of faith in Chris,” Shaw said. “We have a combination of guys we may use at that position. Chris has prepared as a starter.”

Don’t ask Mark Richt about his job status

Mark Richt
Associated Press

Mark Richt is deep in preparations for his 15th game against downstate rival Georgia Tech. He’s also closing in on the end of a hectic, disappointing regular season, one in which many questions about his job status have arisen.

Combine those two facts and add in some uncomfortable questions and you get a feisty, possibly paranoid Richt.

“Who made you ask that question?” Richt said  when asked about his job status, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I know you didn’t think of that one. My focus is beating Georgia Tech right now. That’s my answer to you.”

Then another arrived, this time from the hometown Athens paper. “Then I probably won’t answer it, I can tell you that,” Richt said when appraised of the nature of the question. “So go ahead.”

It is worth noting, according to the AJC, Richt provided those terse answers through smiles and a chuckle.

“My focus right now is Georgia Tech,” Richt finally answered. “Who made you ask that one?”

Richt then attempted to head off another job question before learning the inquiry was actually about the Bulldogs’ offensive line.“You’re gonna ask the same one? We  can end this thing as fast as you want,” Richt said. “I’m here to talk about the game.”

Georgia plays Georgia Tech Saturday. By Sunday, Richt will have to find a new reason to avoid answering questions about the only subject fans care to hear.

Oklahoma, Iowa move into top four in latest College Football Playoff rankings

C.J. Beathard, Zach Poker, Mike Caprara
Associated Press

The fourth set of College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night, and Clemson is No. 1 for the fourth consecutive week. Alabama remained second, and Oklahoma leapt from seventh to third after winning their second consecutive game against a top-20 team. Iowa moved up a spot from fifth to fourth, and Michigan State jumped from No. 9 to No. 5 after its massive road win over Ohio State.

Ohio State fell from third to eighth due to that loss. Baylor passed the Buckeyes for No. 7 following their decisive win at then-No. 6 Oklahoma State, and Notre Dame dropped from fourth to sixth after a close win a Boston College.

Washington State, Mississippi State, UCLA, Toledo and Temple jumped into the rankings, while LSU, Houston, Memphis, USC and Wisconsin fell out.

The full rankings:

1. Clemson
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Iowa
5. Michigan State
6. Notre Dame
7. Baylor
8. Ohio State
9. Stanford
10. Michigan
11. Oklahoma State
12. Florida
13. Florida State
14. North Carolina
15. Navy
16. Northwestern
17. Oregon
18. Ole Miss
19. TCU
20. Washington State
21.  Mississippi State
22. UCLA
23. Utah
24. Toledo
25. Temple

Finalists for O’Brien, Outland, Bednarik, other awards announced

Christian McCaffrey
Associated Press

A slew of finalists for college football’s major individual awards were announced Tuesday evening, highlighted by multi-award finalists Derrick HenryChristian McCaffrey and Deshaun Watson. Eleven of the 12 awards listed below (excluding the Burlsworth Trophy) are members of the National College Football Awards Assocation and will have their winners announced during ESPN’s Home Depot 25th Anniversary College Football Awards Show, to be broadcast from the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta on Thursday, Dec. 10 (7 p.m. ET).

The winner of the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center will also be revealed on ESPN’s show, but finalists aren’t announced until Monday, Dec. 7.

The finalists are:

Maxwell Award (best overall player)
Derrick Henry, Alabama
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
Deshaun Watson, Clemson

Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback)
Trevone Boykin, TCU
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Deshaun Watson, Clemson

Doak Walker Award (best running back)
Leonard Fournette, LSU
Derrick Henry, Alabama
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

Biletnikoff Award (best wide receiver)
Corey Coleman, Baylor
Josh Doctson, TCU
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss

John Mackey Award (best tight end)
Hunter Henry, Arkansas
Austin Hooper, Stanford
Jordan Leggett, Clemson

Outland Trophy (best interior lineman)
Spencer Drango, Baylor
Joshua Garnett, Stanford
A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama

Chuck Bednarik Award (best defensive player)
Tyler Matakevich, Temple
Carl Nassib, Penn State
Reggie Ragland, Alabama

Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back)
Jeremy Cash, Duke
Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
Desmond King, Iowa

Lou Groza Award (best kicker)
Daniel Carlson, Auburn
Jake Elliott, Memphis
Ka’imi Fairbairn, UCLA

Ray Guy Award (best punter)
Michael Carrizosa, San Jose State
Tom Hackett, Utah
Hayden Hunt, Colorado State

Burlsworth Trophy (best walk-on)*
Luke Falk, Washington State
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Carl Nassib, Penn State

Wuerffel Trophy (best community servant)
Ty Darlington, Oklahoma
Landon Foster, Kentucky
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana

* – winner not announced at ESPN awards show