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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 3 Alabama

Nick Saban Getty Images

2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-1 in SEC (T-1st in SEC West)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma (45-31 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 7/No. 8
Head coach: Nick Saban (165-57 overall; 78-16 in seven years at Alabama)
Offensive coordinator: Lane Kiffin (first season)
2013 offensive rankings: 25th rushing offense (205.6 ypg); 49th passing offense (248.5 ypg); 33rd total offense (454.1 ypg); 17th scoring offense (38.2 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: Eight
Defensive coordinator: Kirby Smart (seventh season)
2013 defensive rankings: 7th rushing defense (106.2 ypg); 11th passing defense (180.3 ypg); 5th total defense (286.5 ypg); fourth scoring defense (13.9 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: Four
Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821; Grass)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
Replacing a three-year starter at quarterback?  Pffft, no problem for a Tide squad that boasts two Top-Five SEC running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry… and the SEC’s best wide receiver-tight end combination in Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard… and at least three returning starters along the offensive line… and a defense that, despite the return of  just four starters, is littered with four- and five-star recruits throughout the depth chart and will, again, be one of the most stout in the conference… and, hands-down, the best coach in college football in Nick Saban.  In other words, and as they have been for the past few years, the Tide will enter a season as one of the handful of favorites to end the year No. 1.

THE BAD
I wouldn’t necessarily call this “bad,” but still.  Yes, Saban reloads his defense with four- and five-star talent, but the Tide still must replace a whopping seven starters from last year’s Top-10 squad on that side of the ball.  Not only that, three of those starters, all along the defensive line, have had their issues throughout the offseason and on into camp: two with suspensions, one with injury.  There are also experience issues in the secondary, with three starters needing replaced.  Fortunately for what will be a youthful Tide defense, their first three opponents (West Virginia, FAU, Southern Miss) won a total of 11 games last season, with all three finishing 78th or worse in scoring offense nationally.  In other words, the defense will have plenty of time to sort themselves out and gel before facing their first real test in Tuscaloosa against… four-win Florida, which finished T-112th in scoring.  The first real test against a team with more than a Pop Warner offense comes, after a bye, against Ole Miss Oct. 4.  Plenty of time, but still some concern over the inexperience.

THE UNKNOWN
We may have pffft’d replacing AJ McCarron, but it’s easily the biggest unknown heading into the 2014 season.  With less than week left before the start of the regular season, Saban, first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and the rest of the staff have not yet, at least publicly, settled on Jacob Coker, the Florida State transfer viewed as the presumptive front-runner, or Blake Sims, McCarron’s backup last season, as the starting quarterback.  Most believe that Coker will ultimately prevail, but there’s a possibility the Tide could go a game or two — or three of four — giving each an opportunity to grab the bull by the horns.  Saban said earlier this year that “consistency in performance” would be the key in settling on a starter; throughout the first three weeks or so of summer camp, neither Coker nor Sims has shown the type of consistency Saban has craved during his time in Tuscaloosa.  Back in July, Saban downplayed the Tide’s chances at a College Football Playoff title because of the inexperience at the position — Coker has attempted 41 passes in his career, Sims 39.  Saban’s downplaying comes with an asterisk, however, as the last two times he had a first-time full-time starter at the position — AJ McCarron in 2011, Greg McElroy in 2009 — the Tide won a BCS title.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: Nov. 29 vs. Auburn
It took less than a half a second to work my way through the Tide’s 12 games and settle on this one.  Certainly, the Nov. 8 road trip will be rife with implications both conference-wise and nationally, but this one… this one’s easily the “It” game for both sides this year.  The annual Iron Bowl grudge/hate match would get consideration year-in and year-out regardless of the most recent one played.  After last year?  This one comes in head, shoulders and half a torso above the other 11 games for the Tide.  Of course, the “last year” I referenced was the most memorable play of the 2013 season, “The Kick-Six” at Jordan-Hare that stunned the Tide and propelled the Tigers into the SEC championship game and, ultimately, the BCS title game.  While the coach and his team would never express it publicly, revenge will certainly be on their collective minds as the Tigers make their trek to Tuscaloosa in late November.  This year’s version may not match the drama of last year’s, but it’s still compelling, must-see TV — and could very well determine which team comes out of the SEC West and claims that division’s spot in the SEC championship game, with a spot in the College Football Playoff (likely) riding on all of it.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back T.J. Yeldon
After rushing for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, this bruising back has it all: speed, power, change of direction and surprisingly soft hands (20-183) for a man his size.  He is everything Nick Saban wants in a running back.  What he doesn’t have?  Sole ownership of the Tide’s running game load, the kind of ownership that would allow him to put up eye-catching numbers, because of the presence of Derrick Henry.  The reality is Henry is too good of a back and too much of a weapon to not utilize, which means Yeldon could still be one of the most Heisman-worthy players in the country and not have the stats to show it.  Such is life on Saban’s Five-Star Island.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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13 Responses to “CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 3 Alabama”
  1. bonnovi says: Aug 26, 2014 10:33 AM

    Alabama is ______

    (Haters and fanboys fill in the blank.)

  2. londonlion81 says: Aug 26, 2014 11:13 AM

    Alabama is… a state.

  3. 24pointlead says: Aug 26, 2014 11:56 AM

    Alabama is… Unknown, but presumed to emerge as a contender for a playoff spot. I have said before that variables around Kiffin Coker and Sims (not a law firm), are too questionable to warrant such a high pre-season ranking. The hiring of Kiffin will prove to be either genius on the part of Saban or force the emperor to find his clothes.

  4. 1990tiger says: Aug 26, 2014 12:44 PM

    JT-You are incorrect about Alabama being tied for 1st in the SEC West for 2013. In 2013, Auburn won the SEC West (and the SEC Championship) outright…..or is this a case of Alabama claiming a championship they didn’t earn? Of course, they’ve never done that before…..

  5. 8to80texansblog says: Aug 26, 2014 1:41 PM

    @1990tiger

    You act as if Auburn hasn’t done that as well…

    And both teams were 7-1 in conference play so technically they would share the division title, but based on head to head matchup Auburn moved on to the SECCG and Bama did not.

  6. 8to80texansblog says: Aug 26, 2014 1:46 PM

    http://collegefootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/05/16/auburn-has-finally-padded-its-historical-title-resume/

  7. 1990tiger says: Aug 26, 2014 2:30 PM

    8to80texansblog says:
    both teams were 7-1 in conference play so technically they would share the division title, but based on head to head matchup Auburn moved on to the SECCG and Bama did not.
    =====================================
    Fail. This is how it works…both teams having the same record in conference play creates the need for a tiebreaker. In this case, the tiebreaker is head-to-head play. Auburn beat Alabama in 2013, therefore Auburn wins the tiebreaker and is the SEC West Champion. There is no “co-Champion”…despite what Alabama and its fans may want to believe.

  8. outlaw53 says: Aug 26, 2014 3:02 PM

    If the Iron Bowl is the “make or break” game…why is the matchup at Baton Rouge against LSU the highest ranked and most expensive game ticket in college sports this season?

  9. squackduckhawk says: Aug 26, 2014 3:06 PM

    Alabama is vulnerable. After the Iron Bowl and Sugar Bowl, Alabama looks beatable for the first time in years.

  10. Walk says: Aug 26, 2014 4:19 PM

    I love to watch yeldon run the ball, but he has had some big fumbles. The starting qb has me a little anxious as i do not know a lot about either of the players that could end up with the job.

  11. Deb says: Aug 26, 2014 9:12 PM

    1990tiger, seems you’d still be basking the glow of that Iron Bowl victory … but here you are … bashing Bama. Bless your heart. Haven’t you heard comparison is the thief of joy?

  12. 1990tiger says: Aug 26, 2014 9:45 PM

    @Deb-
    Replays of the 2013 Iron Bowl (especially the last play) brings me much joy each time I watch it and will continue to do so for years to come. I am not bashing Bama. I am setting the record straight and pointing out an inaccuracy in JT’s article. Any bammer delusional enough to think their team shares the 2013 SEC West title with Auburn should be embarrassed. Bless your little heart if you are one of them.

  13. Deb says: Aug 27, 2014 1:55 PM

    @1990tiger …

    Nope, I’m not one of them. :)

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