2010 record: 10-3, 5-3 (4th SEC West)
2010 bowl: 49-7 win over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl
2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: 10th/11th
Coach: Nick Saban, fifth year; 38-11 overall, 22-7 conference
Offensive coordinator: Jim McElwain, fourth year
2010 offensive rankings: 18th, scoring offense (35.7 ppg); 22nd, total offense (444.1 ypg); 29th, rushing offense (182.9 ypg); 27th, passing offense (261.2 ypg)
Defensive coordinator: Kirby Smart, fourth year
2010 defensive rankings: third, scoring defense (13.5 ppg); fifth, total defense (286.4 ypg); 10th, rushing defense (110.2 ypg); 13th, passing defense (176.2 ypg)
Returning offensive starters: 6
Returning defensive starters: 9
Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (grass; 101,821)
Last league title: 2009
2011 schedule: [view]
2011 roster: [view]
2010 statistics: [view]
Snapshot: You could make a compelling case for any one of about eight teams being No. 1 — the Tide, Florida State, Stanford, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Oregon, Boise State and LSU — and would not elicit a peep of an argument from me. Eight teams though? Yes, it’s that wide open this season.
And, like with every other teams in that octet, the Tide has its share of question marks and/or holes heading into the 2011 season. First and foremost, they’ll have to find some way to replace the steady on-field production and exceptional leadership of their starting quarterback the past couple of years, Greg McElroy. Will A.J. McCarron be the answer to that question, and, if not, will Phillip Sims be capable of sliding in? There’s also the not-so-little matter of replacing running back Mark Ingram and wide receiver Julio Jones, although those losses are mitigated by the presence of Trent Richardson at the former position — given the events of the offseason, though, depth will be a concern — and two very capable receivers in Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze. Unlike other parts of the offense, the line on that side of the ball is a quality known, with four starters returning from one of the best units in the country in 2010.
And then there’s the defense. The Tide will return an astounding nine starters from a unit last year that finished in the top five in both total and scoring defense. Suffice to say, defense will be a strength, the strength of the Tide in 2011 and will play a vital role in getting the program back to championship-caliber form.
Honestly, and knowing full well this comparison will irk some/most of the SEC fans in the audience, this edition of the Crimson Tide reminds one a lot of the 2002 version of the Ohio State Buckeyes, primarily because both squads possessed/should possess stifling, shutdown defenses — OSU was second in scoring defense that year — and singular talents in the backfield — Maurice Clarett rushed for more than 1,200 yards, nearly double the next best total. The biggest unknown, at least for now, is whether the Tide possesses a Craig Krenzel-type game manager — one who also possesses the ability to pull out a clutch, season-saving play when called upon — at the quarterback position. If they can find that, they could find themselves nine years later doing exactly what the Buckeyes did at the end of the 2002 season: hoisting the championship crystal high above their winning heads.
Make-or-break game: Nov. 5 vs. LSU
With all due respect to Mississippi State and, more to the point, Arkansas, the SEC West, and thus a path to the BcS title game, will likely run through one of these two schools. The fact that the game will be played in Tuscaloosa will be a big advantage for the Tide; the fact that they’re also the better team — or should be the better team — will be the biggest advantage, and will propel ‘Bama to another appearance in the SEC title game and a likely shot at a second crystal trophy in three years.
Heisman hopeful: Richardson
With the departure of Ingram, as well as some other offseason attrition at the position, Richardson will be counted on to carry the majority of the workload in the running game. With the departure of McElroy, as well as the utter uncertainty as to a replacement, Richardson will especially be called up to shine early in the season as whichever starter at QB gains his football sea legs. As the primary backup to Ingram each of the past two seasons, the junior has rushed for 1,451 yards and 14 touchdowns. Given the circumstances in Tuscaloosa, Richardson could/should easily surpass those career totals this season, which would put him firmly inside the Heisman discussion.
Postseason projection: BcS championship game