The Rant Sports 100 teams in 100 days countdown begins to wind down as we take a look at the 2nd ranked team in our Top 25, the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Alabama has been one of the most dominant teams in the country since 2008, accumulating 48 wins (second only to Boise State’s 50), 2 BCS National Championships, and 1 Southeastern Conference Championship. With that kind of track record, to say expectations are high in Tuscaloosa would be an understatement.
When some schools set their goals they aim to win a certain number of games or make it to a bowl game. For the University of Alabama the goal is simple: National Championship. That is not only the goal, it is the expectation.
Alabama has traditionally been a team that has emphasized the running game, but much of the speculation this season is that Alabama will throw the ball down field more often after the emergence of quarterback AJ McCarron. McCarron burst on the scene during the 2011 BCS National Title game with 23 completions on 24 attempts for 234 yards. Although the stats weren’t eye popping, McCarron showed that he could attack a defense without turning the ball over.
Joining the junior quarterback in the backfield will be a talented quartet of running backs. After averaging 7.1 yards per carry behind Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy will take the lead among the stable of backs. Filled with the perfect balance of size, speed, power and finesse, the only thing that could hold Lacy back this season could be injuries that seem to nag the Louisiana native.
However, if something were to happen to Lacy, the Tide will turn to another junior tailback in Jalston Fowler, a 6-foot-1 250lbs power back who teammates say is like tackling a bowling ball. Although Fowler is 2nd in line after rushing for just under 400 yards and 4 touchdowns in limited duty, he’ll be sure to be challenged by redshirt freshman Dee Hart and true freshman TJ Yeldon.
Although inexperienced the wide receiving corps could turn some heads in 2012. McCarron showed no hesitation when saying this was the most talented group of receivers he’s seen since arriving on campus, a sentiment that was reiterated by Saban as he complimented the chemistry between the two units.
Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood are not household names after limited opportunities in their first two seasons on the field. Bell is a homerun threat with legitimate 4.3 speed while Norwood is a technician at the position; running precise routes and reeling is everything thrown his direction.
While Bell and Norwood will lead the unit, Christian Jones will supply a pair of steady hands in the slot, while freshmen Amari Cooper and Cyrus Jones have been busy making the case that they can not be redshirted. Also, don’t discount Marvin Shinn, a 6’3 redshirt freshman from Vigor High School who impressed with 2 catches for 85 yards in the second fall scrimmage.
No matter if Alabama runs or throws the ball, they will do so behind the best offensive line in the country, maybe one of the best of all-time. Barrett Jones, the reigning Outland Trophy winner will lead the unit, but offensive tackles DJ Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio may wind up stealing the show.
Alabama’s success on defense begins up front, most notably at the nose guard position. When the Crimson Tide have won national titles under Saban, they have done so with a dominant figure to clog the middle. In ‘09 it was Terrance Cody, then in ’11 it was Josh Chapman. This year Alabama will look to Jesse Williams, the 6’4 and 320lbs Australian.
Holding down the defensive end spots in Alabama’s 3-4 defense will be 5th year senior Damion Square on one side and a likely combination of Ed Stinson and Quentin Dial on the opposite end.
The defensive line will be solid, but without question the linebacking corps is going to be a strength for the Alabama defense. Nico Johnson and CJ Mosely will be the headliners on this unit, receiving plenty of preseason acclaim during the summer months. Although each have found their names littered on numerous watch lists the two may still share the same position. Why? “Because it works” said CJ Mosely at the beginning of fall camp.
While Johnson and Mosely will get much of the attention at the beginning of the season, Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson at the outside linebacker spots may get all of the attention at the end of the season. Both are phenomenal athletes with natural pass rushing ability who could give Alabama their first real pass rush in years.
The secondary will undoubtedly be a question for Alabama in 2012. While Robert Lester and Vinnie Sunseri will have the safety position locked down, the question comes at cornerback. Deon Belue, Dee Milner and John Fulton each have all the talent in the world, but starting experience in the Southeastern Conference is scarce.
While the consensus in Tuscaloosa is that the first unit with be able to hold their own, there will be a sense of urgency early on to develop as much depth as possible.
A contest with the Michigan Wolverines will be a tough matchup early on but the real test could come in week three against the Arkansas Razerbacks. As noted earlier the secondary is a big question for Alabama and is a weakness the Razerbacks that could exploit. The Missouri Tigers on October 13th could also present the same problems.
But the one game that everyone has circled is November 3rd in Baton Rouge against the LSU Tigers. It is very possible that these two teams could again be undefeated heading into the game, giving all the makings of the Game of the Century Part 3