BCS National Title: Alabama's 5 Best Returning Players to Defend Championship

Damon YoungCorrespondent IIJanuary 10, 2012

BCS National Title: Alabama's 5 Best Returning Players to Defend Championship

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    With Alabama just winning its 14th BCS national title on Monday night with a 21-0 victory over LSU, why waste time talking about 2011 when we can start looking ahead to 2012?

    Alabama has a number of underclassmen who have been key contributors this season, but you can expect a number of them to enter the NFL draft.

    Despite early returns indicating that some top Alabama juniors are taking a "we'll see" attitude with the draft, you have to think many of them will be exiting.

    Two top juniors, Trent Richardson and Dont'a Hightower, are most likely off to the next level, so who can the Alabama Crimson Tide look to as their best returning players?

Barrett Jones

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    To the surprise of many Barrett Jones has already announced his decision to return to the Capstone for his senior season.

    It's a no-brainer just how big of a boost it is for the Tide to have an offensive lineman of this caliber back for another year.

    The Outland Trophy winner started a lot at left tackle this season, but is a guy who can step in and play any position in Alabama's offensive front.

    Another key to having a veteran like Jones back is his ability to mentor the young up and coming offensive lineman like Cyrus Kouandjio.

    There really isn't a better representative for the Alabama Crimson Tide on or off the field than Barrett Jones and his return is a big plus for Nick Saban's team heading into 2012.

Eddie Lacy

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    With Trent Richardson going to the NFL it pretty much opens the door for Eddie Lacy to be Alabama's feature tailback.

    Yes, nothing is a given, but he is absolutely the front-runner.

    Lacy has rushed for over 600 yards in his sophomore season averaging over seven yards per carry with seven touchdowns.

    Most of us became familiar with Lacy during is break out performance against Michigan State in the 2011 Capital One Bowl, but he has been a solid performer rotating in for Richardson this season.

    He's powerful, instinctive, and really has a big burst through the hole.

    It wouldn't surprise me if Lacy, by season's end, is a dark-horse Heisman candidate for Alabama in 2012.

Dee Milliner

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    With Dequan Menzie and Mark Barron being seniors and junior Dre Kirkpatrick likely to head to the NFL, the Tide secondary will be losing its nucleus and will need someone to step up.

    Enter Dee Milliner.

    We've seen his ability on display, especially with his 35 yard pick six in the Iron Bowl, but entering his junior year is when you expect to see more leadership skills on the field.

    Players in the Alabama defense seem to make great strides from their sophomore to junior season. Just look at the Tide's Dre Kirkpatrick.

    I also wouldn't be surprised to see Milliner get some more action in the return game in 2012 in light of Marquis Maze graduating.

AJ McCarron

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    An obvious choice for one of the best returning players is Alabama's signal caller AJ McCarron.

    With his superb performance against LSU in the BCS title game the sky has to be the limit. Hey may not have thrown a touchdown pass in New Orleans, but he was in total control of the game.

    McCarron has taken a lot of flack this season because he doesn't produce big numbers like other quarterbacks on elite teams.

    He only threw 5 interceptions all season long and had a pass efficiency rating of 149.8. All of this coming as a first year starter.

    The one big complication for McCarron will be playing under a new offensive coordinator. There's always a learning curve with such a transition.

    Still, McCarron has been poised in his first starting role and with a national title under his belt, things are looking extremely bright for the young Tide quarterback.

Jesse Williams

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    Forget the thunder from down under, Alabama Jesse Williams brings the Brisbane pain when he lines up for the Tide on their defensive front.

    Williams only clocked 22 tackles in 12 games for Alabama, but what he does isn't noticed in statistical categories.

    Williams has the ability to blow plays up at the line of scrimmage, wreaking havoc on a play and opening up tackle lanes the the Tide's talented linebackers.

    In order for Alabama 3-4 defense to be successful you need a line that eliminates the opponents offensive front.

    Jesse Williams does that on a regular basis and will be the anchor for the Tide's front seven in 2012.