With the spring now officially out of the way, everybody is looking towards the college football regular season. Sure, we're still a few months away from it actually taking place, but there's a lot to talk about between now and then.
One of those things to discuss is how these teams will be ranked once the season arrives. Well, ESPN has decided to put together its version of the preseason top 25, which was recently released.
While USC opens up as the No. 1 team in the country, the Alabama Crimson Tide fall in the No. 3 spot. Yes, the defending national champions aren't the best team heading into the regular season according to ESPN.
Did ESPN get it right?
Returning starters: 13
You could make an argument as to why the Crimson Tide should be lower in the polls. For one, this team has lost a lot of their offensive playmakers. In fact, their top four receivers from a year ago have either graduated or moved on to the NFL. That includes running back Trent Richardson, who ended up leaving a year early for the next level.
Who's going to replace guys like Richardson, Brad Smelley, Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks? And will they be effective in doing so?
Junior receiver Kenny Bell is expected to become the top target in the passing game, but he's never caught more than 17 passes for a season. The Tide still have depth at running back, with Eddie Lacy leading the way, but he's suffered a turf toe injury in the spring. That's sometimes an injury that will come back to haunt you throughout the year and could sideline him for a period of time.
Did ESPN get it right with Alabama at No. 3?
The offensive line depth is also an area of concern as Saban mentioned earlier in the spring. Another issue is of course the defense, where the Tide only has one starter returning in the secondary (Robert Lester) and saw three of their linebackers either graduate or leave early for the next level.
This team remains talented, but does have a few areas of concern that must be addressed before it can think about returning to the national championship game.
Then of course you could make an argument for why they're too low in the rankings. I mean, these are the defending national champions we're talking about. And last time I checked, Nick Saban's teams are always full of depth and usually put out one of the best teams on the field. This team should be no different as there are bright spots all over this team.
For one, quarterback AJ McCarron is growing rapidly before our eyes and really playing well. Sure, he threw three interceptions in the spring game, but he did complete 29-of-42 passes for 304 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He looked extremely good in the national championship game and seems to be one of the better quarterbacks in the conference.
Despite the injury to Lacy, the Tide still is fine at the running back position with freshman T.J. Yeldon carrying the football. He put on a show during the spring game and has extraordinary playmaking ability. He could really become that home run hitter that every college football team needs and could really help take this offense to new heights.
Then of course the defense will be fine. This is Alabama we're talking about, right? In four of the five years Saban has been coach of the Crimson Tide, his defenses have ranked in the top 10 in points allowed.
Vinnie Sunseri should fit fine in the secondary; he's shown he can make plays in the past. Youngster Deion Blue has already shown his playmaking ability in the spring game and should be a great fit in the secondary as well. This team still has difference-makers on both sides of the ball; it's only a matter of gelling in their new roles.
I'm a big fan of keeping a team in the No.1 spot until they're knocked off. Alabama won the national championship last season; they're still the champions until somebody beats them, which means they should be atop the list.
But with that said, I understand why USC and LSU are above them for now in the polls. They seem like the more polished teams heading into the regular season and may have one or two fewer questions they have to answer.
Still, picking a true No. 1 team out of LSU, USC and Alabama, you really couldn't go wrong with any team you ended up picking.
Which is why I would have probably put the defending champions in the top spot.