The Alabama Crimson Tide are missing several key components from last year's defense, and Trent Richardson's presence on offense, but that doesn't mean their hopes of returning to the BCS National Championship Game are dead.
The Tide still have a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, and a Nick Saban-coached defense will always smack teams in the mouth.
Their "brand" of football will be no different this year, even if the players lining up are.
Let's take a look at three Alabama studs who will determine the team's path back to college football's biggest game.
Lacy must stay healthy this season because he's replacing Alabama's best player from a year ago. The ball-carrier must mimic Richardson's consistent production for Alabama's offense to keep pace.
It's not like Lacy isn't talented. He has over 1,000 yards on the ground in two seasons as Richardson's backup and 13 touchdowns. His 6'1'', 220-pound frame gives him the ability to work north-south, but he also has the speed to slash his way to the outside.
Lacy will have competition. Freshman T.J. Yeldon has had an outstanding spring, and he's talented enough to contribute immediately.
The Tide are known for their ground-and-pound run game. Their offensive line is arguably the best in the nation, and they must utilize that bulk to their utmost potential.
If something goes wrong with Alabama's run game, McCarron will have to be the guy to run the show. There's no proven backup behind him on the depth chart, so he really is it for Nick Saban's offense.
Last year McCarron turned in an underrated 2,634-yard season. He only tossed 16 touchdowns, but, more importantly, he only threw five interceptions.
McCarron will have to be more assertive on offense this year. He doesn't have a star-studded cast of receivers to work with, but he will have to make the best of it.
The run game will still be there to lean on, and the defense is still going to play extremely well, but McCarron will have to use his arm to stretch the field more often than last year.
I think he's ready to do it. He was very underrated last year. At the least, he's an above-average game manager for Saban's team.
I could have gone with any number of defensive players here, but I'll stick with the proven Lester. Without Dre Kirkpatrick and Robert Barron in the Alabama secondary, he's the unquestioned leader on the back side of the Tide's defense.
Last year Lester had 39 tackles and two interceptions. That's a far cry from the eight picks he had in 2010, but he's still a very good coverage safety.
Dee Milliner and Deion Belue are talented corners, and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix is arguably more talented than Lester in the long term, but Lester in the most experience player in Alabama's secondary.
The front seven for Alabama lost a few notable names, but the talent is there to replace them. The secondary is a little less stable, and Lester will be looked to for consistency on a daily basis.
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