With the 2012 season’s first Associated Press poll set to be released over the weekend, Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are in position to begin this year in a familiar spot—No. 1.
The Crimson Tide garnered the most first-place votes in the initial USA Today Coaches’ Poll released earlier this month, but they came in at No. 2, falling just four points behind fellow SEC West power LSU.
Considering that the Tigers just dismissed star corner and 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu last week, Nick Saban’s club may have overtaken LSU as the preseason favorite for the rugged Western Division in the SEC.
However, Saban has his own issues in the secondary to monitor in the remainder of Alabama’s fall camp—with JUCO transfer and 2012 early enrollee Travell Dixon leaving the program due to personal reasons (h/t Alex Scarborough, ESPN) and safety Jarrick Williams suffering a torn ACL in practice last week. (h/t Don Kausler, Jr., al.com)
The Crimson Tide’s other main competitor for the top spot heading into the season appears to be Lane Kiffin’s USC Trojans.
Boosted by Heisman Trophy favorite quarterback Matt Barkley and the elite receiving tandem of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee—plus the addition of Penn State transfer running back Silas Redd—the Trojans are the main contender to snap the SEC’s national title winning streak that is currently at six years and counting.
Still, Saban and his club are expected to be in the thick of the race to defend their title—with the losses of four first-round draft choices being offset by the return of four starters of what may be the nation’s top offensive line—led by senior center and reigning Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones—and junior quarterback A.J. McCarron.
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The defense has more pressing issues at linebacker—where three starters off last season’s historically dominant unit must be replaced—and at secondary, with their recent losses compounding the departures of Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and De’Quan Menzie.
However, with the way Saban has recruited, fans across the country will begin to get acquainted with future beasts like linebackers Adrian Hubbard and Trey Depriest and defensive backs Dee Milliner, Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri amongst others.
Additionally, several members of 2012’s consensus top-ranked recruiting classes are available to provide depth.
The Crimson Tide’s schedule is challenging, with a season-opening contest against No. 8 Michigan (at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas) and a trip to No. 10 Arkansas two weeks later.
A particularly treacherous stretch begins following their bye week on the first weekend in October—with three of their following four games being road dates at Missouri, Tennessee and ending with the Nov. 3 showdown at LSU.
While Alabama will have its work cut out for it trying to become the first team to repeat as national champions since Nebraska in 1995, the consensus amongst most media scribes is that the Crimson Tide will be one of the main challengers trying to secure a third national title in the last four seasons.