Despite returning just 12 starters off last season’s team that captured the national championship, Alabama’s No. 2 ranking in the initial preseason Associated Press poll validates the faith that Nick Saban will be able to reload with very little—if any—dropoff.
The Crimson Tide finished 34 points and seven first-place votes behind top-ranked USC, but they came in a spot ahead of preseason SEC favorite LSU, with the Trojans and Tigers swapping spots in the USA Today Coaches’ poll released earlier this month. (h/t Jim Kleinpeter, nola.com)
Oklahoma and Oregon rounded out the top 5—but the consensus amongst most preseason prognosticators appears to be forecasting a showdown between one of the two participants of last season’s title game and Lane Kiffin’s Trojans.
So why did Alabama get the nod as the nation’s No. 2 team to begin the 2012 season?
Well, for starters, it is hard to go against Saban judging by what he has accomplished recently—with Alabama becoming the nation’s most dominant powerhouse by virtue of capturing two national titles in the last three years and sending 10 first-round draft choices to the NFL over the same span.
Saban’s success on the recruiting trail has resulted in the Tide having the deepest collection of talent in the country.
Though Alabama has to replace difference-makers like running back Trent Richardson and safety Mark Barron, amongst a host of others, the clear strength of the 2012 edition of the Crimson Tide resides in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
The offensive line—headlined by three first-team preseason All-SEC selections—may be the best in the country, while the defensive line will likely start three seniors that have a combined 33 starts under their belts.
Additionally, junior quarterback A.J. McCarron enters 2012 buoyed off the best performance of his career (completed 23-of-34 passes for 234 yards) in the 21-0 BCS national title game thrashing of LSU.
Junior running back Eddie Lacy appears to be ready to take the baton from Trent Richardson and carry on the tradition of spearheading the Tide's punishing ground attack.
The defense—with seasoned seniors like nose tackle Jesse Williams, linebacker Nico Johnson and safety Robert Lester leading the way—has finished in the top 5 nationally in total defense each of the last four seasons.
There is no reason to expect this year to be different considering the wealth of talent at Saban’s disposal.
With two games in the first three weeks of the season against top-10 opponents away from home (against No. 8 Michigan in Dallas on Sept. 1 and at No. 10 Arkansas on Sept. 15), their lofty perch in the preseason polls will be tested before the official end of Summer.