Despite having to replace a total of 10 starters on offense and defense from last year's national championship-winning squad, the Alabama Crimson Tide have an excellent shot at defending their title.
The talent is definitely there, but with this many moving parts, there are going to be a few key areas that will have to show they can develop and come together if this team is going repeat its glory from last season.
The Passing Game Improves
Last season, Alabama needed very little out of its passing game. With its mind-bogglingly excellent defense and running back Trent Richardson in the backfield, starting QB A.J. McCarron needed to do little more than not turn the ball over to help his team win.
Will Alabama repeat as champs?
McCarron was solid in that role, as he completed 66.8 percent of his attempts and hit them for just over eight yards per pass. He also had 16 touchdowns to five interceptions.
With a full season of starting under his belt, more is going to be expected—and needed—out of McCarron.
He has lost his top receiving target from a year ago in Marquis Maze and also his offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who departed to take over Colorado State, but he will still have weapons to disperse the ball to and a great offensive line protecting him.
McCarron isn't going to need to put up record passing numbers for this team to be successful. He just needs to make it clear to opposing defenses that Alabama can win with its passing game when it needs to.
Replacing Mr. Richardson
Alabama has talented running backs, but these guys will be trying to replace Trent Richardson, and his kind of freakish ability comes around once in a generation.
Eddie Lacy should assume the bulk of the burden of replacing Richardson. In 84 carries last season, Lacy averaged 7.5 yards.
Lacy is talented and explosive. However, he is coming off of a turf toe surgery. So it remains to be seen if he will be as explosive as last year.
There is also plenty of depth behind Lacy.
With this amazing offensive line—they have three legitimate All-American candidates—the Tide will get healthy production out of the running game, but they will need to gel for this to be a championship-caliber running game.
Remain a Bully on Defense
Safety Mark Barron, cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie, and front-seven studs Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower have traded their Alabama Saturdays for NFL Sundays.
That is a lot of talent and leadership to replace.
Seeing as how the defense is Nick Saban's baby and he always makes sure his D is quality, there is little reason to suspect this defense will be anything less than great.
However, they will still need to develop leadership and their own identity if they want to make those little and big plays that a team needs in order to be the best of the best.