Projecting Alabama's Chances for 3 in a Row
Ladies and gentlemen, the Alabama Crimson Tide are your 2012 BCS national champions. Shocking, I know, but Nick Saban has laid the foundation of a dynasty that could potentially rewrite the history of college football.
Three championships in four years is an incredible feat. The last team to do it in college football was Nebraska in the mid '90s, and only a select few teams in the history of sports have ever done it.
But four championships in five years? That's even rarer company. The Yankees of the '30s, '40s and '90s, Bill Russell's Celtics and John Wooden's UCLA Bruins are the few teams who have done it.
So, after winning the 2012 BCS title, will Alabama be able to join that select group?
In terms of scheduling, Alabama's 2013 road to Pasadena will be easier than any it's faced so far in its run.
The Tide's big nonconference game? A tilt with Virginia Tech, projected by most to be unranked, in Atlanta. The crowd will in all likelihood be rooting for Alabama.
Its conference schedule is more significant because of who it doesn't play.
The Tide won't face JaDeveon Clowney and South Carolina.
They won't play against Will Muschamp's Florida Gators and their menacing defense.
They won't get a rematch against Aaron Murray and the Georgia Bulldogs.
In fact, their conference schedule will in all likelihood come down to two games: a September 14 trip to College Station to face Texas A&M, and a November 9 showdown with LSU in Tuscaloosa. Even so, the Tide should be favored in both games.
Though the Aggies will play Alabama at home and still have Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, the rest of their team will be decimated by the NFL draft. Left tackle Luke Joeckel, right tackle Jake Matthews, defensive end Damontre Moore and others could potentially leave for the pros. A&M doesn't have nearly the depth on a year-to-year basis as Alabama, and it will have a much harder time absorbing the losses.
LSU is in a similar position. So far it has already lost Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan, Eric Reid, Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Kevin Minter and Tharold Simon have already declared, and the slight possibility of a return from Tyrann Mathieu (aka, the Honey Badger) was extinguished in November when he declared for the draft as well.
Alabama will be favored in all of its regular season games in 2013. Assuming the Tide can get past whoever wins the SEC East in the conference championship game, they'll have a fairly simple road to Pasadena.
Offensive Skill Positions
If it has time, Alabama's offense will have no trouble making plays. Most of its skill position players will be back in 2013.
Quarterback AJ McCarron, a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, will return for his senior year.
While running back Eddie Lacy's future is in doubt (he is projected as a second-round pick), backup T.J Yeldon's is not. The freshman 1,000-yard rusher will be back in Tuscaloosa. He will be joined in the backfield by top recruit Derrick Henry, one of the best athletes among incoming freshmen in the country.
On the outside, freshman sensation Amari Cooper will only improve and he should be joined by the return of Kenny Bell. They have also added the No. 2-ranked freshman receiver in the country, Robert Foster, to give McCarron another weapon.
At tight end the Tide lose starter Michael Williams, but their depth at wide receiver should easily make up for it.
The offensive line will be the biggest question mark for Alabama in 2013. Stars Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J Fluker should all be playing on Sundays next fall.
Luckily for the Tide, Nick Saban prides himself on building strong offensive lines and next year's group, while inexperienced, should have as much talent as anyone. Left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio will be back next year, and top recruits Leon Brown and Grant Hill should be in the lineup to help bolster the line.
This unit will in all likelihood be worse than the 2012 version, but fans shouldn't worry. Alabama's offensive line will be fine in 2013.
Defensive Front Seven
Though the Tide's offense should be even better in 2013, the defense is and always will be what defines Alabama football.
The NFL draft will play a huge part in determining how good this unit will be. Nico Johnson, Damion Square and Jesse Williams will be gone next year. But with linebacker C.J Mosley returning next year, Alabama's defense immediately becomes one of the most imposing in the country.
On the line, the Tide should get a big boost in their pass-rush from two highly touted freshman: defensive ends Demarcus Walker and Jonathan Allen.
Both can and will line up in multiple positions in Alabama's base 3-4 defense. Walker is the bigger of the two, and he will play both tackle and end. Allen is more of a speed rusher, and he will play both outside linebacker and defensive end in 4-3 alignments.
Still, the most important player is Mosley, and with him coming back, Alabama's defense shouldn't miss a beat.
The secondary presents another potential problem for Alabama.
Star cornerback Dee Milliner should be a top-10 pick in the NFL draft. He has very little reason to return to school. Though safety Robert Lester won't go nearly as high, he is a senior and won't be back.
The Tide will depend on the improvement of cornerbacks Deion Belue, Geno Smith and John Fulton.
At safety, sophomore Vinnie Sunseri should take over for Lester and play well, and sophomore HaHa Clinton-Dix should improve at the other spot.
Still, the secondary was a concern coming into this year when Alabama lost Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick, but it managed to pull through as a strong unit this year. If the young guys step up, next year's squad could do the same.
Alabama will be strongly in the mix for the 2013 BCS National Championship Game even with the losses it will incur.
The Tide's strong recruiting class should offset some of the players they lose, and the return of AJ McCarron will ensure that the personality and leadership of the team remains intact.
Ultimately it will come down to three games: the trip to Texas A&M, the home game against LSU and the SEC Championship Game.
If Alabama wins all three, it should be one of the top two teams in the country, and if recent history has taught us anything, even a one-loss SEC champion should expect to play for the title. As of right now, I'd place Alabama among the favorites for the national championship.