Alabama has been the class of college football for the past five years. Nick Saban has instilled a winning tradition that Crimson Tide fans have not experienced since the “Bear” Bryant coaching era.
Last year, Alabama had many defensive starters leave for the NFL draft, and 2012 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. As the country found out, however, Alabama does not rebuild, they reload.
The Tide will be the preseason No. 1 in 2013 and will be in the thick of the national championship hunt all year.
The only thing that can prevent the Tide from winning another championship is their brutal schedule. With the exception of a few teams, most of the viable title contenders will be coming out of the SEC and they will beat each other up all season long.
Alabama could easily be better than they were last year, but because of their murderous schedule which includes games against Texas A&M, LSU, Auburn and Virginia Tech, they might not make it back to the BCS Championship Game.
Here are the top contenders to take over the Alabama championship throne next season
The Buckeyes will be near the top of many polls entering the year and will be the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten. Braxton Miller’s phenomenal sophomore campaign has a lot to do with those high expectations in Columbus entering 2013.
The Buckeyes also have one of the best coaches in the country in Urban Meyer. He went undefeated in his first season in Columbus, and with many starters returning, Meyer and the Buckeyes are primed for a championship run.
Because the Big Ten is expected to be down again next season, the Buckeyes will be favored in every one of their games next season.
If Ohio St. is going to pull it off, however, they are going to have to be impressive throughout because many critics still believe in the Big Ten's inferiority, and who could blame them? The conference has only won one national championship in the BCS era, so it has a lot to prove in 2013.
Had the Georgia offense not mismanaged the clock in the final moments of the SEC championship game, the Bulldogs could easily be national champions right now. Instead, the clock ran out on Georgia, Alabama advanced to the national championship game and doubts still persist throughout the Bulldog faithful as to whether Aaron Murray and Mark Richt can win the big one.
Throughout his time at Georgia, Murray has put up big numbers, but has had a pension for coming up small in the biggest moments. Against then-No. 6 South Carolina in October, Murray threw for only 109 yards, completed just 35 percent of his passes and threw one interception.
As with every SEC school, Georgia faces a daunting slate in 2013, which will provide plenty of opportunities for Murray to prove himself.
The Bulldogs will be tested right out of the gate when they face Clemson on the road and South Carolina at home in their first two games. If Murray plays well, prepare to have the Bulldogs in the national championship discussion all year, if he does not, however, Murray and the Bulldogs could be in for a long season.
Many people felt Murray turned a corner in the Alabama game. He threw for 265 yards, one touchdown and also led a valiant last-minute drive against one of the best defenses in the country, but came up five yards short. The Bulldogs will be working all season to find a way to get those five yards.
Critics predicted that Texas A&M would have a difficult time adjusting from the defense-optional mentality of the Big 12 to the speed and athleticism that is present on every SEC roster.
Instead, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel took the conference by storm, putting up one of the best seasons any quarterback has ever had. He compiled 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air and accounted for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground—one of the most remarkable seasons in college football history.
The Aggies will be hurt by losses on the offensive line, but look for the dynamic Manziel to mask those deficiencies with his speed and athleticism.
Texas A&M has a typically brutal SEC schedule with games against Arkansas, LSU and Auburn, but no game will be bigger than their Sept. 14 showdown with Alabama. Both teams will be ranked in the Top Five, and whoever wins that game will assume the early season front-runner status for the national championship.
The Irish went through a gauntlet of a schedule in 2012 and went about as well as possible for the Irish—until they faced off with Alabama in the championship game. The Crimson Tide rolled to an easy victory and exposed every Notre Dame weakness.
The 2013 version of the Irish should be an improved squad. Quarterback Everett Golson will have another year of experience in coach Brian Kelly’s system and should have a better rapport with his receiving corps.
The Irish will lose Tyler Eifert and Robby Toma, but they bring back playmakers like T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels and Chris Brown.
Although the Irish lose two captains in Manti Te’o and Kapron Lewis-Moore, Notre Dame will still have a stout defensive unit in 2013.
Although safety Jamoris Slaughter was denied an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA, the secondary will improve with another year of experience, and they also get Lo Wood and Austin Collinsworth back which will give the secondary more depth.
The defensive line should also be a strength in 2013. Lewis-Moore will be gone, but Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix return, and young players like Sheldon Day and Ishaq Williams should see more playing time and emerge as playmakers.
The 2013 schedule provides another stern test for the Irish. They have to play road games against Michigan and Stanford, and their home slate is not much easier with games against Michigan St, USC and Oklahoma.
It will not be easy, but the Irish have the potential to make another run at the title.
Heading into the 2013 season, the Crimson Tide will be the national championship favorites, but in college football, nothing is guaranteed. Injuries and flukes are a part of the game, and those variables are impossible to prepare for.
After all, this time last year, USC was the consensus preseason No. 1 and look how the team's season turned out.
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