The Alabama Crimson Tide have won three of the past four BCS National Championship Games, but to say that they will defend their crown in 2014 is a bit premature. Even with top recruits like Reuben Foster and Dee Liner coming in, Nick Saban's boys face a big test this coming season.
Don't get me wrong. Alabama is still among the cream of the crop in the SEC, and will almost definitely make a strong case for another trip to the title game.
Just the same, the Tide faces an uphill battle. The team is losing key players in cornerback Dee Milliner, running back Eddie Lacy and offensive linemen Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker to the NFL draft. As good a recruiter as Saban is, those are big holes to fill.
It also does not help Alabama that the SEC is set to be even more competitive in 2013-'14 than it has in recent years. Per usual, Les Miles and the LSU Tigers will prove to be a formidable rival in the conference's West division, and the Georgia Bulldogs will once again be leading the charge out of the East. Moreover, let's not forget coaching veteran Steve Spurrier and the ever-improving South Carolina Gamecocks.
And what about Texas A&M and the growing legacy of Johnny Manziel?
However, those teams are not the squad that Alabama needs to worry about. That honor belongs to Hugh Freeze and the Ole Miss Rebels, who hit the jackpot in landing top recruit Robert Nkemdiche this season. The team went 7-6 last season, and is only going to get better in the future.
Throw in that the Crimson Tide are set to face Ole Miss, LSU, Texas A&M and a new-look Arkansas squad led by Bret Bielema, and it's clear that Alabama has its work cut out for the 2013-'14 season.
That makes this season the ultimate test for Nick Saban and his players. If they can prove that they can take on these budding teams and stay atop the SEC despite losing key players to either the NFL or graduation, then their prospects for winning another championship will be strong.
Otherwise, though Tuscaloosa should prepare for a fairly successful season regardless, it definitely won't bring the same euphoria as a championship.