After being tabbed as the nation's top team in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide have a chance to become just the third team to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the country.
After winning national championships in three of the last four seasons, the Tide are poised to become just the third team in the poll era to occupy the top spot from start to finish (Florida State in 1999 and USC in 2004 are the other two).
Considering Alabama returns its statistical leaders in nearly every category on offense and defense, everything seems to be aligned for Saban’s club to put a bow on its newly minted dynasty.
Despite losing nine players who were selected in the 2013 NFL draft, Saban has several talented underclassmen ready to become leaders this season.
For example, while the Tide lost leading rusher Eddie Lacy to the draft, rising sophomore T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns as Lacy’s backup, could be the best running back in the country despite having yet to start a college game.
Seeing some TJ Yeldon talk tonight, and I'll say this. He has a chance to be the best RB I've ever scouted. Includes AP and Richardson.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) July 29, 2013
Additionally, the defense returns eight starters, and senior quarterback AJ McCarron returns to conduct the most explosive offense Saban has fielded since arriving in Tuscaloosa.
However, the biggest reason that Alabama has a realistic shot to stay on top is because of a schedule that sets up perfectly for the Tide to cruise to an unbeaten regular season.
The Tide avoids the top three clubs from the SEC East (No. 5 Georgia, No. 7 South Carolina and No. 10 Florida).
Alabama opens up with Virginia Tech in Atlanta in the season opener and gets a bye week before its showdown with Texas A&M in College Station on Sept. 14.
Even against an Aggies squad that ranks No. 6 in the initial poll, Alabama still checks in as a healthy six-point favorite on the road, according to The Linemakers. While it may seem like the Tide have a front-loaded schedule, Alabama has a history of starting fast under Saban. Since 2008, Alabama has a 22-0 record in games played before October.
Following the trip to Kyle Field, the Tide will only play one ranked opponent in their final 10 games (vs. No. 13 LSU on Nov. 9). Six of the Tide’s last 10 games are against teams that had losing records a year ago—including five that have first-year head coaches.
Plus, Alabama will also have an extra week to prepare for the annual slugfest against LSU, which is clearly its biggest test in the final two months of the regular season.
While Alabama’s past two title runs came with a regular-season hiccup, a softer-than-normal schedule gives the Tide a strong chance to run through the SEC gauntlet unscathed on the way to capturing the school’s third consecutive crystal football.