When it comes to Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide squad, it really has become national championship or bust.
After winning back-to-back national championships and starting this year atop the USA Today college football coaches poll, anything other than hoisting the crystal ball at the end of the season would be a bitter disappointment.
Last season, the Tide absolutely dominated the majority of the games they played. The team won 11 of its 14 games by 19 points or more last season on its way to reclaiming its distinction as the top college football team in the nation.
With plenty of talent coming back on both sides of the ball, there's reason to believe the Tide will be celebrating again. But every season comes with its own set of challenges.
These are the biggest obstacles the team will have to navigate to win it all again this year.
Avenging 2012's Only Loss at Texas A&M Sept. 14
The Sept. 14 game against Texas A&M has to be a matchup that the Alabama football program has been anxiously awaiting since the final seconds ticked off the clock in last year's shocking 29-24 loss at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
It marked the first sign of mortality for Nick Saban's squad and the official arrival of Johnny Manziel as college football's brightest star.
As Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweeted out, it's a game the Tide have intentionally kept fresh in their minds.
While everyone remembers the game that Johnathan Football had, and it was certainly a contributing factor to the win, Alabama did not play with the usual poise and focus of a Saban-coached team. A.J. McCarron had two interceptions and T.J. Yeldon lost a fumble as Alabama lost the turnover battle three to nothing.
There's no question that A&M has what it takes to give Alabama trouble again, but it's unlikely the team plays that sloppily again.
Still, it's one of only two teams on Alabama's schedule that enters the season ranked in the Top 25.
Offensive Line Rebuild
We can talk about the excellent talent Alabama has coming back at the skill positions. It is impressive and deep, including T.J. Yeldon, who ran for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and A.J. McCarron's top targets, Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood.
But let's be honest. Alabama's success comes from the big men up front.
New offensive line coach Mario Cristobal has some rebuilding to do in that department.
The Tide lost guard Chance Warmack (No. 10 pick overall), tackle D.J. Fluker (No. 11 pick overall) and center Barrett Jones (fourth-round selection) to the NFL draft last season.
The two returning starters, Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen, are both proven commodities. They were both named to the Athlon Sports preseason All-SEC team. The rest of the line, however, is largely unproven thanks to the relative health of last season's starters.
Players like Arie Kouandjio, Austin Shepherd and Ryan Kelly may have been highly regarded recruits, but they'll have to prove their worth on the field before we can know for sure that Alabama once again has an earth-moving offensive line.
Plain and simple, the only team that can really beat Alabama this season is Alabama.
As SEC Football points out, Alabama was second in the SEC in scoring offense and top in the conference in scoring defense last season.
With A.J. McCarron and all of his offensive weaponry coming back, the offense can be explosive once again. Meanwhile, Dee Milliner, Jesse Williams, Quinton Dial and Nico Johnson are the only starters who will need to be replaced on that dominating defense.
The only question that comes with a team this talented that has already accomplished so much is how they can remain motivated throughout the season. With a disciplinarian like Saban at the helm, you'd have to think it's unlikely they lose focus, but it's still one of the few things that could derail their championship hopes.
If this team remains on its game every Saturday, it has an excellent chance to become one of the greatest dynasties in college football history.
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