Everywhere you look on the field, the Alabama Crimson Tide have playmakers. It's one of many reasons that they are the undisputed favorite to hoist the Sears Trophy for the third consecutive season.
While Nick Saban and his program are usually associated with dominant defenses, the offensive unit was just as potent for last year's championship team. The Tide were No. 12 in the country in scoring offense at 38.7 points per game.
Unfortunately for the rest of the country, most of those playmakers that fueled that offense will be back again. AJ McCarron, T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper are three names that SEC coaches already know well and figure to pace the Tide's attack again.
So what can kind of numbers can we expect from them this season? Let's examine.
AJ McCarron's transformation from lowly game manager to bona fide star was incredible for the Tide last season.
Statistically, he nearly doubled his touchdown output (from 16 to 30) and cut down on his already low interception number (five to three). That's incredible efficiency even in a run-dominant offense like Alabama's.
He also increased his yards per attempt from 8.0 as a sophomore to 9.3 as a junior (good for third in the country).
But perhaps the most impressive thing about his statistical improvement is the fact that it all came with less opportunity than he had in his sophomore season. He attempted 14 fewer passes as a junior.
And that's why it's hard to see him improving much on the numbers that he had last season. The truth is, he's about as prolific as you can expect a quarterback to be when he's averaging 22 attempts per game. Considering the rushing attack that Saban will have with Yeldon coming back, it's unlikely he throws it any more than 25 times a game this year.
Expect McCarron to once again maximize his opportunities, but he's not going to put up the crazy numbers of the more pass-happy quarterbacks in the nation.
Projected Stats: 238/350, 68 percent, 3,255 yards, 33 TD, 5 INT
The Tide tradition of splitting carries between two superstar-caliber running backs continued last season as T.J. Yeldon racked up more than 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground as the understudy to Eddie Lacy.
If the history of Alabama is any indication, we know two things about Yeldon this season:
- His yards per carry is going to take a small hit.
- His overall numbers will be better as he gets more carries.
This is really just common sense, but we've seen it with both Trent Richardson and Lacy.
Ingram saw a small boost from his season as a backup to his two seasons as a starter, but he didn't set the bar nearly as high for himself as Yeldon did.
With Lacy now off to the NFL, the lead back job is Yeldon's to lose. At 6'2", 218 pounds, Yeldon has the size to take the lion's share of the carries this season. That means he'll likely see a similar number of carries that Richardson saw in his final season with the Tide when Saban gave him the ball 22 times per game.
Even with a slightly less impressive average, that's a monster season for the sophomore back.
Projected Stats: 266 carries, 1,542 yards, 5.8 YPC, 16 TD
Of all the Tide's returning players, Amari Cooper may have the most difficult time matching his numbers from last season.
It's not that his 999-yard freshman season was a fluke. He's an incredibly gifted receiver with the ability to stretch the field and take advantage of the one-on-one coverage he's sure to receive. The problem is that McCarron has so many receivers to throw to.
Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White all return with varying levels of experience and success in an offense that will always heavily feature the run anyway.
Last season, Cooper's 58 receptions accounted for 26 percent of McCarron's completions. This year, there should be a few more opportunities to go around as Saban learns to trust McCarron more, but it's hard seeing that percentage remaining the same with so many other talented receivers.
He'll improve, but not by much.
Projected Stats: 60 receptions, 1,071 yards, 9 TD