Alabama's roster is jam packed with depth and skill, but there are a few players that must stay healthy in order to give the Crimson Tide a legitimate chance of three-peating as BCS champions in 2013.
Through effective recruiting and a track record of winning championships, Nick Saban has amassed the most talent of any head coach in the nation. It's no secret that he sends first-round draft picks to the NFL in droves, yet there are still a few indispensable leaders on this year's squad.
With top teams like Texas A&M and LSU looming on the 2013 schedule, these players will be counted on to lead in words and in action. Without them, 'Bama's title hopes will be in jeopardy.
A.J. McCarron, Quarterback
Because of Alabama's wealth of running backs from year to year, McCarron is often overlooked as a critical player for the Crimson Tide on offense.
But for the past two-plus seasons, McCarron has been a steady leader who has evolved into one of the most efficient and trustworthy quarterbacks in the nation.
In 36 career appearances for Alabama—most of which were games he started—McCarron has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 5,956 yards with 49 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.
It's the eight interceptions that really stand out.
Turning the ball over can be a death sentence for young quarterbacks, whereas teams that take excellent care of the football usually end up winning.
With McCarron behind center, Saban can go into every single game knowing his offense won't become susceptible to a rash of turnovers—a huge edge over the competition.
C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard, Linebackers
Linebackers are usually the featured playmakers in a 3-4 defense, and Alabama features a couple of gems.
Both Mosley and Hubbard are potential first-round picks in next year's NFL draft. Between them, they accounted for 11 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss last season.
Hubbard, in particular, appears ready to have a breakout season in his junior year. During a recent scrimmage, Hubbard was unblockable, registering seven tackles and three sacks, as noted by ESPN's Alex Scarborough:
Mosley is more of a true linebacker than Hubbard, who is a pass-rushing specialist. He can play inside, outside and everywhere in between.
Both players must remain healthy and playing at a high level this season, however, for 'Bama's defense to control the line of scrimmage.
Cyrus Kouandjio, Offensive Tackle
There are some ferocious pass-rushers in the SEC, and Kouandjio will be responsible for keeping them away from McCarron's blind side this year.
Additionally, the left tackle plays a huge role in the team's running game.
A player many draftniks believe will become the next in a long line of Alabama offensive linemen to be a first-round draft pick in the NFL, Kouandjio is certainly one of the best at his position in the nation.
Former NFL scout and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah liked what he saw recently from the left tackle:
Should Koundjio become injured at some point, Alabama's offensive line will suffer a heavy blow. He's going to be a bigger key to this team's success than T.J. Yeldon, who is backed up by Kenyan Drake, or any of the team's receivers.
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