We have exhausted the term “dynasty,” choosing to toss it around ubiquitously rather than examining if it’s actually warranted. In the instance of Alabama football, however, it’s most certainly applicable.
The question, however, is where is the ceiling?
Alabama will enter the 2013 season as an overwhelming favorite; a favorite so robust even Las Vegas is struggling to process how to handicap it. It has unmatched talent and depth, the nation’s best head coach by a significant margin and a schedule that is surprisingly manageable on paper.
But it’s never that easy, and if Virginia Tech isn’t able to topple the chalk in Week 1, someone else most certainly could. For as much talent as Alabama has, it is not without its concerns at a handful of key positions.
A three-peat would be unprecedented in today’s ultra-competitive world of college football, but it is also within reach.
The Case For Alabama
Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer summed it up best when talking about the canyon-sized obstacle ahead in Week 1.
Frank Beamer on Tech Talk Live about Alabama: "This is the best team we've ever played." #Hokies— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) August 27, 2013
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has the distinct possibility of leaving campus with more national championships than losses as a starter. It’s a stat that will undoubtedly win you a beer off your buddy in bar trivia, and one that will likely be realized if Alabama ends up on top once again.
McCarron is remarkably gifted—perhaps not as physically impressive as other quarterbacks in the conference but still immensely talented. More so than his talents, however, McCarron provides a comfort at the game’s most important position—especially when it comes to the biggest moments. There is no moment too big.
Helping him along the way will be a team deep in so many areas. Alabama has NFL talent and depth all over the place, a luxury that is a testament to the unbelievable recruiting wave Nick Saban has been on over the past five years.
Former NFL scout turned NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah noted this while reviewing the talent in Tuscaloosa for the upcoming season.
Alabama can make a strong case that they have the top player in CFB at these positions: WR, RB, LT, ILB and FS.— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) July 15, 2013
And thus, Saban has the best football problem on his hands: How does he get all of his former 4-star and 5-star running backs carries?
At wide receiver, Amari Cooper is probably the best wideout not named Marqise Lee, and this group is immensely deep and versatile. It was ravished by injuries in 2012, but Kevin Norwood—who has become a national championship fixture—will join DeAndrew White, Kenny Bell and Christion Jones, giving this team options through the air.
The defense is, well, where to begin.
At linebacker, Alabama is simply loaded. C. J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard are without question the best linebacking duo in the country, and there is depth (shocking, really) at this position as well. Top recruit Reuben Foster has made “tremendous progress” according to his head coach—rare but noteworthy praise.
Don’t be surprised if you see this sooner than later.
At safety, HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri will get the starting nods, and both were superb last season. Landon Collins—yes, the same talented player most notably known for his disapproving mother—will play much more of a role on passing downs. Clinton-Dix and Sunseri are already stars, and Collins isn’t far behind.
Aside from having a roster clearly up for the challenge, the schedule—especially by SEC standards—isn’t exactly the conference’s most daunting. Alabama will be favored in every game (perhaps by double digits or at least close), and the toughest road test will come early on at Texas A&M.
Given the uncertainty surrounding Johnny Manziel, however, even this game doesn’t have the same feel—at least not right now—as it once did.
Alabama will also play Ole Miss and LSU, two teams that could surpass expectations heading into the season. Still, Alabama’s toughest test may not be until the SEC Championship Game or—if Saban’s “process” plays out—the BCS National Championship.
The Case Against Alabama
Perhaps Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler said it best when barraged with the customary “do you guys have a chance?!” questions that are now anticipated when attempting to take down college football’s giant.
#Hokies LB Jack Tyler on Bama: "They’re big, physical, great athletes at every position, great QB. But they’re not gods. They’re beatable."— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) August 26, 2013
The response, of course, means zero to the outcome of the game (or season, really), but it serves as more than just a rallying cry. Yes, the Alabama roster has unmatched talent, but it also has positions of concern.
Granted, “concern” is relative compared to others, but the concerns are real.
The offensive line has received rave reviews from Saban all offseason, but it will enter 2013 without three key cogs from the outstanding 2012 group. D.J. Fluker, Chance Warmack and Barrett Jones helped this team average 5.59 yards per carry last season (good for sixth in the nation), and they are off to the NFL.
New offensive line coach Mario Cristobal will be tasked with bringing this new group together, and it helps to have a left tackle like Cyrus Kouandjio. He is one of the best offensive linemen in football, and there’s certainly potential around him.
Still, the offensive line was integral to the team’s overall success, and it made it look almost easy at times.
Cornerback is another area of note, especially with the departure of Dee Milliner, who is also in the NFL. Deion Belue will be asked to be the team’s top corner, and he has had a tremendous offseason.
Geno Smith was recently suspended following a DUI arrest, but he will return and contribute. Others such as John Fulton will be called upon and could exceed expectations. It doesn’t help to have future NFL players in front of and behind them.
The defensive line is also being fine-tuned, and the loss of Jesse Williams at nose guard is the most notable departure on the roster. Williams' production may not have shown up on the stat sheet, but he allowed the defenders behind him to do their jobs. Brandon Ivory will have the task of making life easier on the defensive ends and linebackers in '13.
More so than any roster deficiency—because clearly this is nitpicking at its finest—winning the BCS National Championship requires an incredible amount of luck. It doesn’t matter how much more talented a team might be, luck looms large—always.
A single injury can derail an entire season, and the room for error under the BCS is remarkably small. Alabama played its way into the title game the past two years, but it also needed losses from other teams to get there after it suffered a loss of its own.
If Alabama is perfect, it won’t need any help. But bringing it each and every Saturday—regardless of the gap in talent—is a challenge. As good as Alabama was in 2012, and it was far and away the best team in football, it was a few plays away from losing to both LSU and Georgia.
That’s not to say that Alabama wasn’t deserving, but rather a realistic approach of how difficult it is and how easy they make it look at times.
It won’t be cakewalk getting through a full SEC slate. A worthy adversary in the SEC Championship Game and another challenging opponent in the BCS National Championship—if it reaches these landmarks, of course—could pose trouble.
But the blueprint for another national title is on the table. The talent is in place, the coach is never, ever satisfied and the path—while still ripe with landmines—could be much more treacherous.
There will be ample time to examine the dynasty and where a three-peat would stand on the greatness spectrum if and when Alabama arrives. Nothing is ever a given in college football, although this team is poised to push this theory—again.