Alabama is the gold standard when it comes to college football. The Crimson Tide have won three of the last five national championships, including back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.
Interestingly, SEC championships have been harder to achieve than crystal balls. Since coach Nick Saban’s arrival in 2007, Alabama has won only two conference crowns (2009, 2012), indicating that finishing on top of the SEC, widely regarded as the most competitive conference in the country, is no simple feat.
With the 2014 college football season fast approaching, here are three reasons why the Crimson Tide will win the SEC.
Last season, Alabama started the season 11-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation. However, the team’s SEC championship and BCS national title aspirations were halted thanks to Auburn’s thrilling 34-28 victory in which senior Chris Davis returned a missed 56-yard field-goal attempt 109 yards for a touchdown as time expired.
In 2014, the Crimson Tide’s schedule is extremely favorable. In terms of strength of schedule, calculated by adding up every team’s total wins and losses from a year ago, Alabama is the only SEC team to have less than .500 opponents’ winning percentage, according to Saturday Down South's Jon Cooper, as its opponents combined to go 71-79 in 2013.
In addition, Alabama gets Florida, Texas A&M and Auburn at home and avoids playing Georgia or South Carolina during the regular season. The toughest tests for the Crimson Tide will come on the road against rival LSU and at home to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. If Alabama can take care of business at home and manage a victory at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, it will be in good shape to win Saban’s third conference title.
Although Alabama loses its decorated quarterback in A.J. McCarron, as well as a number of defensive players to the NFL, the team does return 12 starters from a year ago, including several key contributors on offense.
Most notably is junior running back T.J. Yeldon, who has amassed 2,343 yards and 26 touchdowns in two seasons. It won’t be a surprise if the team leans on the third-year back, especially early in the season when easing in a new signal-caller.
What Will Alabama's SEC Record Be in 2014?
Alabama also returns four of its five leading pass-catchers in Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White, Christion Jones and tight end O.J. Howard. The quartet combined for 1,888 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
This offensive continuity will undoubtedly help whoever starts the season at quarterback. Senior Blake Sims has performed well this spring, completing 40-of-62 passes for 515 yards and five touchdowns through two scrimmages, according to Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee. However, Sims will be pushed by junior Jacob Coker, who will join the team this summer after transferring from Florida State, where he was a backup to Heisman winner Jameis Winston.
During his tenure at Alabama, Saban has accumulated an impressive 74-15 record, including 61 victories in 68 games over the last five seasons. According to Alabama's official team website, with four national titles, Saban joins Frank Leahy, Bear Bryant and John McKay as the only coaches to accomplish such a feat.
He has also proven to be a master recruiter, as the Crimson Tide have had the nation’s top recruiting class four years in a row. They have the top class again this season, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.
But like every year, Saban will have to mold a talented, but young roster to play his brand of tough, disciplined football. But if any coach is up for the challenge, it's Saban. With an 8-1 all-time record in conference or national championship games, his track record speaks for itself.
Follow Jesse Clark on Twitter: