Five Reasons Why the Tide Will Roll Through the SEC
With all the predictions for the upcoming season in full swing, I thought I would take an optimistic look at the upcoming season.
There are plenty of reasons why Alabama won't go all the way this season. These are just five reasons why they could.
In arguably the toughest conference in the land, running the table is never easy.
Just ask Florida last year.
But if it were to happen for Bama this year, here's a list, in no particular order, explaining what you can attribute the success to...
Reason One: The Defense
The defense is probably the number one reason why the Tide will succeed this year.
With nine returning starters from an already dominant defense, no one will be putting up many points on the Tide. Alabama has many great defenders but I'll just touch on the playmakers at each phase of the defense.
The D-line should shut down runs and cause inexperienced opposing quarterbacks to get happy feet. Anchoring the line will be the monster, Terrence Cody.
As I and many Tide fans know, his stats will never do his effect on opposing offenses justice. Not many defensive tackles have to be double teamed, especially in a 3-4 scheme. Cody clogs the middle and causes offensive coordinators to gameplan around him.
Like running up the gut? Not on this guy. While he shuts down the middle, the supporting cast get the tackles.
One of the guys getting the tackles is Rolando McClain. McClain benefits from his immense understanding of offensive schemes. He is the guy that calls the defensive audibles on the field and rightly so.
His football IQ and dedication to watching countless hours of game film makes him the most valuable asset on this stacked defense.
With 95 tackles, 12 for a loss, 1 pick, and 2 fumbles recovered last year as a sophomore, expect ridiculous stats now that he has matured into his junior year. He has become the defensive leader that you would expect from a seasoned senior.
Last year's secondary was possibly the weak point in the defense. With the passion that Javier Arenas displays on and off the field, don't count on that trend continuing this year.
Arenas was just a specialist to start with, but moving him to the secondary was a pivotal decision. With 63 tackles, 2 sacks, and a pick for a touchdown last year, expect him to reach his prime as a senior defender.
Not only is he a great DB, but he is a great asset in run support. Add to that his return ability and you have one of the most explosive players on the field.
Add to that the results of last year's recruiting class, namely Dre Kirkpatrick, and the secondary should be much improved.
These are just three guys expected to make a giant impact. Add to this the rest of the supporting cast including phenom Dont'a Hightower and you have a recipe for offensive coordinator nightmares.
Reason Two: Greg McElroy
Potentially one of the best kept secrets in college football.
Aside from Bama fans, and possibly the Auburn secondary after the beautiful touchdown pass in last years Iron bowl, no one is really giving him much credit.
Many other articles have touched on his accomplishments in high school so I'll leave those accomplishments out.
The reason for my excitement over this kid is that he reminds me of a Big 12 QB. He has the accuracy and the arm to excel in college football.
JPW drove me nuts for a few years. He constantly missed open receivers on critical third downs. He threw high in the red zone. His passes would typically be impossible to intercept in the end zone, but nobody for Alabama was going to catch them either.
In his senior year, he became the quintessential game manager. With the O-Line and running game, there wasn't much asked of him, but he did a good job managing and winning games.
I expect McElroy to complete those deep balls and short passes when the receiver is open. He looked outstanding in the spring game against a top notch defense and practicing against this squad can only help any offensive player.
He's a headstrong QB that knows the ins and outs of the offense probably better than any player on the team. If he can have success in Week One vs. Virginia Tech, expect big things from him. If the O-line can give him time, he should light up opposing defenses.
Reason Three: The Backfield
With the loss of Glen Coffee, and major losses on the O-line, some expect the rushing game to take a step back this year.
The biggest question for me and many others is will the O-line gel. There is no shortage of talent on the new O-line, but can they play as a unit? If so, Alabama is in for plenty of yards on the ground; if not, the Tide will still run with anybody.
Mark Ingram returns as a sophomore after a tremendous true freshman season. While splitting carries with Coffee and Upchurch last year, he still had 728 yards rushing, at 5.1 yards per carry and led the RB's with 12 touchdowns.
He is a bruiser with speed to take it all the way. Time in the weight room this offseason will only make defenders think twice about stepping in his way.
Roy Upchurch returns for his senior year. As a third-string back last year, he still managed to find the end zone four times, accumulate 350 yards on 58 attempts, and average six yards per carry. Expect more from him this year as a probable second-string back.
Incoming Trent Richardson has a lot of hype surrounding him. According to some, he was the No. 1 running back out of high school; others have him as No. 2 behind Bryce Brown. Expect him to see the field often. If he achieves success early, as I suspect he will, watch out.
With this dynamic trio in the backfield, the new QB should have an easier time getting acclimated to his starting role. Add the short field situations the defense should create and you have a recipe for a scoring factory.
Reason Four: The Receivers
I'll start off with the obvious, Julio Jones. As a true freshman he had 924 yards receiving with an average of 15.9 yards per reception and 4 touchdowns.
He was one of the most hyped players coming out of high school and rightfully so. Any receiver that has close to 1000 yards receiving in his freshman year in a predominantly running offense is something special.
In his upcoming sophomore season with a potentially more accurate passer, the sky is the limit.
Also, Saban has recently claimed that Julio, with his added experience, will see a larger role in this years scheme. The fact that he is almost impossible to tackle gives him many options on offense.
I remember the LSU game where he caught a nine-yard pass only to drag six LSU defenders for 11 more yards. I also remember him catching 10-yard passes only to be pushed out of bound by three defenders who just couldn't get him to the ground.
The key to really getting Julio going is to have some other receivers step up.
Mike McCoy will always be a possession guy who won't burn anyone, but is good for a few yards here and there.
The guy that needs to make an impact is Marquis Maze. He only had 11 reception for 137 yards last year. This year his speed and expanded playing time will hopefully result in more yards.
If he can become the deep threat needed, watch out for not only him to be a factor, but increased production from Julio.
Earl Alexander and Hanks should be good supplements in the passing game also. TE Collin Peak looks to be an effective target in the red zone as well.
Reason Five: Nick Saban
It's been a long time since a proven head coach stepped into the coaching position at Bama.
With a plethora of offensive coordinators and wannabes trying to succeed for years, it's nice to have someone we can count on to win and recruit.
Some say he isn't a great game day coach. Running the table during regular season in the SEC last year is more than enough proof for me.
What can't be dispute is his recruiting prowess.
Saban has locked up the state as far as recruiting is concerned pulling in eight of the top 11 in-state prospects last year, and grabbing up many valuable prospects nationwide.
In his first year of recruiting, Saban pulled in more five-star recruits than Shula did during his entire tenure as coach. And people wonder why we love the guy. It's probably because we like winning, not unlike any other program in the country.
His first year was the typical first year coaching affair. Going bowling and finishing with a 7-6 record. In one year's time, he successfully navigated the ultra tough SEC, going 12-0 in regular season play.
I know, I know, Alabama lost to Florida and Utah. But for a second year coach, winning the SEC West, and only losing to the national champs, and then the only undefeated team in the country, is an accomplishment like it or not. I'll take it over what any other SEC team, aside from Florida, did last year.
With the talent pool growing at an alarming rate, things can only get better.
If Trent Richardson, D.J. Fluker, and Dre Kirkpatrick turn out to be the real deal, a national title should follow shortly, or at least contention for one.
Despite how many fan bases feel about the man, there is no doubt he has turned this program around and the results are there for all to see.
I'm going to go ahead and throw this out there, Florida is the definitive favorite this year. Also I'm not predicting a national title this year. But if it were to happen, you can blame it on these five reasons.
The O-line's ability to work as a unit is the biggest question. For those who don't know, QB is also a question, but so far I'm comfortable with the answer to that question. We will see soon enough as Alabama doesn't start out with a cupcake.
Usually "The Schedule" is a top five reason for many programs, but as any educated fan knows, in the SEC, there are no easy schedules.
My realistic predictions for this season include a SEC title shot and anywhere from a 10-2 season to another 12-0 season.
Could it be worse? Sure.
Is it likely to be worse? Not really.
The big question is: can Alabama dethrone the Gators and Tebow? Is it probable? No. Is it possible? Very.
All I know is I can't wait for the journey.