Despite reports to the contrary last September, Alabama's dynasty is alive and well.
The dynasty overcame the early-season letdown loss against Ole Miss and other rivals that tried to knock the Tide out of the title picture down the stretch. Then it showed it was back to full strength in a beatdown of the Big Ten champion in a game that tripped it up in the previous season.
Alabama's dynasty outlasted a tremendous challenge from Clemson—an instant classic that put another championship ring on its finger. Then it braved the chilling winds in Tuscaloosa this past Saturday, when it celebrated its fourth national championship in seven years.
The Alabama football dynasty survived all that just in the past few months. It doesn't look like it's going to die anytime soon.
When college football returns later this fall and the Crimson Tide kick off against USC in the Cowboys Classic, Alabama will once again be a strong favorite to win the SEC and a College Football Playoff berth for the third straight season.
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Alabama opened in Las Vegas with the best odds of any team to win the national championship in 2016 at 7-1, according to sports book Bovada (via Kevin Trahan of SB Nation).
LSU is the second-best SEC team at 14-1, with Ole Miss and Tennessee following at 22-1.
Click on virtually any "way-too-early" Top 25 for the 2016 season from a college football outlet, and the Tide are locked into the top few spots. Bleacher Report's own rankings from Ben Kercheval have Alabama at No. 1, while most others have the defending champs at No. 2 behind Clemson.
Alabama's odds to pull off the three-peat in the SEC are so great yet again because of what it's bringing back for 2016 and its conference schedule, which appears to be a little more favorable than the one from last season.
With team sack leader Jonathan Allen staying in school, Alabama will return 11 starters from the College Football Playoff Championship Game for 2016.
Major roster turnover is unavoidable for any powerhouse program that produces NFL talent, but the Crimson Tide are the best in the country at handling it.
Crimson Tide FB @CrimsonTide_FB
Every recruiting class signed by Nick Saban at Alabama has won a National Championship. #rolltide https://t.co/GW1M5vu7mx1/13/2016, 10:05:02 PM
The constant flow of No. 1 overall recruiting classes—one that will taper off a little bit this offseason, but not by much—replenishes the expertly constructed greenhouse that is Alabama football. Elite teams literally grow in Tuscaloosa.
And exactly where Alabama is returning these experienced starters from a national championship team is important.
Allen was the Tide's most productive defensive lineman from a stats perspective, thanks to the extra attention placed on A'Shawn Robinson. He'll be the leader for a position group that returns three players who rotated in enough to record double-digit tackles—Dalvin Tomlinson, Da'Shawn Hand and Daron Payne.
Reuben Foster was the team's second-leading tackler, and he'll be a key figure for a linebacking corps that might even return more experience than the line. Eddie Jackson, Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick will be back from a much-improved secondary.
Offensively, a new starting quarterback and running backs will be another big adjustment, but Alabama has dealt with that on previous championship teams under Nick Saban.
Whoever takes control under center will be able to rely on three returning offensive linemen and the team's top three returning receivers, including Heisman dark horse Calvin Ridley. Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough won't be completely inexperienced, either, when they line up at running back.
"[Alabama] has college football's greatest coach and arguably top play-caller on the sidelines," Kercheval wrote last week. "Yes, the quarterback battle will get plenty of attention over the next several months, but it won't decide the Tide's fate in 2016."
Alabama won't be flawless in 2016, and there will be some issues to address in the offseason.
But everyone the Tide will face on the road to Atlanta and beyond have just as many question marks—if not more.
|Comparing Alabama's 2015 and 2016 SEC Schedules|
|Game||2015 Opponent (Final B/R Rank)||2016 Opponent (Early B/R Rank)|
|West 1||vs. Ole Miss (7)||at Ole Miss (12)|
|East 1||at Georgia (RV)||vs. Kentucky (NR)|
|West 2||vs. Arkansas (RV)||at Arkansas (NR)|
|West 3||at Texas A&M (NR)||vs. Texas A&M (NR)|
|East 2||vs. Tennessee (20)||at Tennessee (7)|
|West 4||vs. LSU (18)||at LSU (5)|
|West 5||at Mississippi State (RV)||vs. Mississippi State (NR)|
|West 6||at Auburn (RV)||vs. Auburn (NR)|
|TOTAL||3 ranked, 4 receiving votes||3 ranked*|
|RV: received votes / NR: not ranked|
Granted, no teams "received votes" in Kercheval's super-early Top 25 for 2016, but take a look at the teams that did at the end of 2015.
Alabama is trading a 2015 road game at Georgia, one that it won handily, for an easier matchup at home in 2016 against Kentucky in cross-divisional play. That's already a big improvement in the scheduling department.
Mark Inabinett @AMarkG1
SEC FB BTN: Did you know @AlabamaFTBL in 2015 played college football's toughest schedule since 1978? https://t.co/PTVbk0nwjv1/23/2016, 2:16:54 PM
Arkansas had another late-season surge in 2015, but the Razorbacks are going to have to find replacements at quarterback, running back and along the offensive line for 2016. Alabama could have a sizable advantage in the trenches with the experience it rotated on the defensive front last season.
Mississippi State will have to reload after losing star Dak Prescott and several key defensive players. Auburn has major question marks at quarterback, receiver and offensive tackle and will be breaking in yet another new defensive coordinator. Alabama gets both at home this year.
That leaves the road matchups against Ole Miss, Tennessee and LSU as the matchups featuring opponents that should be firmly in most preseason Top 25 lists.
Ole Miss is the only one of those three teams that could be in more of a reloading mode for 2016. The fearless Chad Kelly will be a tremendous boost for the Rebels' uptempo offense, but graduation and the NFL took a good amount of key starters away from Oxford this offseason.
This is a better situation for Alabama to come in and get its revenge over a team that has beaten the Tide each of the last two seasons. One major key will be for Alabama's new backfield to stay calm in its first true road game as starters and take care of the football.
That experience in a hostile environment will carry over well for the matchup against Tennessee. The Volunteers return a lot of talent from a team that improved by two wins last season and has closed the scoring gap with the Tide in their last two meetings.
This might be a tougher matchup for the Tide than LSU. Alabama will be coming off a road game instead of a bye week, and Tennessee can point to experience at nearly every position. Joshua Dobbs, who led the Vols to a close loss in Tuscaloosa last year, is arguably the SEC's best quarterback for 2016.
Alabama will be able to lean on its experience factor in huge games. But if the Tide slip up, a loss in October is not fatal to playoff hopes—they would still control their own destiny in the West and have a shot at getting revenge in the all-important SEC title game.
By the time LSU rolls around, Alabama will be coming off a much-needed bye week. The Tigers look loaded for a 2016 run, but the key will be the improvement of quarterback Brandon Harris.
Last season, Alabama dominated LSU because it stopped what was deemed unstoppable in Leonard Fournette and forced Harris to beat the defense.
No matter how much talent the Tigers return at the skill positions, Harris will have to play much better against a Tide defense that should be playing its best ball by that point in November.
Winning in Death Valley is never easy, but Alabama has won three of its four trips there under Saban and has five straight overall victories in the series.
A lot can change between now and the opening kickoff of the season for Alabama and its roster.
But right now, the Tide are in a familiar spot—coming off a championship of some kind and returning just enough experience in order to be the No. 1 contender in the SEC.
It's hard to go against those odds.
Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.