Alabama Crimson Tide: Preseason No. 1 Faces Tough Season
With the Alabama Crimson Tide ranked No. 1 to start the 2010 season, an SEC team ranks atop the USA Today Coaches' Preseason Poll for the third consecutive year.
While that distinction is a high honor and an indicator of the respect the SEC garners, it doesn't do the team that wears the preseason crown any favors.
Especially if that team is coming off a national championship victory the previous season.
For a prime example, the Crimson Tide need to look no further than last season's No. 1 preseason team—the Florida Gators.
The Gators, who returned quarterback Tim Tebow and their entire defense from their championship team, were everyone's pick to repeat as the BCS National Champions going into 2009.
However, even for a team that was as deep and as talented the 2009 Gators, the expectations took their toll on Florida.
Ranked as the nation's top team, the Gators labored through the regular season with a target on their back and received the best shot of every team they faced.
In a conference as treacherous as the SEC, Florida nearly fell from their perch on several occasions.
Will Alabama repeat as BCS National Champions in 2010?
Close encounters with disaster for Urban Meyer's team included nail-biters against Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State, and South Carolina.
The biggest scare of the season came in a come-from-behind 23-20 victory over a talented Arkansas team at home, in which the Gators needed a 27-yard field goal with nine seconds left to seal the victory.
Eventually, the stress of a undefeated regular season as the nation's top-ranked team, combined with facing a superior opponent in Alabama, resulted in an embarrassing end to Florida's championship hopes in a 32-13 SEC Championship Game loss.
While the Gators would finish the season with a dominant 51-24 Allstate Sugar Bowl victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats and a No. 3 ranking, the 2009 campaign was disappointing for Florida.
Whether the Crimson Tide will face a similar fate to last year's Gators will be determined this fall, but on paper, they are undoubtedly a favorite for the national title.
Alabama boasts a double-headed monster at running back with Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, who combined for 2,409 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns last season.
Alabama also returns quarterback Greg McElroy, who will play a key leadership role in his second season as the starting quarterback.
However, losing eight key defensive players, including Rolando McClain, Javier Arenas, and Terrence Cody will hurt the Crimson Tide experience-wise. Doesn't help that 'Bama's 2010 schedule is tougher than Florida's slate last season.
The Tide have out-of-conference games with Penn State and a Duke team that isn't such a pushover anymore since David Cutcliffe became the Blue Devils' coach in 2008.
Additionally, Alabama faces a tough conference schedule, with road games against No. 16 LSU, No. 19 Arkansas, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
They also host two teams hungry to avenge their losses to the Crimson Tide last season in No. 3 Florida and No. 23 Auburn at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
However, despite a tough schedule, the loss of several key players, and the pressure associated with being No. 1, Nick Saban has his team focused on the 2010 and nothing else.
"Last year is basically over," Saban said at the SEC Media Days. "We're not really defending a championship. The championship's a part of history, and we're not going to defend anything."
While Saban may have moved on from last season, the jury's still out on whether has team has recovered for the championship hangover.
As for the rest of college football, No. 1 Alabama remains the national champions and everyone will be coming after them.
Strap in, 'Bama. It's going to be a long season.
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