Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Despite some lingering euphoria following
their 14th national championship, the Alabama Crimson Tide aren't content to
rest on their laurels as they gear up for what should be another highly
Coach Nick Saban's squad completed yet another in a long line of superb seasons
by dominating fellow SEC power LSU, 21-0, in the BCS National Championship Game
last January. It was Alabama's second national title in the last three years,
and with that kind of success comes heightened expectations, as well as the
full attention of every challenger seeking to dethrone the reigning champs.
Alabama faces a stiff test right out of the chute, as the Tide kick off the
2012 season against Michigan at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on
September 1. Two weeks later, they open SEC action at Arkansas, and really get
into the meat of their conference slate when they battle Ole Miss, Missouri,
Tennessee, Mississippi State, LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn the rest of the way.
Two of their four non-league games will take place after the start of SEC play,
with each serving as little more than a tune-up as neither Florida Atlantic nor
FCS foe Western Carolina pose much of a threat.
With so much emphasis put on quarterback play, and rightfully so, field
generals at Alabama have in the past, simply been asked to run the offense
efficiently and not make the kind of costly mistakes that tend to hamper a
team's ability to win games. Saban is fortunate to have A.J. McCarron back for
another go after the then-redshirt sophomore completed nearly 67 percent of his
passes for 2,634 yards, 16 TDs and only five INTs in leading the Crimson Tide
to the national title.
The loss of All-America RB Trent Richardson (1,679 yards, 21 TDs) hurts, but
ready to step in and hopefully make the transition as painless as possible is
redshirt junior Eddie Lacey. In 12 games last season, Lacy carried the ball 95
times for 674 yards and seven TDs. He has gained 1,080 yards on 151 totes in
his career at Alabama (7.2 ypc), backing up the likes of Richardson and former
Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
Kenny Bell is the team's top returning receiver, but he had just 17 catches for
255 yards and two scores last season, so it's obvious that he, and others will
need to elevate their level of play considerably if the 'Bama passing attack is
going to be effective enough to take pressure off Lacey and the running game.
Although the RBs in Tuscaloosa have garnered most of the headlines the last few
years, the Crimson Tide defense has been among the nation's elite as well, and
this season should be no different. Despite the loss of some key components,
Saban and his staff have amassed a fast and furious bunch of defenders that
would make just about every coach, at every level, envious.
Gone are most of the productive guys from last year's club, including standouts
Dont'a Hightower, Mark Barron and Courtney Upshaw. And while taking that kind
of hit would deplete most programs, this is Alabama. Its second and third-
string guys could be starters on most other teams. C.J. Mosley (37 stops) is
the top returning tackler, and a handful of guys expected to ratchet up their
game include defensive lineman Jesse Williams (6-4, 320 pounds), cornerback Dee
Milliner (three INTs), linebacker Nico Johnson (47 tackles, 6.5 TFL) and safety
Robert Lester (39 tackles, five passes defended).
An infusion of talented recruits adds depth, but some of them will need to step
in and play an active role right away if the 'Bama defense is going to be
considered among the very best once again.
A team from the SEC has won the last six BCS National Championships, and there
is every reason to expect the Crimson Tide to be in the mix for yet another
title. Still, a lot will depend on the defense coming together as a cohesive
unit sooner rather than later.
Saban, who in addition to winning two BCS crowns with Alabama also led LSU to
the national title in 2003, is one of the top coaches in all of college
football. With the level of success he has achieved, surely other teams would
love the opportunity to court him. Alabama has no intention of letting him go
though, recently adding two more years on his current contract (now through the
2019 season), with a total haul for the 60-year-old West Virginia native over
the remaining years expected to come in at just under $45 million.
Bell knows what it means to not only this current team, but future Alabama
squads and the Tuscaloosa community in general, to have Saban locked up for the
foreseeable future, "It put a smile on everybody's face, knowing they'll have a
great coach for as long as he's here."
Alabama has invested wisely in a proven commodity, and you can bet that Saban
and his charges are going to be ready to defend their title against all comers.
Being lucky plays a part, but there is no discounting the tireless effort put
in by the coach, his staff and his players to make sure that Alabama remains at
top of the heap when it comes to success on the gridiron.
The Sports Network