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2011 Prevew – Alabama Crimson Tide



ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (Last Year = 10-3, 4th in SEC West)



2010 IN REVIEW

There is really nowhere to go but down after you win a national championship, but the Tide came into the 2010 season ranked #1 with a good shot to win a national championship. Guys like Greg McElroy, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson & Julio Jones were back that were the cornerstones of an explosive offense. While Alabama did improve their offensive PPG from 2009 to 2010, it wasn’t so overwhelming as to think it would make a difference. It gets a little easy to overlook, but the problem with Alabama surviving wasn’t necessarily offense, but rather the defense. Obviously Alabama’s defense was incredible. Nick Saban is the HC so the defense is always going to be incredible with the kind of recruits Saban brings into Tuscaloosa, but anytime you lose 9 starters from a top ranked defense, the effects are going to be felt at some point.

Maybe that is where Lady Luck chimes in? In 2009 Alabama was +19 in turnover margin. In 2010 the Tide were +12. Still amazing and a testament to how much Saban teaches a ball-hawking style of aggressive defense, but maybe those 7 extra turnovers meant something? In 2009 Alabama was 2-0 in close games, but out of 14 games, notice that Alabama only played 2 close ones! Last year the Tide were 1-2 in close games. Again, Alabama didn’t play many close games out of 13 total, but they lost 2 of the 3 which is enough to kill a season for a national championship contender. Throw in a 14 point loss at South Carolina and presto! You have a 10-3 team that by season’s end might have been the best team in the nation.

Last year started off fine with Alabama beating 3 ranked teams en route to a 5-0 start. A little scare in Arkansas resulted in a 24-20 win, but Alabama followed that up with a 31-6 massacre of the Gators at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Unfortunately, some Gamecocks were lurking and a welcoming crowd in Columbia put the #1 team in the nation down 35-21 despite South Carolina being 7-point dogs. A couple of quick wins over Ole’ Miss & Tennessee put Alabama at 7-1 and ranked #5, but another road game, this one being in Baton Rouge, caused another loss as Alabama suffered a close defeat 24-21. Once again, Alabama bounced back with 2 wins over Mississippi St. and Georgia St., but #2 Auburn came into Tuscaloosa and handed Alabama a crushing 28-27 win which propelled Alabama into 4th place in the SEC West and Auburn into a national championship game. The Tide made no bones about the bowl game. A trip to the Capital One bowl pitted them against #8 Michigan St. It was ugly. Alabama hammered Sparty 49-7 showing the Big 10 they had a ways to go before catching up to the elite powers of the SEC.

OFFENSIVE PLAYERS LOST

Alabama loses their 3 top offensive players in QB Greg McElroy, RB Mark Ingram & WR Julio Jones. McElroy is the least sexy of the 3 names heading off to the NFL, but remember that McElroy was downright amazing last season. He completed 71% of his passes for 2,987 yards & 20TD to only 5INT. McElroy simply didn’t beat himself at any point in any game. You cannot ask for better production from a QB. He’s a national champion and Alabama will really need to have their QB exceed expectations by a significant margin to get QB numbers like McElroy put up. I don’t mean to disparage Ingram, but the Tide might not feel his loss that acutely. Not many teams have a RB the caliber of a Trent Richardson waiting in the wings, but the Tide do and I would doubt seriously Alabama seems a drop off in running despite losing a Heisman Trophy winner and a 1st Round NFL draft pick. WR Julio Jones is a big loss. Jones was an All-American last season and a 1st Team SEC WR who caught 78 passes for 1,133 yards & 7TD. Alabama is so stocked everywhere on the field, but losing Jones does hurt a bit. The only offensive lineman the Tide lose is LT James Carpenter. Carpenter was 2nd team All-SEC last year and a 1st Rd. draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks, giving Alabama their 3rd offensive player drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Obviously it’s a loss because Carpenter is considered an NFL LT prospect and also protected the blindside of McElroy. I’m sure Saban would have rather had Carpenter back for another season with a new QB under center.

OFFENSIVE PLAYERS RETURNING

It sounds crazy, but you have to start with the offensive line when you are talking about returning offensive players for Alabama. This is most likely the best offensive line in football led by All-American RG Barrett Jones. Just a junior, Jones has been a starter since the day he walked onto campus. As a rFR he was a freshman All-American and started 13 games. As a sophomore he started 11 games and was a 3rd team All-American last season. He’s most likely the best guard in college football. Alongside him is OC William Vlachos who will be a 3-year starter and a likely All-SEC pick. RT DJ Fluker is only a sophomore but was an All-Freshman SEC player last season. OG Chance Warmack is a returning starter too giving the Tide 4 total along the offensive line. RB Trent Richardson also returns. To give you an idea of how Alabama might not miss Ingram, note that last season Ingram averaged 5.5ypc over 158 attempts while Richardson averaged 6.2ypc over 112 attempts. If that isn’t enough, RB Eddie Lacy returns as well and he averaged 7.2ypc in 56 attempts. If Ingram was a 1st round pick in 2011, it’s hard to imagine the 5’11/225lbs Richardson not being one in 2012. Despite the loss of Jones, the WR corps has their two top returning WRs in Marquis Maze & Darius Hanks. Combined these guys average about 5’11/180lbs, but they combined last year for 70 catches, 1,013 yards & 6TD. TE Michael Williams is a giant at 6’6/270lbs and hopefully he can provide some pass catching ability especially because the QB situation is inexperienced.

FRESHMAN OFFENSIVE PLAYERS WHO COULD IMPACT

I don’t think sophomore QB AJ McCarron is in any danger of losing the QB spot given how he’s played thus far and how well he played against Michigan St. in the bowl, but Alabama has a stable of freshman at QB including rFR Phillip Sims, rFR Blake Sims, and true frosh Phillip Ely. RB Dee Hart is a 5’9/180lbs speed demon who can provide a little different look than the big powerful combo of Richardson & Lacy although I have no idea why Richardson will ever not be on the field. With the loss of Jones, Alabama will be looking for a big outside WR and true frosh Marvin Shinn could provide that at 6’3/193lbs although Ohio St. transfer Duron Carter is 6’5/210lbs himself. TE Brian Vogler is 6’7/250lbs and a rFR. Michael Williams hasn’t demonstrated a ton of pass catching ability so Vogler could see some time. Normally I would say the offensive line has no chance at being busted up by a freshman, but Alabama snagged the best offensive lineman in the country in the 2011 class in Cyrus Kouandijo who is 6’6/330lbs. With Carpenter leaving a hole at LT, Kouandijo could see himself starting immediately in much the same way Seantrel Henderson did last year at Miami-FL.

Alabama is one of the few teams that can have this many returning starters on offense and yet still have tons of freshman with the ability to make an impact by virtue of the talent level being higher than Cheech & Chong. Truly amazing indeed.

OFFENSIVE PREDICTIONS

Alabama averaged 35.7ppg last season which was good enough to rank 18th nationally and #3 in the SEC. I don’t think they’ll average that many this season. I could see them in the 30-32ppg range which is perfectly find. The Tide averaged 32.1ppg in 2009 when they won a national championship. The problem in my mind is that opposing defenses are going to try and see if McCarron can beat them with his arm by trying to take away Alabama’s running game. Remember that the Tide probably have the best offensive line in the nation and also potentially the best RB in the nation in Richardson. It would be folly not to try and run other teams to death which is what Alabama is going to do. It might not even matter how opposing teams try to stop it, but if Alabama is going to focus on an incredible ground game, they’ll eat too much clock to get into the 35-40ppg range. With as good a rushing game Alabama will have, the pressure on new QB McCarron shouldn’t be fantastic and there will be enough weapons on the edge for him to work with. I guess we haven’t seen McCarron do it for a full season so there must be questions surrounding the QB, but really this offense looks fantastic.

DEFENSIVE PLAYERS LOST

Believe it or not, Alabama allowed only 13.5ppg last season and loses just one player. DE Marcell Dareus was the #3 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and a 2nd Team All-SEC. Dareus was also a 3rd team All-American. The loss will be felt I’m sure as Dareus was 2nd on the team in sacks and first in quarterback hurries from a season ago. It’s weird really. Alabama loses potentially the best defensive player in college football and most likely won’t feel any adverse effects simply because they have 10 returning starters and the team is so stinkin’ talented.

DEFENSIVE PLAYERS RETURNING

EVERYONE! Let’s start with the secondary because Saban is an extraordinary coach when it comes to defensive backfields. Alabama returns both CBs in Dre Kirkpatrick & Dee Milliner. Kirkpatrick was a 2nd team All-SEC player while Milliner was a 1st team freshman All-American. As amazing as that is, let’s not forget about the size of these players! Kirkpatrick is a shutdown corner at 6’3/192lbs! Milliner isn’t small at 6’1/196lbs! These guys aren’t only great covers with speed, they have the size to put opposing wideouts at a disadvantage! NUTTY! Kirkpatrick might be the best corner in college football and if that’s so then Milliner isn’t far behind. Senior SS Mark Barron is coming off a campaign that resulted in him being a 1st Team All-American! Barron was Alabama’s leading tackler a year ago and is great in pass coverage. At 6’2/220lbs, he’s the best SS in college football. Joining him is FS Robert Lester who was only a 2nd Team All-American last year and was Alabama’s 7th leading tackler a year ago although he led the team with 8 interceptions! Lester is the best FS in college football! Alabama’s secondary legitimately is filled with NFL 1st Round Picks. That’s ridiculous.

The secondary is the best in college football, but so are the LBs. Alabama returns all 4 starting LBs in OLB Courtney Upshaw, ILB Nico Johnson, ILB Dont’a Hightower & OLB CJ Mosley. Hightower is the star here. The 6’4/260lbs is tailor made for an ILB spot in the NFL and was a 2nd team All-SEC player last year ranking 2nd on the team in tackles. Joining him on the inside is ILB Nico Johnson who is no slouch at 6’3/250lbs. Hightower can argue he’s the best ILB in college football while Johnson isn’t far behind. Both guys are 1st Team All-SEC caliber players. The 6’2/270lbs Courtney Upshaw is the star on the outside. Like Hightower inside, Upshaw can claim he’s the best OLB in college football. Both Upshaw & Hightower are All-American players who should be 1st Team All-SEC players at a minimum. Upshaw led the team in tackles and tackles for loss a year ago. The one pup in the group is OLB CJ Mosley who ranked 3rd on the team in tackles and 1st in passes broken up despite being a true freshman in 2010! At 6’2/235lbs, Mosley is the smallest of the 4 LBs, but the talent is ridiculous and he’ll only get better. He’s a legitimate All-SEC type of player. This is the best LB unit in the nation by far.

The D-Line is a bit unheralded because of the overwhelming talent at LB & the secondary. DE Damion Square is a 6’3/290lbs junior who returns as a starter. Also NT Josh Chapman at 6’1/310lbs returns. Square can get after it in pressuring the opposing QB. He didn’t get as much publicity because Dareus was manning the other DE spot, but he fits the bill as a 3-4 DE. Josh Chapman is also solid at 6’1/310lbs. He’s not got the conventional size associated with a legit 3-4 NT, but he might not need it given everything else Alabama has going for it. I think both Chapman & Square are potential All-SEC players, but the shadows cast by the LBs and DBs are huge.

FRESHMAN DEFENSIVE PLAYERS WHO COULD IMPACT

Like the offense, Alabama has massive talent coming in on defense. However, I’m not sure any make an impact. LB Trey Depriest is a 6’2/242lbs monster who was one of the best, if not the best, LBs in the nation that was in for the spring as a true freshman. I don’t know who he takes time away from, but he’s obviously got mad skills. Same goes for true freshman safety Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix was arguably the best DB in the Class of 2011, but Mark Barron & Robert Lester are coming off All-American years and are both upper classmen. The depth is staggering for Alabama, but I’m not sure any of these highly regarded freshman get their foot in the door unless a starter suffers injury.

DEFENSIVE PREDICTIONS

Last year Alabama gave up 13.5ppg which ranked 3rd nationally and 1st in the SEC. Remember that the 2009 defense allowed only 11.7ppg which ranked 2nd nationally behind Nebraska’s 10.4ppg. Saban took over the reigns in Tuscaloosa in 2007 and this is his best defense since coming to Alabama. The talent is breath taking. Alabama’s back-8 have 6 players who are potential All-Americans and 1st Rd. NFL draft picks! That’s crazy. They have 4 players who can legitimately argue they are the best player at their respective division. The depth on the team is scary good while the LB & DB units are the best in the nation. Throw the best college football coach in the nation and easily the best defensive mind in college football and you have a recipe for defensive madness. The 2011 defense is better than the 2009 defense. If the 2009 version allowed 11.7ppg, I think this defense is going to allow between 8-11ppg! Does anyone believe there is a defense in college football that can hold the Alabama offense to fewer than 8 points? Me neither.

SCHEDULE

It’s the SEC so the schedule is never going to be particularly easy. Alabama starts off with a home game against Kent St. that should be a laugher. Then they have an interesting game in Happy Valley where they take on Penn St. I think Alabama wins this game, but Penn St.’s defense is pretty good too. The QB situation at Penn St. is sort of dicey and I think that by itself is enough to doom the Lions because of Alabama’s defense. After PSU, Alabama comes home to play North Texas & Arkansas. The Razorbacks are going to be better than people think even after Ryan Mallett is gone because Bobby Petrino is such a good coach, but after the Hogs lost Knile Davis too, you don’t want to be breaking in too many skill position players against Alabama. After Arkansas, Alabama gets a relatively easy part of the schedule by going to Florida, back home to play Vanderbilt, on the road to play Mississippi and then back home to play Tennessee before their bye week. I think they get wins in all 4 spots although that road game against Florida could be tricky as Alabama will be coming off a game against Arkansas. Florida will be coming off a road game against Kentucky who I think will give the Gators problems.

After the bye week, things get interesting for Alabama. They play LSU at home which I think will be a relatively easy win, but after LSU they’ll travel to Starkville to play Mississippi St. The Bulldogs will be coming off of homecoming weekend where they’ll play UT-Martin so obviously it’ll be more like a bye week than the game Alabama will have gone through the week before against LSU. If there is one spot Alabama could accidentally trip up, it’s right here in Starkville against Mississippi St. I’ll call for Alabama to keep rolling, but a loss here wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Alabama finishes up the season against Georgia Southern & Auburn. Those will be mere formalities.

OVERALL PREDICTION

The predicted road win over Mississippi St. has me projecting Alabama a perfect 12-0 and SEC West champions with a shot at winning the SEC Championship game and playing for their 2nd national championship in 3 years. It’s simply the best defensive unit in the nation and it’s not really that close. The one question about Alabama could be the QB situation and how well McCarron settles in, but McElroy was a first time starter in 2009 and we saw how that worked out. At the end of the day the old adage that defense wins championship still rings true and Alabama has the best defense in the nation. Maybe that wouldn’t matter if the offense was horrific, but Alabama is going to score 30+ppg. There isn’t anything else to say. This is the best team in the nation and I’d be surprised if they don’t win their 2nd national title in 3-years.

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September 3, 2011 - Posted by | Alabama, Predictions, Previews

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