2010 Record: (10-3, 5-3 in SEC)
Head Coach: Nick Saban (43-11 at Bama, 134-53-1 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2010/2011 Capital One Bowl (beat Mich State 49-7)
Final 2010/2011 AP Ranking: #10
Final 2010/2011 CFBZ Ranking: #9
9/3: Kent State
9/10: at Penn State (2010 result: won 24-3)
9/17: North Texas (2009 result: won 53-7)
9/24: Arkansas (2010 result: won 24-20)
10/1: at Florida (2010 result: won 31-6)
10/15: at Ole Miss (2010 result: won 23-10)
10/22: Tennessee (2010 result: won 41-10)
11/5: LSU (2010 result: lost 24-21)
11/12: Mississippi State (2010 result: won 30-10)
11/19: Georgia Southern
11/26: at Auburn (2010 result: lost 28-27)
Early Game Previews:
2010 Offensive Statistics:
Scoring: 35.7 ppg (3rd in SEC, 18th in Nation)
Rushing Yds/Game: 182.92 yds/game (5th in SEC, 30th in Nation)
Passing Yds/Game: 261.2 yds/game (3rd in SEC, 27th in Nation)
Total Yds/Game: 444.1 yds/game (3rd in SEC, 22nd in Nation)
2010 Defensive Statistics:
Scoring: 13.5 ppg (1st in SEC, 3rd in Nation)
Rushing Yds/Game: 110.15 yds/game (2nd in SEC, 10th in Nation)
Passing Yds/Game: 176.2 yds/game (3rd in SEC, 13th in Nation)
Total Yds/Game: 286.4 yds/game (1st in SEC, 5th in Nation)
2010 Misc Stats:
Turnover Margin: +0.85 per game (8th in SEC, 14th in Nation)
Penalties: 37.7 yds/game (1st in SEC, 7th in Nation)
Top Returning Statistical Leaders:
Passing: QB A.J. McCarron, Soph (30 of 48 for 389 yds, 3 TD)
Rushing: RB Trent Richardson, Jr (112 for 700 yds, 6.2 ypc, 6 TD)
Receiving: WR Marquis Maze, Sr (38 rec for 557 yds, 3 TD)
Tackles: S Mark Barron, Sr (75)
Sacks: LB Courtney Upshaw, Sr (7.0)
Interceptions: S Robert Lester, Jr (8)
Athlon: BCS Championship (vs Alabama)
Coming off of a perfect 14-0 season and a win over Texas to take the 2009 National Championship, the Crimson Tide were our Pre-Season #1. Unfortunately they fell to Steve Spurrier and Marcus Lattimore in October and then lost nail biters against LSU and Auburn. Bama did finish their season on an upswing though as they destroyed Big Ten foe Michigan State by the tune of 49-7 in the Capital One Bowl.
Last year coming into the season the question marks for Alabama were on defense but this year it is the offense that has more questions. The offense must replace QB Greg McElroy, Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and stud WR Julio Jones. Nick Saban (at least as of posting of this preview) has still not chosen a starting QB and looks like he will let performance in the game dictate on who is starter will be. The man who was supposed to replace some of the production with the exit of Julio Jones, Duron Carter (son of NFL WR Cris Carter), still has not been cleared to join the team. That being said, Alabama returns the most starts in the SEC on the OL and they also return Trent Richardson. Richardson will be joined in the backfield by Eddie Lacy and the Tide will probably rely heavily on running the ball down their opponents throats for a while before the QBs get some experience.
On the defensive side of the football Bama was supposed to be inexperienced last year but they finished the year 5th in the Nation allowing only 13.5 points per game. The teams that beat them out for that statistical metric had significantly easier schedules. This year Alabama returns their top 10 tacklers, pretty much all of their sacks not made by Marcell Dareus (who had 4.5) and just about all of their interceptions (I can't keep track of some of the guys that Nick Saban cuts loose to go to smaller schools like B.J. Scott). Alabama returns just about all of their defensive production from last year off of a team that finished 5th in points allowed, 5th in total yards and in the top 10 in rushing yards allowed in the Nation. Now that's scary. You simply cannot make a Pre-Season All-SEC team without names like Mark Barron, Robert Lester, Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick and Nico Johnson. The back seven (or eight since they run a 3-4) is the best in the Nation hands down. Every player on the Bama secondary and LB corps would be All-Conference in many other conferences. Defense wins championships and with a couple of breaks (as any team that contends for a championship needs) this defense is definitely title worthy. The CFBZ Top 25 has Alabama perched on top going into the season, but how does our resident Alabama guy feel about that? To take a closer look at the Crimson Tide we caught up with our Alabama blogger Jay Martin to get some thoughts on his team going into 2011.
Nick Saban might play two QBs this year as he's been quiet on the QB battle. What is your take on the guys fighting for playing time?
In terms of what the skills they bring to the table, there's very little difference between AJ McCarron and Phililp Sims. At their core, both are pure pocket passers with strong arms and limited mobility. McCarron has a great deep ball, probably better than even Brodie Croyle. He has tremendous touch and does an excellent job of throwing to spots down field where his receivers can go get it. Sims' arm strength is probably best exemplified on intermediate routes. He throws the ball on a rope and gets it there fast enough to fit it between multiple defenders. McCarron does have an extra semester on campus over Sims and some marginal game experience, but it's not an overwhelming advantage on his part. Still, I would wager that McCarron gets the start on September 3rd based on seniority, and then the two will alternate every 3 or 4 series from there until one of them flames out or Arkansas week, whichever comes first. I get the sense that the coaching staff is prepared to let this play out well into the regular season but would like to have a guy identified as THE guy by the time SEC play starts. If the Tide is still alternating QBs by the LSU game, the season has likely not gone as well as we'd hoped. For my part, I think I'm on Team Sims. I've rewatched the A-Day game several times now (what?), and I've grown more and more impressed with Sims' pocket poise every time. His ability to feel pressure and step up and throw or scramble while keeping his eyes downfield is far more advanced than McCarron's right now. I think Sims has a natural feel for the game, and he's going to develop into a great QB in time.
The defense looks absolutely stocked this year. If there is a weakness it's with the defensive line. Who are the guys along the line that need to step up this year for Bama?
The JUCO duo of Jesse Williams and Quinton Dial. The Australian Williams came in with a ton of fanfare this past spring, hailed as "the next Mount Cody" and with most ready to award him the starting nose guard spot the moment he set foot on campus. But then a funny thing happened: Williams got in the Bama strength and conditioning program and lost a great deal of weight. He's still enormous (about as wide as he is tall, which is saying something for a 6'4" guy), but no longer so big that he's a nose guard by default. This development, coupled with a strong spring from incumbent NG Josh Chapman, allowed the coaching staff to experiment with Williams at defensive end, and, lo and behold, they found out he was extremely effective from that spot. Now the Tide will likely open the season with Williams playing an "inside/outside" defensive line role very similar to how Marcell Dareus was used (not that anyone should get ahead of themselves with that comparison). On the flipside, Dial snuck into spring camp, barely a footnote, but quickly turned heads when people got a look at his 6'6", 300lb frame. He's an absolute man-beast, and he's only gotten more impressive in the 8 months he's been on campus. If these two can pull their considerable weight in the DL rotation alongside veterans Chapman, Ed Stinson, and a finally-100% Damion Square, I can see this year's line being a major improvement over the injury-plagued, disappointing 2010 version.
Who are some under-the-radar guys to keep an eye on for this Bama team?
For starters, watch out for DeAndrew White at wide receiver. For the past several months, most of attention in The Hunt to Replace Julio has been focused on JUCO transfer Duron Carter. But with days left before opening kickoff, Carter has yet to be admitted to the university. Even if he were to make it in by the August 31st deadline, how much could he really be counted on to contribute this season after having missed the entirety of fall camp? No, if a new star is going to emerge at wideout for the Tide in 2011, it's going to be someone already on campus. And the one mostly unknown receiver who has consistently drawn the most praise, both from inside and outside the program, is the redshirt freshman, White. At a flat 6 feet and 180-odd pounds, he's nowhere close to a physical match for Julio the way Carter is, but as a former track star in Texas, he has speed to burn. I expect the Tide to utilize him on speed sweeps and reverses, much as they did Julio last year, as well as a deep threat. He'll play early and often.
Also, look out for Blake Sims...wherever he lines up. Having practiced at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and defensive back in his still-brief time in Tuscaloosa, Sims is the epitome of an "athlete" (in fact, that's how he's listed in the Bama media guide). It seemed as if he had settled into a home as the #3 QB for the 2011 season after surprising the staff while filling in at that spot for depth in the spring. But this summer, the winds of change blew again. It wasn't a big secret that Nick Saban was making the googly eyes at freshman running back Dee Hart after a big spring debut. The tiny speedster was set to bring a new dimension to the Tide offense and an explosive threat in the return game this season before a torn ACL ended his year. This put Bama in a tough position. Not only were they now dangerously thin at RB (after Hart's rise had chased off several reserves), but they had lost their lone remaining speed option on a roster dominated by big, bruising backs. They cast a wide net to find a replacement, including toying around with true freshman WR/DB prospect Christion Jones at RB, and, as they have tended to do over the past year when there's a depth problem at a skill position, they ultimately turned their eyes to The Other Sims. And word is that he has impressed. He has seen work as a 3rd down specialist in scrimmages and the buzz is he could end up the beneficiary of some of the schemes that were originally designed for Hart. He's too talented not to contribute at this point, and his experience at multiple positions makes him a potential matchup nightmare.
Who are the three players on Bama's schedule that you are least looking forward to playing?
Easy. And Bama plays them all in the same game: Greg Childs, Joe Adams, and Jarius Wright. The hype on these Razorbacks is for real. They're the best receiving corps in all of college football, by a longshot. No player, or group of players, on any other team scares me as much as those three guys. They did a number on Bama last year, and while this year's secondary looks like more of a match for them, it's worth noting that Arkansas plays nobody worth anything before their trip to Tuscaloosa. Bobby Petrino is essentially getting all offseason and a month's worth of the season to dream up ways to get these guys the ball. The idea of getting into an early season shootout with a couple of green QBs at the trigger doesn't appeal to me. And the fact that Choke Artist #1 Ryan Mallett isn't around to throw the game away anymore makes it all the more frightening. I mean, LSU has some great players and that will be a tough game, but we know what we're getting there: It's going to be a smash-mouth, low-scoring game, close into the 4th quarter, and whoever gets the bounces to go their way will win. There's comfort in the certainty of that. I have no idea what to expect out of Arkansas with Childs, Adams, and Wright running all over the place. I don't look forward to that Saturday at all.
Looking at the schedule, what are the most important games this year?
Obviously, the Auburn game is of utmost importance as always, and especially after the travesty in Tuscaloosa last year. And the afformentioned Arkansas game looms large, as well. That's a tough game to start SEC play, and with young QBs, you want to start off on the right foot and not in an 0-1 hole heading into Gainesville the next week. What should be a walkover against a Gator team in transition could get tricky with a young QB pressing to avoid an 0-2 conference start in a hostile environment like the Swamp. Beyond those games, the road to an SEC title goes through LSU, as it has for the last several years.
What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Well, I think this program is to the point where anything short of an SEC Championship appearance is considered a disappointment. This year, anything short of an SEC title should be considered a failure. Last year, I was one of the more pessimistic Bama prognosticators around, picking the Tide to go 11-1. I figured the young defense would be enough to cost Bama one game, but they ended up blowing 2, almost 3 (I don't blame the Auburn game on the young defense). This year, the issues seem to be uncertainty at quarterback, a guard playing out of position or a freshman starting at left tackle, and no proven playmaker at wide receiver to open things up for the running game. I'm really struggling to think of another team with all those issues that was considered a consensus Top 2 team going into the season. Obviously, the talent on hand is Top 2-caliber. And the schedule certainly sets up well for the Tide. But can all that talent gel together in time to overcome these question marks? The 2009 team was able to overcome similar problem at QB and OL and ride a veteran defense to an undefeated national title, sure. Of course, that team also had a Heisman winner waiting to break out. And, you know what, if Trent Richardson has that kind of year, the Tide will live up to expectations. But nobody saw Mark Ingram coming and he had a Julio to draw some heat off him. Richardson will have a target on his chest from snap #1, and he'll be the lone superstar out there. I just can't objectively expect him to have a Heisman-caliber year under those circumstances. So I'm afraid I have to project this year's Bama squad to finish 11-1 again. That said, I think Les Miles' luck runs on a 3 year cycle, so 11-1 should be good enough for the Tide to claim the SEC West and take on whichever bottom-feeder comes out of the East this year for the title and perhaps a chance to slip in the backdoor of the BCS Championship Game.
CFBZ Top 25
#1 Alabama Crimson Tide
2011 Team Previews