2011 Record: 12-1 (7-1 in SEC)
Head Coach: Nick Saban (55-12 at Bama, 146-56-1 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 season Insight Bowl: beat Iowa 31-14
Stats to Cheer: held opponents to 72 yards rushing per game (1st in Nation), held opponents to 24.46% on third down conversions (1st in Nation)
Stat to Fear: lost four of top five tacklers
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 6; Defense: 5; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: LB Nico Johnson (46 tackles), S Robert Lester (39 tackles, 2 INT), LB CJ Mosley (36 tackles, 2 sacks), CB Dee Milliner (3 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB AJ McCarron (16 TD, 5 INT), RB Eddie Lacy (674 yds rush, 7 TD), C Barrett Jones, OT DJ Fluker, OG Chance Warmack
Top Recruits: MLB Reggie Ragland (Scout.com's #1 MLB, S Landon Collins (#2 S), S Eddie Williams (#3 S), MLB Dillion Lee (#4 MLB), WR Cyrus Jones (#6 WR), RB TJ Yeldon (#8 RB), MLB Denzel Devall (#8 MLB), CB Geno Smith (#8 CB)
Inside Scoop with CFBZ's J Martin:
First off, make sure you check out the post spring Alabama Q&A we did back in May. Here are two more questions we posed to our Bama guy:
What needs to happen for Alabama to win the SEC this year?
Well, beating LSU would be a good start.
The #1 need continues to be leadership on defense. From a personnel perspective, the 2012 defense is in much better shape than the 2010 defense. The starting nickel defense that season was a true freshman, two sophomores with no significant playing experience, and a JUCO who missed spring and played on a gimpy ankle, led by a junior with a whopping one year as a starter under his belt. This season, that set will feature two guys entering their third year as starters, a non-gimpy JUCO who stole Saban's heart in spring practice, a sophomore who played extensively down the stretch in 2011 due to injuries, and a junior. Big difference. Similarly, the linebackers and defensive line feature more returning experience than in 2010. And lest we forget, as inexperienced as they were, that 2010 D still finished in the Top 5 for scoring and total defense. So I feel pretty good about the 2012 defense on the whole. But where the 2010 defense faltered was when they faced adversity. They didn't have strong leaders who could rattle the young guys' cages when they were screwing up or settle them down when they were shaken up. That leadership void was a chief factor in all three of the Tide's losses that year. If the 2012 defense doesn't have strong leadership, I think we'll see a similar season play out. I like what I've heard and seen in fall camp, but we're not really going to know what Bama's got until the action starts.
On offense, AJ McCarron must stay healthy. With the loss of Phillip Sims, the Tide has nothing in the way of experience or, frankly, talent behind him at quarterback. If he were to go out for any extended period of time, it might fall to inventing a new offense built around sometimes-QB Blake Sims on the fly. Bama has a lot of talent at running back, but this is McCarron's year. Unless a new Ingram/Richardson-caliber star emerges (I'm looking at you, TJ Yeldon), the loss of the BCS Championship MVP would likely cost the Tide a number of key games.
On a related note, the offensive line must stay healthy. On paper, this line has the potential to be one of the most dominating in the entire country (4 of 5 starters returning with nearly 100 starts worth of experience), some might even say historically good. But once you get beyond the starting five, there's a fairly significant drop-off. This is no versatile "6th man" like Alfred McCullough on this year's line, no veteran you can turn to in the event of an injury. It's mostly just sophomores and redshirt freshmen who only have garbage time experience back there. In fact, a loss at one of the tackles would likely result in Barrett Jones sliding outside to plug that hole, which would be excellent for that spot...but then would also result in a redshirt freshman starting at center. There just aren't any good answers for injuries this season.
If those six guys can avoid the injury bug, the rest of the offense will sort itself out. The OL will pave the way for whichever RB happens to be in the backfield, and, like last season, McCarron will diagnose whichever WR is having his good day and feed him the ball. There is no lack of talent at the skill positions to choose from.
What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
If everything goes ideally, leaders emerge on defense and those six guys on offense stay healthy, I think the Tide goes 12-0. But if either of those things go wrong, I think we get a replay of 2010, with a couple of heartbreaking losses and possibly a bushwhacking on the road (I'm eyeballing that Missouri/Tennessee road swing) on the way to a 9-3 record. Fortunately, Auburn isn't going to be any good this year, so Bama will smack them around and at least go out on a happy note this time around. For now, I guess I'll split the difference and call it 11-1.
The standard for success at Alabama will always be championships. I'm not one of these crazy people that has an expectation that the Tide should be hoisting trophies every season or somebody needs to be fired, because that's not realistic. But at this point, in year six of Saban's Process, I think it's reasonable to expect that Bama should at least be in contention for championships every year. Finishing fourth in the West and out of the running for everything by the first weekend in November, like in 2010, would not be acceptable. However, if the Tide were to lose the West on the field in Baton Rouge but then close out the season strong and stay in the mix for a BCS bowl berth, I think even the most jaded fan would have to concede it as a successful encore to 2011's national championship.
Under Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide have quickly risen back to the top and are once again one of the premiere franchises in all of college football. After a 7-6 debut season, Saban has won double-digit games every year, won two National Championships and in only one out of four seasons did he lose more than one conference game. I think it's safe to say that under Nick Saban, Alabama is a year-in, year-out threat to win the National Championship.
Last year, the Tide depended a lot on Trent Richardson and with him gone the Tide will move to using more of a rotation of guys. Eddie Lacy is next in line to be "the" running back at Alabama but I would keep my eye on TJ Yeldon (and to a lesser extent Dee Hart). Alabama will lean a bit more on AJ McCarron as he progressed throughout the year and was more than a "game manager" by the season finale. There is no Julio Jones to throw the ball to but there wasn't last year and they won a National title. The Tide does have some good young talent at receiver and McCarron says the receiver corps are as deep as he's seen at Alabama.
At Alabama, it ultimately comes down to defense and they lost a ton of talent off of last years National Championship team. Alabama had six defensive players drafted in the 2012 NFL draft with three of those going in the first round. That's a ton of talent to replace. On paper, the back eight looks strong anchored by LBs Nico Johnson and CJ Mosley. The key might be how Jesse Williams slides into that NT position. Alabama was fantastic at stopping the run last year and making teams one dimensional. If they can do the same this year they will be hard to beat.
Expect Alabama or LSU to be headed to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship Game. Just like every year, the question is if they can make it through the brutal SEC West unscathed and challenge for the National Title. For that to happen I think somebody is going to have to rise to another level on offense. It may be McCarron, Lacy or Yeldon but somebody needs to be the key cog. That and how quickly the defense comes together and fills the rolse of the departed NFL players will be the difference between playing in a really good bowl and a BCS National Championship Game.
2012 Prediction: 11-1
Top 25 Countdown
#12 Michigan State
#14 Kansas State
#16 Virginia Tech
#17 Boise State
#19 Ohio State
#23 Oklahoma State
Previous 2012 Previews: