Published July 9, 2012 - 11:00am
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SDS will be taking an early look at each SEC Championship contenders and their chances of winning it in Atlanta by listing three reasons why they will win and three reasons why they will not.
Alabama Crimson Tide
It was an odd year for the SEC and Alabama last year. The Tide obviously didn’t win the SEC West or the SEC Championship but got the much-controversial rematch with the Tigers, eventually dominating the rematch and winning the national championship. We know how it all played out.
This year, the Tide hope to repeat as national champions, by winning their conference first.
Three Reasons Why
1. Nick Saban: If you can choose a coach in America to be the lead facilitator and head coach over your team, you choose Nick Saban. It’s possible you may never get along with Saban on or off the field, but as long as he keeps winning championships, that will become an afterthought. He’s intimidating; he’s straightforward. Saban is regarded as the best defensive mind in the college game, and he quickly became the most popular head coach in the country and cemented himself in Crimson Tide history and legacy. Saban is the best in the business, not only at recruiting the best prospects in the country, but also at developing the players into All-Americans once they get there as well. His players prepare very well and respond to him on the field, and that’s obviously a big part of his success. Saban has a .821 winning percentage and has won three BCS National Championships at two different SEC schools. Saban is the obvious No. 1 reason.
2. Veteran Leadership: Even though the Tide lost a slew of NFL draft picks, they return 12 starters overall. Most notably on offense, quarterback AJ McCarron returns, along with the bulk of his offensive line in Barrett Jones, DJ Fluker, Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen. These are the core players and leaders who go to battle each and every week and lead the younger players. Even running backs Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler return with experience. Defensively, Alabama returns several veterans along the line and two veterans at linebacker in CJ Moseley and Nico Johnson. This is a veteran group that is hungry for another championship, and veteran leaders who have been there before will have a big impact on how the younger, inexperienced players respond.
3. AJ McCarron: This is AJ McCarron’s year. He returns with the SEC’s third most passing yards, behind Tyler Wilson and Aaron Murray. And undoubtedly, McCarron returns as the centerpiece of this offense. Yes, he was a game manager in 2011, but he had the best running back in America on his team to chew up yards and only needed to make a plays here and there to help last year’s team win. He’ll need to do more this year. McCarron looks to take his game to the next level and really escape the game manager label. Nick Saban really praised McCarron during the spring, and he should really develop under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier this fall.
Three Reasons Why Not
1. Too Many Personnel Losses: Alabama lost their leading rusher, leading receiver, leading tackler and leading sacker to the NFL. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have on campus or how well you’ve recruited, that’s a big step for teams to just reload having lost that much talent and experience. Alabama will be replacing two linebackers, two corners and a safety on defense, along with impact players on offense like Trent Richardson and Marquis Maze. I’m not saying Alabama will not overcome the losses, but teams normally don’t reload with enough talent to make a run at a conference championship or repeat for a national championship. It will take the younger, inexperienced players a few games to get into the groove and for things to slow down for them.
2. Wide Receivers: While Alabama has the chance to be more explosive than years past at receiver, they will also be much more inexperienced. The slated starters entering fall camp are sophomores DeAndrew White, Christion Jones and juniors Kevin Norwood and Kenny Bell. This spring we saw some depth emerge with freshmen Amari Cooper and Chris Black showing some flashes. The top four receivers in receptions and receiving yards from 2011 are now gone, and a new group will have to step up and provide some sparks because they cannot just rely on the running game the entire season. If Duron Carter eventually finds his way into a uniform, he will add a whole new weapon in the receiving game. But this group is simply not proven, yet.
3. Special Teams: Leading punt returner Marquis Maze is gone, and he provided such a spark in the return game by the field position he created every time he touched the ball. Replacing Maze will be more difficult than most think. Everyone wants to know how the field goal kickers are doing. By all indications, returners Cade Foster and Jeremy Shelley had good springs, after an up and down season last year…and by down, we mean the LSU regular season game when the Tide missed four field goals. We will simply not know their physical or mental improvement until they run out under the lights in game one against Michigan. Incoming freshman Adam Griffith could develop into the everyday place kicker if this unit gets off to a rocky start.
Additionally, Alabama plays the second toughest schedule in the SEC, playing four of the top 25 teams in the early SI poll. It will be tough getting through the gauntlet to win the West and get back to the national championship, but I’m not counting the Tide out.