There are unknowns for every football team as they finish preparations for the 2021 season.

Despite their recent, dominant history, Alabama is not any different in that regard. Bama’s unknowns are well documented. The Tide will without many of the players who made up one of the top offenses in the history of college football last season.

It was my first time voting for the Heisman that an NFL and college football coach responded with one group answer when I asked him who he would vote for in the Heisman last season. His answer was simply: “The Alabama Guys.” That included quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris and receiver DeVonta Smith, who ended up winning the award as college football player’s top performer. I’ve never heard this source more convinced that 3 Alabama players deserved to be on the ballot.

I spoke to other media members and the only palatable reason not to vote for “The Alabama Guys” was just to avoid walking the company line.

The fact that we’re even having that conversation and that Alabama is still considered an odds-on favorite to win the national title in 2021 is, frankly, unbelievable. There is no other team in the history of football that could lose 3 top Heisman Trophy contenders and still be considered the nation’s elite of the elite.

As I watched ESPN’s College Football GameDay on Saturday, I noticed that there was a small backlash against Alabama as the predetermined national title team of the 2021 season.

Two panelists – former Georgia defensive end David Pollack and former coach Lee Corso – didn’t just pick another national titlist. They actually picked another championship team from within the conference: Georgia.

The biggest question Georgia had when it hired Kirby Smart in 2016 from Saban was to get more talented and bigger players in Athens, Ga., in order to compete with Alabama. Is Smart capable of doing so? This year should tell the tale. If Georgia can’t beat Bama without the Tide’s bevy of well-known Heisman candidates, as well as the other players they’ve lost, how can the Bulldogs ever top the Tide?

Georgia fans – and some media analysts – have dubbed this as Georgia’s year. Certainly, this season has the feel that the king could be overthrown by a young, powerful suitor. I’ll believe it win I see it.

If Saban and Smart have the same talent, who is winning? Saban. If Saban and Smart sit down to play chess, who are you taking? Saban. Tiddlywinks? Saban.

Whether the Georgia fans like it or not, Saban remains the gold standard. And despite this being Georgia’s “year,” Saban isn’t going anywhere quite yet. However, let’s play devil’s advocate.

So what are the two primary reasons that Alabama will not win the national title? That’s simple. No. 1, it has too many important players to replace. No. 2, Georgia has been nipping at Bama’s heels for nearly half of a decade.

Those aren’t the only reasons. Hear me out. Alabama could fracture from within.

The Crimson Tide has accepted some major changes that I never thought they would. The transfer portal has become a strength under Saban. He is able to keep the players he wants, allow those not playing (and perhaps malcontents) to leave while picking up some key additions along the way.

Saban also crowed about the NIL changes during SEC Media Days when he said first-year starter Bryce Young has already received financial commitments of $1 million through the NIL agreement that was recently adopted. All signs point to Saban’s history as he’ll be able to adapt. If he hasn’t already, Saban has accepted the changes and mastered them. However, there’s always potential for a fluid roster to experience some waves. With so many changes on this roster, that’s certainly a possibility.

Then, there’s the unthinkable to most Alabama fans: the offense could take a step way, way back.

Let’s not forget the roll that Alabama has been on, especially at quarterback. The Crimson Tide have recently had Heisman Trophy candidates like Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones. Can Bryce Young just step in and keep that tradition going? For most programs, it would seem ludicrous to replace an NFL first-round draft pick with a first-year starter that was ready to play near the same level. At Alabama, that’s been just another season.

If Alabama’s offense takes a step back, it’s more likely because of coaching. Bill O’Brien may prove to be exactly what Bama needs, but he has a lot to live up to. Former Alabama OCs Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin were the perfect offensive coordinator that Saban needed to emphasize offense.

So, will Alabama go undefeated and win a national title? No one would be shocked if they did, but it seems very possible that Alabama could have a bump in the road this season.