Previewing Alabama: Talent, Coaching and Monica Lewinsky Jokes
When I was questioning Ole Miss’s newfound recruiting prowess in February, I insisted on the notion that winning precedes recruiting success. Programs like Boise State and TCU put together respectable recruiting classes because they first found ways to win. But, powerhouse programs tend to work into a cycle of winning and recruiting, winning and recruiting and suddenly the order of things disappears.
The line is particularly blurred with the University of Alabama. Obviously, significant talent has played a role in the Tide’s rolling through competition. But, I stick to my guns. The tremendous recruiting success that Nick Saban and his staff have experienced on the recruiting trail (only once in the last five years has the Crimson Tide not signed Rivals.com’s top class , and that was a fifth place finish in 2010) is a byproduct of winning (most recently: two-straight National Championships, three in four years).
So, Alabama may be replacing a lot of talent (nine players drafted: 5 on offense, 4 on defense), but they will plug new talent in immediately. And as Saban has proven time and time again, he will be able to win regardless of who is on the field.
Most notably Alabama returns quarterback A.J. McCarron. I thought McCarron was both snarky and mature beyond what his tattoo would indicate at SEC Media Days. And, perhaps his stats indicate that notion (he was the most efficient passer in the country last year thanks to a 67.2% completion percentage, 30 TDs and just 3 INTs). But don’t expect A.J. to contend for a Heisman. He won’t throw the ball enough – he threw the ball just 314 times last year (down from 328 in 2011). I’m sure both guys hate the comparison, but that’s 120 fewer attempts than Johnny Manziel had last year and A.J. is a true pocket passer with little value to add on the ground. It takes 400+ attempts for a pro-style QB to generate Heisman consideration and he won’t get that. (Dude’s note: FWIW, I wrote about this very thing last year when examining McCarron as a Heisman candidate. In short: Pocket Passers who have won the Heisman since 2000 have averaged over 425 pass attempts during their winning season. Read the article here. It’s not half bad!)
McCarron won’t get those attempts because Alabama once again returns a stable of running backs. We all know T.J. Yeldon from last year (1108 yards on 175 carries last year, 153 painful yards against Georgia on 25 carries). His running mate will likely be Kenyan Drake (281 yards and five TDs last year on just 42 carries) who escaped from Powder Springs, GA to Alabama in 2012. A host of other young talented backs are technically in play and several will see the field, but Bama tends to give the bulk of its carries to two guys.
- Last year, Eddie Lacy and Yeldon had 66% of the team’s carries, no other player had more than 7.4%.
- In 2011, Lacy and Trent Richardson ran 74% of the carries. No other player had more than 11%.
- In 2010, Richardson and Mark Ingram accounted for 58% while Lacy joined at just under 12% of the load.
Alabama farms RBs and Saban already has seeds planted. So if you wonder why I don’t think McCarron will be a Heisman candidate re-read the paragraphs above. As good as he is, he won’t get the shot to put up Heisman numbers. Even if Alabama were to be undefeated and McCarron were to match last year’s performance, he’d come up short. The highest efficiency in the country wouldn’t overpower Passing Yards outside of the top-40 (McCarron was 41st in the country last year) and TD marks outside of the top-10 (McCarron finished 14th in the nation). And, I’d bet the my house on McCarron failing to maintain last year’s 10:1 ratio of TDs to interceptions.
It’s stupid to say that Alabama’s success on offense hinges on its offensive line, because that is the case for every team in the country. But, in this case it might have a little bit of meaning in that Alabama’s only vacancy on offense from a year ago is the offensive line. Chance Warmack was drafted 10th overall, D.J. Fluker was drafted 11th overall and the most decorate offensive lineman in SEC History – Barrett Jones – was drafted 113th over all. Anthony Steen and Cyrus Kouandjio will be back as starters to anchor the line. They’ll be joined by Cyrus’s big brother (Arie Kouandjio) who played in 10 games last season as a sophomore and Ryan Kelly who was SEC All-Freshman at center.
Alabama will once again bring size on the three-man front with two 290+ lb. defensive ends (Jeoffrey Pagan and Ed Stinson) along with 310 lb nose tackle Brandon Ivory. All three players played significantly last year with Stinson being a starter.
C.J. Mosley will anchor the experienced linebacking core that is absolutely massive. Mosley is the runt of the pack at 232 lbs but was an All-American last year and has over 200 tackles to his name over the last three seasons. Joining him will be Adrian Hubbard (6-6, 252 lbs., started 12 games last year), Xzavier (finally a guy who uses the X and the Z to make Ex-Zavier the correct pronunciation of Zavier) Dickson (6-3, 265 lbs., 6 starts last year) and Trey Depriest (6-2, 245 lbs. 12 games started last year).
Deion Belue (starter in all 14 games last year) and Geno Smith (2 starts in 2012) will line up at corner. Vinnie Sunseri (Sal’s son) will play safety. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix will also patrol as a safety and make me giggle and tell a Monica Lewinsky joke every time I hear his name. (Dude’s note: Seriously, is this the best or the worst name in college football?
Given everything I said in the intro, the only argument against Alabama is the blanket “They’re due for some disappointment” theory. But I can’t go there. Saban is too disciplined for that kind of crap. Or, at least he’s too disciplined for me to predict/expect it.
Bama opens against a Virginia Tech team that was probably supposed to be good when they were put on the schedule. If you have doubts about who will win that game stop reading my website. They play Texas A&M on the road, but I think A&M is the team that is due for some tough luck. The Tide will roll through Colorado State, Ole Miss and Georgia state home. A road win at Kentucky is all but guaranteed. Arkansas and Tennessee are home wins before the Bayou Bengals of LSU show up in Tuscaloosa. If there is a stumbling block for Alabama this year, that is it (I just don’t think A&M is the power that others proclaim them to be. At least not yet.). Alabama will close out the season with wins over Mississippi State, UT-Chattanooga and Auburn.
Barring something unforeseen and major (McCarron gets injured, Saban starts to hate winning) I think there is a 70% chance Alabama goes 12-0 in the regular season, a 29% chance that the Tide finishes 11-1 and a 1% chance that they finish up with more than one loss.
LSU is the most-likely loss (as a byproduct of nearly equal talent and a maniacal coach that keeps things close) and the Tigers have a much more difficult slate this year (TCU, at Georgia, Florida). So even if LSU beats Alabama, I think Alabama wins the SEC West. If you buy into A&M and think the Aggies will drown out the Tide for a second consecutive year, then the Aggies have a clear path…but I just can’t get to a point where I confidently predict A&M as the likely winner of that September 14 matchup.
Final prediction: Alabama wins the SEC West.
That’s all I got/