#SECPreviews: West- #1 Alabama Crimson Tide
My philosophy on Alabama, a team that has spent oneweek ranked outside of the top 10 in the past five years.
What Happened Last Year?
The most notable thing, to me, was the continued erosion of the defense, especially through the air. They set seven-year per-game highs in points allowed (18.4), total yards (328– the first time in that span they’ve been over 287), and passing yards (226, highest since 189 back in 2008). Not that those are bad numbers at all, but it signifies a trend in the wrong direction as the SEC becomes more and more offensive.
On the other hand, their offense set a Saban-era high in yards per game at 485 under Lane Kiffin. Nick Saban was outspoken in his criticism of Kiffin not running the ball enough, but the numbers across the board were consistent with or better than his predecessors outside of turnover margin, which was in the negatives for the first time since Saban’s first year.
So why the Rick Flair above? To be the man, you’ve tot to beat the man, and they were a timely Senquez Golson interception away from another steamrolling of the SEC. But they showed more cracks than in previous years. Arkansas came within a point. Tennessee covered the spread for the first time in 5 years. LSU took them to overtime. Mississippi St. was within a score in Tuscaloosa.
Those still go down as wins in the record books, thus Alabama is still the odds-on favorite for the nation’s strongest division.
The BCS Semifinal loss to Ohio State? Well, the SEC is 0-1 all time in the CFP. Thanks, Alabama.
Three Key Games
This is pretty easy.
Oct. 3 at Georgia: Not so much key because of the standings implications, as its realistically the least important from that standpoint. But it’ll be a young offense’s (three returning starters) first road test, and I’m biased.
Nov. 7, LSU: Les Miles has been as close to a foil for the Saban-era Crimson Tide as there has been. This game is annual appointment watching for me, because good defensive football is a lost art. Bama has won 4 straight and 6 of 8, but (insert cheesy rivalry commentary here).
Nov. 28, at Auburn: Auburn has the formula to score points on Alabama downpat. Does game 12 of the Will Muschamp D prove to be enough to beat the more talented Tide at home? I’m thinking yes.
Five Key Players
– Derrick Henry, HB: Breaking in a new QB? Not as big an issue, when every one of your O-linemen ranked in the top 10 at their respective positions coming out of high school, and you have a 6’3, 240 manchild to whom you can hand the ball.
– O.J. Howard, TE: I can’t really explain what happened to Howard last year, outside of the fact that Kiffin just doesn’t like throwing to the tight end. But…
I mean. You’ve got to find a way to get 6’6 250 with speed to outrun the entire LSU secondary the ball. Per resident Tide friend Evan: “Having O.J. Howard last year was like owning a Lamborghini and only driving it in school zones.”
– Jonathan Allen, DE: This is what happens with Alabama guys. They come in as ballyhooed recruits, sit behind older ballyhooed recruits, you forget about them, and they become All-SEC. That’s what happened to Allen last year, as he finished with 5.5 sacks and 7 QBH, pretty impressive for a 3-4 end. He’s back as part of a D-line that returns all but one guy from its two-deep.
– Reuben Foster, ILB: Replacing Trey DePriest’s production (and apparently leadership, the greatest of intangibles) is going to be tough. What better guy to do it than the Alabama player famous for an Auburn tattoo?
– Adam Griffith, K: The guy who kicked the kick-six actually had a decent (?) year last year, his first as the full-time starter. I want to see him forced to exorcise some late-game demons though. Just for fun.
So, Bama has the toughest SEC schedule this year, with UT and Georgia crossing over. I think this is a year where the strength of the SEC West works against itself, and you have a little bit more parity and unpredictability. Get educated on SEC tiebreaker rules, because I think 6-2 is going to be the number to win the SEC West.