Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates beating the Georgia Bulldogs in overtime to win the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Alabama won 26-23. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Football

Our 11th annual Top 25 countdown: Same ol’, same ol’ for No 2 Alabama?

In Tuscaloosa, season expectations begin and end with the College Football Playoffs. So why should 2019 be any different for loaded Alabama?

Posted July 26th, 2019

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We’re 34 days away from the 2019 season opener, but it’s never too early to talk college football. We continue with our 11th annual countdown series of our preseason Top 25 as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists ranked first, second, eighth and 13th in our 2018 poll.

Our No. 2 team: Alabama

The Crimson Tide’s best-case scenario:  The Crimson Tide stay status quo and make the national playoffs.

And their worst-case scenario: Worst case? The continuing changeover in the Nick Saban staff impacts team continuity, allowing another SEC team to win the conference.

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Last year, Alabama was No. 1 on our preseason poll.

Inside the Crimson Tide

Coach: Nick Saban (13th year, 141-20; 232-62-1 overall, 23 years at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and Alabama)

2018:  14-1, 8-0 in the SEC (lost to Clemson in the CFP championship game). Alabama hasn’t lost more than two games in a season since 2010.

Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense

Shoes to fill: RB Damien Harris (led team in rushing); RB Josh Jacobs (11 rush TDs); TE Irv Smith Jr. (710 yards, 7 TDs); DL Isaiah Buggs (9.5 sacks); LB Christian Miller (8.5 sacks); DL Quinnen Williams (7.0 sacks)

Spring cleaning: Saban found himself on the injury list this offseason. He had hip replacement surgery, but was back in the office 36 hours later. He also had to deal with a huge staff shakeup. Seven assistants left the program, including both coordinators. One familiar addition was former Texas quarterback Major Applewhite, who was fired as the Houston Cougars’ head coach at the end of last season. Applewhite will be an offensive analyst. Only three assistants return from last year’s staff and just one, special teams coach Jeff Banks, will have the same assignment … Another notable departure was quarterback Jalen Hurts, the two-year starter who lost his job to Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts transferred to Oklahoma and according to odds set by Las Vegas, he has the third best chance to win the Heisman. … Alabama had 10 players selected in the NFL draft, the most for any school for the second straight year.

A detailed view of Alabama Crimson Tide helmets in a pile during the celebration after the CFP National Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. Alabama won 26-23. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Tua Tagovailoa (led team), 245-355-3,966 yards, 43 TDs, 6 INTs

RUSHING: Najee Harris (2nd), 117-783-4

RECEIVING: Jerry Jeudy (1st), 68-1,315-14; Jaylen Waddle (2nd), 45-848-7; Henry Ruggs III (3rd), 46-741-11

TACKLES: LB Dylan Moses (1st), 86; DB Xavier McKinney (3rd), 73

SACKS: LB Anfernee Jennings (4th), 6.5

INTERCEPTIONS: DB Xavier McKinney (T-2nd), 2; DB Shyheim Carter (T-2nd), 2

Returning All-SEC (3)

Offense: WR Jerry Jeudy (1st team), QB Tua Tagovailoa (1st), OL Alex Leatherwood (2nd)

Defense: None

FYI

Perfection would be perfect: Saban has openly talked about how he’d prefer Tagovailoa to make safer decisions. It should be noted that Tagovailoa led the country with a quarterback rating of 199.4 last fall and had an incredible touchdown-to-interception ratio of 43-7. His quarterback rating was an NCAA record, so it’s difficult to imagine a better season, statistically. Still, Saban said earlier this month: “Sometimes those things have worked out extremely well. And other times they’ve led to some disasters. So having a little better judgment about when to say when can be an asset.” Saban still is irked about the two interceptions Tagovailoa in the national championship loss to Clemson.

Welcome back, Sark: Steve Sarkisian, the former head coach at Washington and USC, rejoined Saban’s staff as an offensive coordinator. He’s worked for Saban before, serving as as offensive analyst in 2016. He was promoted to play-caller for the national championship game, his only time calling a Saban offense until this season. Sarkisian had been the Atlanta Falcons’ OC the past two years but was fired at the end of 2018. The Alabama offense probably won’t change under Sarkisian. It ranked sixth nationally in total offense last season, averaging 522 yards a game. That’s the only time the Tide have ranked among the top 10 over the last decade.

Defensive issues: A terrific Alabama defense is about as easy to predict as hot days in August. But last year, the Tide took a big defensive dip. After leading the nation in total defense the last two seasons, Bama dropped to only 16th best in the country. Over the past 10 years the only other time the Tide failed to finish in the top five was 2014. Saban elevated Pete Golding, the inside linebackers coach, to coordinator, replacing Tosh Lupoi, who took a job, with a drop in pay, with the Cleveland Browns. This is Golding’s second season with Saban after leaving UTSA for Tuscaloosa.

2018 national stat rankings

Scoring: 3rd (45.6 ppg)

Total offense: 6th (522.0 ypg)

Passing: 6th (323.6 ypg)

Rushing: 42nd (198.4 ypg)

Red zone offense: 77th

Time of possession: 52nd (30:19)

Scoring defense: 12th (18.1 ppg)

Total defense: 16th (319.5 ypg)

Pass defense: 33rd (198.3 ypg)

Rush defense: 19th (121.3 ypg)

Red zone defense: 6th

Turnover margin: 34th

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Aug. 31Duke (Atlanta)
Sept. 7New Mexico State
Sept. 14at South Carolina*
Sept. 21Southern Mississippi
Sept. 28Ole Miss*W, 62-7
Oct. 12at Texas A&M*w, 45-23
Oct. 19Tennessee*W, 58-21
Oct. 26Arkansas*W, 65-31
Nov. 9LSU*W, 29-0
Nov. 16at Mississippi State*W, 24-0
Nov. 23Western Carolina
Nov. 30at Auburn*W, 52-21
* SEC game

The key game? Nov. 9, LSU. It’ll be the final contest of a stretch of three straight home games.

The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
201412-2 / 7-12nd / 4thCFP semifinals, L
201514-1 / 7-13rd / 1stCFP title game, W
201614-1 / 8-01st / 2ndCFP title game, L
201713-1 / 7-11st / 1stCFP title game, W
201814-1 / 8-01st / 2ndCFP title game, L
Total67-6 / 37-39 bowl games (6-3)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

Our Top 25 — so far

No. 25: Stanford will need its experienced defense to lead the way early

No. 24: Can Nebraska carry its end-of-2018 momentum into 2019?

No. 23: Was 2018 a one-time thing, or is Syracuse back as a program?

No. 22: A run to last year’s Big Ten title game has Northwestern wanting more

No. 21: Mike Leach hopes Clemson’s quarterback loss is Washington State’s gain

No. 20: With no proven quarterback, Wisconsin will ride the legs of Jonathan Taylor

No. 19: With Jarret Stidham in the NFL, Auburn must choose a freshman quarterback

No. 18: Army might end up throwing a real wrench into the CFP’s plans this year

No. 17: Iowa State hopes to keep its recent rise moving full steam ahead

No. 16: Central Florida is trying to overcome a pair of serious quarterback injuries

No. 15: Utah casts its eyes on winning the Pac-12 title this year

No. 14: Penn State’s baromoter? Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State (again)

No. 13: Defense may determine Washington’s chances at another Pac-12 title

No. 12: Texas A&M must navigate a scheduled peppered with heavyweights

No. 11: Is Jim Harbaugh’s coaching seat at Michigan getting hotter?

No. 10: If Feleipe Franks continues his rise, Florida can make some noise in the SEC

No. 9: Texas is counting on Ehlinger — Sugar Bowl MVP, coverboy, potential Heisman candidate

No. 8: Oregon’s Justin Herbert may end up as the Ducks’ career passing leader

No. 7: With its schedule, Notre Dame has the chance to impress the CFP selection folks

No. 6: As usual, LSU’s chances go hand in hand with nagivating that SEC slate

No. 5: Is Ryan Day ready to step into Urban Meyer’s shoes at Ohio State?

No. 4: Another year, another Heisman quarterback candidate for Oklahoma

No. 3: Georgia still must solve its Alabama problem in the SEC

No. 2: Alabama

Our Top 25, by conferences

6 schools:

SEC — No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia, No. 6 LSU, No. 10 Florida, No. 12 Texas A&M, No. 19 Auburn

Big Ten — No. 5 Ohio State, No. 11 Michigan, No. 14 Penn State, No. 20 Wisconsin, No. 22 Northwestern, No. 24 Nebraska

5 schools:

Pac-12 — No. 8 Oregon, No. 13 Washington, No. 15 Utah, No. 21 Washington State, No. 25 Stanford

3 schools:

Big 12 — No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 9 Texas, No. 17 Iowa State

2 schools:

Independents — No. 7 Notre Dame, No. 18 Army

1 school:

AAC — No. 16 Central Florida

ACC — No. 23 Syracuse

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 2 team

Want a hint?

They’re the defending national champions.

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