Sure, it’s just July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our eighth annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last season’s four College Football Playoff semifinalists were rated Nos. 3, 6, 13 and 24 on our 2015 list.
Today’s team: No. 2 Alabama (Related coverage: Meet Alabama’s promising freshman quarterback)
The Crimson Tide will contend because … they’re Alabama. Doesn’t matter that they lost half their starting lineup to the NFL. Doesn’t matter that their Heisman Trophy winner is gone. Doesn’t matter that the quarterback is unproven. Doesn’t matter that they play in the toughest division this side of the AFC East. They’ll be in the national title hunt because they have the best coach and they collect the best talent.
INSIDE THE CRIMSON TIDE
Coach: Nick Saban (10th year, 100-18; overall, 191-60-1 at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and Alabama)
2015: 14-1, 7-1 in SEC; beat Clemson in the CFP championship game, 45-40
Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense
The key game: Nov. 5, at LSU
Hello: QB Cooper Bateman, RB Bo Scarbrough, WR Gehrig Dieter, RG Brandon Kennedy, RT Jonah Williams, CB Minkah Fitzpatrick
Goodbye: DC Kirby Smart (Georgia head coach), RB Derrick Henry (Tennessee Titans), C Ryan Kelly (Indianapolis Colts), MLB Reggie Ragland (Buffalo Bills), DT A’Shawn Robinson (Detroit Lions), DT Jarran Reed (Seattle Seahawks), CB Cyrus Jones (New England Patriots)
Spring cleaning: The six “goodbyes” above were each taken in the first two rounds of the draft. No problem. Wait until you see the new guys — Bama’s second team could probably win the SEC East. Nick Saban can pick successors from his No. 1 recruiting class of 2013, his No. 1 class of 2014, his No. 2 class of 2015 or his No. 1 class of 2016. Oh, and there are still a few fifth-year seniors around from the No. 1 class of 2012. An embarrassment of riches. … Jeremy Pruitt, a former Saban assistant who’s been at Georgia the past two years, takes over for Kirby Smart as defensive coordinator. The Crimson Tide shouldn’t miss a beat.
Passing: Cooper Bateman, 37-52-291 yards, 1/2 (2nd)
Rushing: Damien Harris, 46-157-1 (3rd); Bo Scarbrough, 18-104-1 (4th)
Receiving: Calvin Ridley, 89-1,045-7 (1st); ArDarius Stewart, 63-700-4 (2nd)
Tackles: LB Reuben Foster, 73 (2nd)
Sacks: DL Jonathan Allen, 12 (1st); LB Tim Williams, 10.5 (2nd)
RETURNING ALL CONFERENCE (5)
Offense: OL Cam Robinson (1st team), WR Calvin Ridley (2nd), K Adam Griffith (2nd)
Defense: DL Jonathan Allen (1st), S Eddie Jackson (1st)
- Cooper Bateman is the safe choice at quarterback. He’ll be pressed by the more talented but still erratic Blake Barnett and David Cornwell, who has the strongest arm of the three. Freshman Jalen Hurts is the future. Whoever it is will throw to a terrific cast of receivers, including Ridley, Stewart, Robert Foster and TE O.J. Howard, who was unstoppable in the national title game. As if the Tide didn’t recruit enough talent, Bowling Green transfer Gehrig Dieter is a possession receiver who makes circus catches.
- The only SEC team with similar talent to Alabama is LSU. The Tigers might have even trumped the Tide had they not botched the recruiting of Baton Rouge native Tim Williams. LSU soured on Williams for on- and off-the-field issues. They were mistaken on both counts. Williams, a solid citizen, posted 10.5 sacks last year — just two less than SEC leader Myles Garrett of Texas A&M — despite playing only 36 percent of the snaps. He was the defensive MVP of the spring game with two sacks and three QB pressures. He’ll be fully unleashed in 2016.
- Alabama opens with USC in Arlington, has an early roadie at Ole Miss and also travels to Tennessee and LSU. No piece of cake. It is rated the fifth-hardest schedule by ESPN’s power index, trailing USC, Ole Miss, Florida State and Cal. … Early mock drafts see five potential first-rounders for 2017 — pass-rushers Allen and Williams, safety Jackson, LT Robinson and TE Howard.
Alabama's 2016 schedule
|Date||Opponent||Last yr's result (if played)|
|Sept. 3||USC (Arlington)|
|Sept. 10||Western Kentucky|
|Sept. 17||at Ole Miss*||L, 43-37|
|Sept. 24||Kent State|
|Oct. 8||at Arkansas*||W, 27-14|
|Oct. 15||at Tennessee*||W, 19-14|
|Oct. 22||Texas A&M*||W, 41-23|
|Nov. 5||at LSU*||W, 30-16|
|Nov. 12||Mississippi State*||W, 31-6|
|Nov. 26||Auburn*||W, 29-13|
|* SEC game|
Alabama: The last 5 years
|2015||14-1 / 7-1||3rd / 1st||CFP title game, W|
|2014||12-2 / 7-1||2nd / 4th||CFP semifinals, L|
|2013||11-2 / 7-1||1st / 7th||Sugar Bowl, L|
|2012||13-1 / 7-1||2nd / 1st||BCS title game, W|
|2011||12-1 / 7-1||2nd / 1st||BCS title game, W|
|Total||62-7, 35-5||6 bowl games (4-2)|
2015 NATIONAL RANKS
Scoring: 30th (35.1 ppg)
Scoring defense: 3rd (15.1 ppg)
Passing yards: 62nd (227.1 ypg)
Rushing yards: 32nd (200.0 ypg)
TOP 25 SO FAR …
No. 2: Alabama
No. 1: Coming Saturday. Want a hint? The school mascot is the tiger, the head coach’s first name is Dabo, the school is situated in South Carolina — and the quarterback’s name is Deshaun Watson. Those hints should be sufficient, we think.
5 schools: Pac-12 (8-Stanford, 14-USC, 17-Washington, 21-Oregon, 25-Washington State); SEC (2-Alabama, 6-LSU, 9-Tennessee, 12-Ole Miss, 16-Georgia)
4 schools: Big Ten (5-Michigan, 7-Ohio State, 15-Michigan State, 18-Iowa); Big 12 (4-Oklahoma, 13-TCU, 19-Baylor, 22-Oklahoma State)
3 schools: ACC (3-Florida State, 20-North Carolina, 23-Louisville)
1 school: AAC (11-Houston); Mountain West (24-Boise State); Independents (10-Notre Dame)