Why is Alabama a national championship contender? The conversation begins and ends with Nick Saban, who's won five national titles, including four with the Crimson Tide. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25: No. 2 Alabama

Posted July 29th, 2016

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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.

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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.

Tight end O.J. Howard, who had a huge game in the CFP championship game win over Clemson, is back for more in 2016. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Tight end O.J. Howard, who had a huge game in the CFP championship game win over Clemson, is back for more in 2016. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

RETURNING LEADERS

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)

 

FYI …

  • 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

DateOpponentLast yr's result (if played)
Sept. 3USC (Arlington)
Sept. 10Western Kentucky
Sept. 17at Ole Miss*L, 43-37
Sept. 24Kent State
Oct. 1Kentucky*
Oct. 8at Arkansas*W, 27-14
Oct. 15at Tennessee*W, 19-14
Oct. 22Texas A&M*W, 41-23
Nov. 5at LSU*W, 30-16
Nov. 12Mississippi State*W, 31-6
Nov. 19Chattanooga
Nov. 26Auburn*W, 29-13
* SEC game

Alabama: The last 5 years

YearW-L/Conf.RankBowl
201514-1 / 7-13rd / 1stCFP title game, W
201412-2 / 7-12nd / 4thCFP semifinals, L
201311-2 / 7-11st / 7thSugar Bowl, L
201213-1 / 7-12nd / 1stBCS title game, W
201112-1 / 7-12nd / 1stBCS title game, W
Total62-7, 35-56 bowl games (4-2)
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking.

 

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. 25: Washington State

No. 24: Boise State

No. 23: Louisville

No. 22: Oklahoma State

No. 21: Oregon

No. 20: North Carolina

No. 19: Baylor

No. 18: Iowa

No. 17: Washington

No. 16: Georgia

No. 15: Michigan State

No. 14: USC

No. 13: TCU

No. 12: Ole Miss

No. 11: Houston

No. 10: Notre Dame

No. 9: Tennessee

No. 8: Stanford

No. 7: Ohio State

No. 6: LSU

No. 5: Michigan

No. 4: Oklahoma

No. 3: Florida State

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.

BY CONFERENCE

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)

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