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)

Football

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: Our No. 1? Alabama, of course — was there ever a doubt?

Think 'Bama's in trouble because of all those NFL draft picks? Think again. Nick Saban's got another loaded roster simmering in Tuscaloosa.

Posted July 28th, 2018

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — the final installment of our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.

Our Top 25:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

No. 23: Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

No. 22: Central Florida is out to go unbeaten (ahem, again)

No. 21: There’s a new coach, offense and direction for Florida State

No. 20: Their big names gone, USC is reloading … or is that rebuilding?

No. 19: For West Virginia, when there’s a Will there’s a way

No. 18: For Boise State, the Mountain West sky is the limit

No. 17: Mississippi State is breaking in a new head coach

No.16: Virginia Tech’s chances hinge on an up-and-down quarterback

No. 15: TCU has been the model of consistency, but there are 2018 concerns

No. 14: Love is all you need, at least if you’re talking about Stanford’s Bryce Love

No. 13: Notre Dame is on the brink of a real springboard season

No. 12: Michigan has said goodbye to John O’Korn, hello to Shea Patterson

No. 11: With just about everyone back, Michigan State looks for a 2017 encore

No. 10: Penn State bids goodbye to Saquon Barkley, but Trace McSorley’s still there

No. 9: Talented Auburn should be considered a CFP possibility coming out of the SEC

No. 8: Oklahoma has reloaded, eyeing a possible first-ever fourpeat in the Big 12

No. 7: Miami’s dreams of ACC titles and CFP berths have to go through Clemson again

No. 6: Wisconsin’s 10 returning offensive starters ready to state case for CFP

No. 5: Washington’s got two possible Heisman candidates and a top-10 defense

No. 4: Georgia is eager to put last year’s overtime title game loss in the rearview

No. 3: Can Texas pipeline spur No. 3 Ohio State to title?

No. 2: Clemson’s D-line could be best ever in NCAA history

Today’s team: No. 1 Alabama

The Crimson Tide’s best-case scenario: Can the season end anywhere else but Santa Clara, Calif.? It’s not enough that the Crimson Tide have won a staggering five national titles in the last nine years. Six, anyone? They’ll start the season at No. 1 again with probably the best front seven in the land and figure a better than 70 percent chance of reaching the title game if Nick Saban can replenish a depleted secondary and prevent quarterback fissures from disrupting the locker room.

Their worst-case scenario: It can be a recipe for disaster when a veteran quarterback who was the SEC player of the year as a freshman gets benched in the championship game and his young backup scores the comeback victory. While Jalen Hurts isn’t the type to cause dissension if Tua Tagovailoa wins the starting job as expected, the move could risk bad karma. Heck, if Alabama can’t adequately replace departed wideout Calvin Ridley or 10 other starters, the Tide might even face disaster, like a No. 4 CFP seeding like last year.

RELATED COVERAGE: Saban’s gutsy QB call impacts Georgia, Clemson, the world

RELATED COVERAGE: When it comes to Saban and friends, the SEC ignores the numbers

Inside the Crimson Tide

Coach: Nick Saban (12th year, 127-20; 218-62-1 overall at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and Alabama, 15-17 in the NFL with the Dolphins)

2017: 13-1, 7-1 in the SEC (beat Georgia in overtime 26-23 in the CFP championship game)

Returning starters: 8 offense, 3 defense

Goodbye: WR Calvin Ridley (1st, Falcons); S Minkah Fitzpatrick (1st, Dolphins); S Ronnie Harrison (3rd, Jaguars); RB Bo Scarbrough (7th, Cowboys); DT Daron Payne (1st, Redskins); LB Rashaan Evans (1st, Titans); DE Da’Shawn Hand (4th, Lions); CB Anthony Averett (4th, Ravens); P JK Scott (5th, Packers); C Bradley Bozeman (6th, Ravens)

Spring cleaning: The NFL draft annually takes a blow torch to Alabama’s roster, this time removing an even dozen. … Watch out for incoming nose tackle Tevita Musika, a junior-college transfer. … Did you know the Tide had 53 sacks last season? … Alabama will be without both kickers in Ray Guy finalist JK Scott and Andy Pappanastos; Joseph Bulovas, who redshirted last year but booted five field goals in the spring game, is the most likely kicker while freshman Skyler DeLong arrives as one of the top high school punters in the country. … The Tide is loaded with great running backs from 1,000-yard rusher Damien Harris to the physical Najee Harris, shifty Josh Jacobs and total package Brian Robinson. … The best defender may be lineman Raekwon Davis; linebacker Terrell Lewis, who had the key sack in overtime versus Georgia, may have become the most disruptive force on the defense but suffered a serious injury this summer.

Raekwon Davis (99) of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates a sack during the second half against the Georgia Bulldogs in the CFP National Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Jalen Hurts, 154-255-2,081, 17/1 (1st); Tua Tagovailoa, 49-77-636, 11/2 (2nd)

RUSHING: Damien Harris, 135-1,000-11 (1st); QB Jalen Hurts, 154-855-8 (2nd); Najee Harris, 61-370-3 (4th)

RECEIVING: Jerry Jeudy, 14-264-2 (2nd); Henry Ruggs III, 12-229-6 (3rd)

TACKLES: DL Raekwon Davis, 69 (3rd)

SACKS: DL Raekwon Davis, 8.5 (1st)

INTERCEPTIONS: LB Mack Wilson, 4 (1st)

Returning All-SEC players (2)

Offense: OL Jonah Williams (1st team)

Defense: DL Raekwon Davis (1st)

FYI

There’s a catch: Calvin Ridley is gone and with him 63 catches, and the next busiest wideout on Alabama’s team was the gifted Jerry Jeudy, who had just 14 receptions for 264 yards. That could be the biggest trouble spot — relatively speaking — for Saban, who waved goodbye to two other receivers and the pass-catching Bo Scarbrough and his 17 grabs. DeVonta Smith had the 41-yard, game-winning catch in overtime in the championship game, and tight ends Hale Hentges and Irv Smith Jr. are more than adequate.

Hurts or Tua? Tua or Hurts?: How do you not start Tagovailoa after his late-game heroics in which he burned Georgia on a second-and-26 touchdown pass in overtime? The guy’s got charisma and a presence. Never mind that Tagovailoa hurt his thumb in spring ball and that Hurts has started back-to-back championship games and has won a title. Who knows, maybe he becomes the next Braxton Miller and moves to wide receiver or tight end. Oh, and Tua’s younger brother, Taulia, is a quarterback and one of 17 Tide pledges.

Starting over on D: The secondary completely vanished as Minkah Fitzpatrick and Co. have moved on, but opponents can’t relax because there may be very little talent dropoff. Deionte Thompson could assume Fitzpatrick’s leadership role and start at strong safety although five-star freshman Patrick Surtain Jr. could press him for that spot as the next Minkah. Thompson started the CFP games because of an injury. Also look out for Saivion Smith, a former LSU player, to emerge.

2017 national rankings

Scoring: 15th (37.1 ppg) — right above No. 16 Toledo, right behind No. 14 Missouri

Points allowed: 1st (11.9 ppg) — tops in the nation, right above No. 2 Clemson

Passing: 91st (193.4 ypg) — right above No. 92 Wisconsin, right behind No. 90 BYU

Rushing: 13th (250.6 ypg) — right above No. 14 Tulsa, right behind No. 12 Oregon

Total offense: 29th (444.1 ypg) — right above No. 30 Oregon, right behind No. 28 New Mexico State

Total defense: 1st (260.4 ypg) — again, tops in the nation, right above No. 2 Wisconsin

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)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 1 (7, ABC)Louisville
Sept. 8 (2:30, ESPN2)Arkansas State
Sept. 15 (6, ESPN)Ole Miss*W, 66-3
Sept. 22Texas A&M*W, 27-19
Sept. 29Louisiana-Lafayette
Oct. 6at Arkansas*W, 41-9
Oct. 13Missouri*
Oct. 20at Tennessee*W, 45-7
Nov. 3at LSU*W, 24-10
Nov. 10Mississippi State*W, 31-24
Nov. 17The Citadel
Nov. 24Auburn*L, 26-14
* SEC game

Note: Alabama-Louisville will be played in Orlando.

The key game: Nov. 24, Auburn. Alabama fell in the Iron Bowl last season to the Tigers, who also knocked off Georgia in the regular season, and still made the Final Four. Doing so again might tempt fate. Missouri’s a trap game.

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
201311-2 (7-1)1st / 7thSugar, L
201412-2 (7-1)2nd / 4thCFP semifinals, L
201514-1 (7-1)3rd / 1stCFP title game, W
201614-1 (8-0)1st / 2ndCFP title game, L
201713-1 (7-1)1st / 1stCFP title game, W
Total64-7 (36-4 SEC)5-3 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking

Our Top 25, by conferences

5 schools:

SEC — No. 1 Alabama, No. 4 Georgia, No. 9 Auburn, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 24 LSU

Big Ten — No. 3 Ohio State, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan

4 schools:

ACC — No. 2 Clemson, No. 7 Miami, No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Florida State

Pac-12 — No. 5 Washington, No. 14 Stanford, No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon

Big 12 — No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 15 TCU, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas

1 school:

Independents — No. 13 Notre Dame

Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State

AAC — No. 22 Central Florida

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