TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09: (L-R) Linebacker Keith Holcombe #42, defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson #54, and linebacker Terrell Hall #24 of the Alabama Crimson Tide react during the second half of the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the Clemson Tigers at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

BEVO BEAT Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25 countdown: No. 1 Alabama

Been there, done that. Still, Nick Saban remains as driven as ever to finish the season No. 1. So who are we to argue?

Posted July 29th, 2017

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 17 on our 2016 list.

Today’s team: No. 1 Alabama (Related coverage: Has Nick Saban made the SEC Bama and, well, everyone else?)

Best-case scenario: Nick Saban never retires and Alabama enters every season as a national contender from now until 2050. The Crimson Tide, still ticked off about losing last year’s championship to Clemson with one second left on the clock, use that as fuel to take it out on the rest of college football with Heisman-caliber quarterback Jalen Hurts, the best running backs in the nation and the best head coach ever to walk a sideline.

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Worst-case scenario: Big losses on defense and the offensive line, with seven NFL draft picks, combine with a nightmarish season-opening matchup with Florida State and a new offensive coordinator calling the plays, to cost Alabama. The Tide actually lose a game or two and just wind up in the consolation Sugar Bowl.

The key game: Nov. 25, at Auburn. In one of only four true road games all year, Alabama faces a resurgent Tigers team that has recharged with former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Remember, an Auburn loss has cost Alabama dearly before, whether it’s Cam Newton or a missed field goal return.

 

INSIDE THE CRIMSON TIDE

Coach: Nick Saban (11th year, 114-19; 205-61-1 at Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and Alabama)

2016: 14-1, 8-1 in the SEC (lost to Clemson 35-31 in the CFP title game)

Returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense

Goodbye: Three offensive coordinators (Lane Kiffin, Joey Freshwater and Steve Sarkisian). Three backup quarterbacks, who transferred. TE O.J. Howard (Buccaneers, 1st round), WR Ardarius Stewart (Jets, 3rd), Outland Trophy winner/LT Cam Robinson (Jaguars, 2nd), Nagurski Award winner/DE Jonathan Allen (Redskins, 1st), Butkus Award winner/LB Reuben Foster (49ers, 1st), third-team All-American LB Tim Williams (Ravens, 3rd), All-American CB Marlon Humphrey (Ravens, 1st), SS Eddie Jackson (Bears, 4th), K Adam Griffith

Spring cleaning: The addition of new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll should actually settle things down in Tuscaloosa; Kiffin took a lot of drama with him and Saban has a comfort level with Daboll, who was a GA on his Michigan State staff and has coached in the NFL for the last 17 years, 11 of them with the New England Patriots. … Replacing Griffith will be critical. Second-team All-America punter JK Scott could do double duty if a reliable kicker can’t be found in Andy Pappanastos, who missed two 30-yarders in the spring A-Day Game, or true freshman Joseph Bulovas. … Da’Ron Payne should anchor the defensive line, but much is expected from 6-4 ends Da’Shawn Hand and Quinnen Williams. … RT Jonah Williams shifted to the left side, playoff sensation Rashaan Evans moved from edge rusher to inside linebacker, and Trevon Diggs has settled in at cornerback after playing safety, receiver and punt returner last season.

ATLANTA, GA – DECEMBER 31: Jalen Hurts #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide snaps the ball during the 2016 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

RETURNING LEADERS

Passing: Jalen Hurts, 240-382-2,780, 23/9

Rushing: Damien Harris, 146-1,037-2 (1st); QB Jalen Hurts, 191-954-13 (2nd); Bo Scarbrough, 125-812-11 (3rd)

Receiving: Calvin Ridley, 72-769-7 (1st)

Tackles: DB Ronnie Harrison, 86 (2nd)

Sacks: LB Rashaan Evans, 4 (4th)

 

RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS (4)

Offense: QB Jalen Hurts (1st team), WR Calvin Ridley (2nd)

Defense: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick (1st), P JK Scott (1st)

GLENDALE, AZ – JANUARY 11: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after defeating the Clemson Tigers in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Crimson Tide defeated the Tigers with a score of 45 to 40. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

ALABAMA: FYI

Hurts is so good: Hurts struggled with his passing in the playoffs. He was the first true freshman to start as Alabama’s quarterback since 1984 and has to break in several new receivers and offensive linemen, though outstanding receiver Calvin Ridley is back and running back Bo Scarbrough is coming off a sensational postseason. Hurts figures to drop back more from under center, but should still be a lethal runner after rushing for 954 yards.

Road-friendly: The schedule is favorable with road games only at Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn after the neutral-site opener with the Seminoles in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the site of the 2017 national championship game. Phil Steele’s magazine ranks Alabama’s schedule as the 28th toughest.

He can coach .55: Did you know that Saban’s bowl record is only a stunning 11-9 in his career? (That does, however, include playoff losses to teams like Clemson and Ohio State.) Alabama has never won a title as a preseason No. 1 under Saban, but we doubt he minds.

Alabama's schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 2Florida State (Atlanta)
Sept. 9Fresno State
Sept. 16Colorado State
Sept. 23at Vanderbilt*
Sept. 30Ole Miss*W, 48-43
Oct. 7at Texas A&M*W, 33-14
Oct. 14Arkansas*W, 49-30
Oct. 21Tennessee*W, 49-30
Nov. 4LSU*W, 10-0
Nov. 11at Mississippi State*W, 51-3
Nov. 18Mercer
Nov. 25at Auburn*W, 30-12
* SEC game

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGBOWL GAME
TOTAL64-7 (36-4)5-2 in bowls
201213-1 (7-1)2nd/1stW BCS title game
201311-2 (7-1)1st/7thW Sugar
201412-2 (7-1)2nd/4thL CFP semifinal
201514-1 (7-1)3rd/1stW CFP title game
201614-1 (8-0)1st/2ndL CFP title game

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

 

2016 NATIONAL STAT RANKS

Scoring: 16th (38.8 ppg)

Points allowed: 1st (13.0 ppg)

Passing: 87th (210.3 ypg)

Rushing: 12th (245.0 ypg)

Total off.: 34th (455.3 ypg)

Total def.: 2nd (261.8 ypg)

 

OUR TOP 25

No. 25: Boise State

No. 24: Oregon

No. 23: Tennessee

No. 22: Texas

No. 21: Kansas State

No. 20: Miami

No. 19: West Virginia

No. 18: South Florida

No. 17: Florida

No. 16: Stanford

No. 15: Louisville

No. 14: Georgia

No. 13: Wisconsin

No. 12: LSU

No. 11: Auburn

No. 10: Michigan

No. 9: Oklahoma State

No. 8: Washington

No. 7: Oklahoma

No. 6: Penn State

No. 5: Clemson

No. 4: Florida State

No. 3: USC

No. 2: Ohio State

No. 1: Alabama

 

BY CONFERENCE

6 schools:

Big 12 (No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 9 Oklahoma State, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 21 Kansas State, No. 22 Texas)

4 schools

ACC (No. 4 Florida State, No. 5 Clemson, No. 15 Louisville, No. 20 Miami)

Big Ten (No. 2 Ohio State, No. 6 Penn State, No. 10 Michigan, No. 13 Wisconsin)

Pac-12 (No. 3 USC, No. 8 Washington, No. 16 Stanford, No. 24 Oregon)

1 school:

AAC (No. 18 South Florida)

Mountain West (No. 25 Boise State)

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