Editor’s note: This is the 13th in a 15-part series in which we preview college football’s top teams. We’ll be counting down from 15 to one, with the final team, released on Sept. 3 – the day college football starts – serving as our national title pick.
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama hasn't won a national title since the 2012 season, and as you'd guess, that doesn't sit very well with the team's fan base. Since blasting Notre Dame in the BCS title game back in January of 2013, the Crimson Tide has posted a 23-4 record, but fallen short in the postseason, losing two Sugar Bowl contests. Nick Saban will do all he can in 2015 to make sure that his team gets another shot at the College Football Playoff.
It won't be easy, however. The SEC, per usual, is loaded with talent. In the SEC West alone, there are a handful of national title contenders. But if there's any coach in the country who can figure out how to navigate what's considered the hardest schedule in the nation, it's Nick Saban.
Alabama opens its 2015 campaign with Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas.
">August 29, 2015
Where They're At In The Rankings
The ScheduleSept. 5 vs. Wisconsin*Sept. 12 vs. Mid TennesseeSept. 19 vs. No. 17 Ole MissSept. 26 vs. UL MonroeOct. 3 at No. 9 GeorgiaOct. 10 vs. No. 18 ArkansasOct. 17 at Texas A&MOct. 24 vs. No. 25 TennesseeNov. 7 vs. No. 14 LSUNov. 14 at Mississippi StateNov. 21 vs. Charleston SouthernNov. 28 at No. 6 Auburn* indicates game played at neutral locationKey GamesSept. 5 vs. WisconsinIn Alabama's last game, its opponent, Ohio State, ran for 281 yards in a 42-35 Sugar Bowl victory. In Alabama's next game, you can expect the Wisconsin Badgers to try to employ the same strategy. Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team that was more successful than the Buckeyes rushing the ball last year, and even though star Melvin Gordon is gone, the Badgers will likely try to control the game on the ground. Alabama, for a few years now, has scheduled a tough opening game opponent (Michigan, Virginia Tech, West Virginia) to kick the season off. This might be the hardest test yet. If the Tide can get by, it'll likely be 2-0 heading into its first SEC showdown with Ole Miss.Oct. 3 at GeorgiaAs mentioned earlier, Alabama has what's considered by many as the toughest schedule in the nation. A big reason for that? The Tide has to travel to both Georgia and Auburn this year. The contest against the Bulldogs will be especially difficult, given how well UGA, behind Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, runs the ball. Plus, the last time the two schools met, which was back in 2012, Alabama eked past Georgia in the SEC title game. Bulldogs fans want revenge - even if it is a few years later.Six of Alabama's eight SEC contests are against ranked teams - the Georgia road game might be the rowdiest environment they step into all year.Nov. 28 at AuburnThe Iron Bowl has probably supplanted The Game as the most interesting rivalry contest in the country, so it's no surprise that it's Alabama's most important tilt every year. A loss to the Tigers means an entire year of trash talk, regardless of what else is accomplished during the season. There's also the possibility that this game holds weight in both the SEC title race and the College Football Playoff rankings, as it has in recent years. We'll all be watching.Key PlayersDerrick Henry, junior running backHenry, who stands at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, might be the most intimidating running back in the country. And given the fact that Nick Saban is currently acting like there's a five-way tie at the top of the depth chart at quarterback, he's going to need to act like it if Alabama is going to compete for an SEC title. Through two years at Alabama, Henry has rushed for 1,372 yards on just 208 attempts - for a whopping 6.6 yards per carry. Crimson Tide fans wish he'd get the ball more. While he'll get some help from teammate Kenyan Drake, he likely will in 2015.Marlon Humphrey, redshirt freshman cornerbackHumphrey, who didn't play a snap in his first year on campus, will start at cornerback, along with senior Cyrus Jones. You can expect opponents to test him early and often. That being said, Saban loves what he's seen out of the former five-star recruit season. Via the Montgomery Advertiser:
“(Humphrey’s) really worked hard in practice every day to improve himself. He’s been very, very competitive and we’ve been very, very pleased with where he is,” Saban said.
Alabama fans expected Humphrey to eventually be a star on defense. We'll see if it happens in his first year on the field.Richard Mullaney, senior wide receiverThis past January, former Oregon State wide receiver Richard Mullaney transferred to Alabama to play out his last year of eligibility. That's a good thing, because the Tide lacks experience at the position. Mullaney wasn't a star for the Beavers, but Alabama's other two starters - Ardarius Stewart and Robert Foster - haven't played many downs. Mullaney should help the team both on and off the field.
">August 31, 2015
Why They Can Win The National Title
It might actually be harder to list off reasons as to why Alabama can't win the national title. The Crimson Tide have arguably the nation's best coach, the country's best facilities, an incredible track record when it comes to sending talent to the NFL, and top recruiting classes every year. Since 2008, they've captured three national titles and never won less than 10 games in a season. They compete for a national championship every year. Few programs do that.
Alabama may not have its starting quarterback situation figured out, but Saban certainly has talent at the position. Jacob Coker, a senior who transferred in from Florida State a year ago, would be a fine option. So too would junior Alec Morris, or true freshman Blake Barnett. With Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake in the backfield, whoever does get the look will have plenty of help moving the ball.
Defensively, Alabama returns seven starters, and has a number of stars, including A'Shawn Robinson, Reggie Ragland and Cyrus Jones. The Crimson Tide should sport one of the best defenses in the country, again.
Will 2015 be the year that Alabama resumes its position atop the college football world? Don't be too surprised if it happens.
Last week No. 4 Baylor; up tomorrow: No. 2 TCU