Nick Saban’s bunch are primed to keep the BCS Trophy in Alabama for a third straight season.
By: Athlon Sports | 6/7/11, 1:00 AM EDT
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SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Nick Saban, 43–11 (4 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jim McElwain | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kirby Smart
The quarterback battle between AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims is expected to continue into fall camp and could include shared time in the opener against Kent State. McCarron has the edge in experience, having served as Greg McElroy’s backup the past two seasons. Sims redshirted last season but took equal snaps in the spring with the first-team offense.
Whoever wins the job will be helped by junior running back Trent Richardson, who is Alabama’s No. 1 threat on offense. Richardson played in the first nine games last fall before a knee injury suffered against LSU forced him to miss wins against Mississippi State and Georgia State. He returned for the final two games and finished with 112 carries for 700 yards and six touchdowns. Eddie Lacy, a sophomore, is the leading candidate to trade carries with Richardson. But senior Demetrius Goode will also contend for playing time. True freshman Dee Hart was expected to contend for snaps, but will miss 2011 after tearing an ACL.
Seniors Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks are the leading contenders to step up at wide receiver. Maze is Alabama’s top returning receiver with 38 catches for 557 yards and three touchdowns. Duron Carter, a junior college transfer from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and former Ohio State Buckeye, could also have an immediate impact.
Alabama’s offensive line returns four of five starters, including three-year starters William Vlachos and Barrett Jones. Alabama’s lone vacancy was at left tackle, where two-year starter James Carpenter needs to be replaced. Senior Alfred McCullough is a top candidate to fill the spot, though Jones also got a look at left tackle in the spring.
The Tide will go undefeated in 2011.
The defensive line is arguably the biggest question mark entering the season. The base 3-4 defense is expected to feature senior Josh Chapman at nose guard to start. The rest of the line is up in the air. A potential career-ending injury to Kerry Murphy, who started four games at end, won’t help matters.
A deep linebacking corps will be led by Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower. Upshaw finished the ’10 season playing the best football of his career, with five sacks in his final two games. Hightower shed the brace that protected his surgically repaired knee in time for Alabama’s 49–7 win against Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.
Senior Mark Barron is the leader of what should be one of the top secondaries in the nation. Barron spent the spring in a black non-contact jersey while recovering from a torn pectoral muscle. He is joined in the secondary by three other returning starters, free safety Robert Lester and cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Dee Milliner.
Trent Richardson, RB Has the tools to be one of the elite players in the nation as a junior.
Barrett Jones, OL Starting right guard last season, but took some snaps at left tackle in the spring.
Dont’a Hightower, LB Back to his ferocious form — look for Hightower to lead the defense through his words and his play.
|Sept. 3rd||Kent State|
|Sept. 10th||at Penn State|
|Sept. 17th||North Texas|
|Oct. 1st||at Florida|
|Oct. 15th||at Ole Miss|
|Nov. 12th||at Mississippi State|
|Nov. 19th||Georgia Southern|
|Nov. 26th||at Auburn|
Alabama rotated field goal kickers, with Jeremy Shelley taking most kicks within the 40-yard range and Cade Foster attempting the longer kicks. The coaches are expected to use a similar system again. Cody Mandell handled the punting duties, and ended the season with a 39.2-yard average. Jay Williams could challenge Mandell for the job in preseason camp.
Alabama is locked and loaded for another run at a national title. There are issues that need to be addressed — at quarterback, wide receiver and the defensive line — but talent is never at a shortage in Tuscaloosa.
The schedule sets up nicely as well. Bama has to go to Florida but doesn’t play South Carolina or Georgia and hosts LSU and Arkansas, its two biggest challengers in the West.