AJ McCarron is coming off a standout performance in the National Championship Game.
By: Athlon Sports | 6/1/12, 6:10 AM EDT
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SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Nick Saban, 55-12 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Doug Nussmeier | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kirby Smart
AJ McCarron hopes to build on his brilliant BCS Championship Game. McCarron had a solid first season with a 66.8 completion percentage, 2,634 yards, 16 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Gone is offensive coordinator Jim McElwain, who is replaced by former Washington coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
The strength of the offense is the line. The Crimson Tide return four starters with a combined 95 career starts whose average size is 6'4", 315 pounds. Barrett Jones moves to center after previously playing tackle and guard. The only question on the line is left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio’s recovery from a knee injury.
The line will open holes for running back Eddie Lacy, who missed spring practice to recuperate from surgery for turf toe. As Trent Richardson’s backup, Lacy ran for 674 yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry in 2011. Freshman T.J. Yeldon and 246-pound Jalston Fowler offer versatility behind Lacy.
The receivers haven’t been the same since Julio Jones left, and now Alabama must replace four players who combined for nearly two-thirds of its receptions last year. Alabama plans to lean heavily on Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones, who have 36 catches for 576 yards combined in their careers. Norwood showed promise with a four-catch, 78-yard performance in the BCS Championship Game, including a spectacular leaping grab over LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu.
Can Alabama Repeat or Will it Revert Back to its 2010 Record?
Nick Saban defenses need a dominating nose guard in their 3-4 schemes, so replacing Josh Chapman is key. End Jesse Williams moved to nose guard in the spring, but it’s not a given he will stay there. Alabama is a little thin on players who can rush off the edge. No returning defensive lineman had more than one sack or three quarterback hurries in 2011.
The linebackers are young but extremely talented. Nico Johnson is Alabama’s leading returner tackler after making 47 in 2011. He’s one of only four returning starters on the entire defense. Sophomores Trey DePriest, Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson will see their roles expand.
No position will be under the gun quite like the secondary, where three talented starters are gone. Safety Robert Lester, who considered a jump to the NFL as well, has grabbed 10 interceptions in the past two seasons. Dee Milliner has 16 starts in the past two years at cornerback. Alabama signed two junior college transfers, Travell Dixon and Deion Belue, to potentially play significant snaps given the losses.
Trent Richardson, RB
In his only year as Alabama’s No. 1 back, Richardson finished with 1,679 yards and 21 rushing scores, while leading the Crimson Tide to their second national title in three seasons. As a backup, he recorded at least 700 yards in 2009 and 2010.
Barrett Jones, C Versatile offensive lineman and 2011 Outland Trophy winner switches positions again after bypassing NFL.
AJ McCarron, QB Will try to build off masterful performance in the BCS Championship Game against LSU.
Robert Lester, S Considered turning pro early but returns for senior year with 10 interceptions in past two seasons.
Nico Johnson, MLB The veteran middle linebacker will be counted on to set the tone for a defense that lost seven starters.
D.J. Fluker, T Massive 6'6", 335-pound tackle makes the running game and pass protection better by his presence.
|Sept. 8th||Western Kentucky|
|Sept. 15th||at Arkansas|
|Sept. 22nd||Florida Atlantic|
|Sept. 29th||Ole Miss|
|Oct. 13th||at Missouri|
|Oct. 20th||at Tennessee|
|Oct. 27th||Mississippi State|
|Nov. 3rd||at LSU|
|Nov. 10th||Texas A&M|
|Nov. 17th||Western Carolina|
Jeremy Shelley kicked five field goals in the BCS Championship Game, but he’s better suited for short kicks. The long kicker, Cade Foster, made only 2-of-9 on kicks of 40 yards or more, so Alabama signed Adam Griffith, one of the nation’s top high school kickers. Punter Cody Mandell needs to improve his 39.3-yard average. Alabama must replace dangerous returner Marquis Maze. Christion Jones may be the guy.
Two years ago, Alabama returned only nine starters from its 2009 national championship team and went 10–3. This time 12 starters are gone, but Saban believes he has a “completely different” team than 2010, one that carries a better attitude coming off a national title.
Saban stockpiles too much talent for a huge drop-off. Still, the odds are against Alabama joining Nebraska, whose 1994 and ’95 teams are the only ones in the past 56 years to repeat as consensus national champion.