CFN Preview 2013 - Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon
Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon
Posted Jul 15, 2013 2013 Preview - Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama Crimson Tide

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Nick Saban
7th year: 67-12
18th year overall: 158-55-1
Ten Best Alabama Players
1. OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Jr.
2. LB C.J. Mosley, Sr.
3. RB T.J. Yeldon, Soph.
4. QB AJ McCarron, Sr.
5. LB Trey DePriest, Soph.
6. OG Anthony Steen, Sr.
7. LB Adrian Hubbard, Jr.
8. WR Amari Cooper, Soph.
9. S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Jr.
10. DE Ed Stinson, Sr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 Virginia Tech (in Atlanta)
9/14 at Texas A&M
9/21 Colorado State
9/28 Ole Miss
10/5 Georgia State
10/12 at Kentucky
10/19 Arkansas
10/26 Tennessee
11/9 LSU
11/16 at Mississippi State
11/23 Chattanooga
11/30 at Auburn
This really isn't that difficult. If you have the best players, usually, you're going to win and win big. But to come up with this over the past five seasons is something truly special.

It's not just that Nick Saban is bringing in really good recruits; it's that he's bringing in the best of the best recruits, and lots of them. That's why there could be such a massive turnover from the No. 1 defense in 2011 and still come up with the No. 1 defense in 2012. It's why a few true freshmen could play such integral roles on last year's offense, and it's why Alabama is going into this season as the favorite to make it a fourth national title in five years to add to what's already the greatest run in the history of college football.

Nebraska won three national championships from 1994 to 1997, but it split the last one with Michigan. While the Huskers didn't lose a game during those three title-winning years, they also didn't have to deal with anything as nasty as an SEC championship game.

Notre Dame won three championships from 1946 to 1949, but it didn't have to play in a bowl in any of those three seasons, only played 28 games total, and had a little thing called World War II that took young men across America off the playing field.

Minnesota won three straight from 1934 to 1936, and Yale sort of won a bazillion in a row in the 1800s, but come on. Considering the BCS era, the parity across the board, the brutal new world of the SEC and the nightmare of dealing with life in the West, yeah, what Alabama has done so far is the most impressive five year run in the game's long history – don't forget about how close the 2008 team was to playing for the national title and how solid the team was in 2010.

Again, having the best team every year helps.

Just how much next-level, five-star skill has Saban amassed over the years? In the 2013 class alone, Alabama brought in six five-star talents according to Scout including the No. 1 defensive tackle (A'Shawn Robinson), No. 1 middle linebacker (Reuben Foster), No. 1 tight end (O.J. Howard) and six other players ranked in the top five in their respective positions. The 2012 class welcomed in three five-star guys, and that didn't include four-star running back T.J. Yeldon or receiver Amari Cooper. The best offensive tackle (Cyrus Kouandjio), middle linebacker (Trey DePriest) and safety (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix) and No. 2 center (Ryan Kelly) came from the 2011 class, and 2010 brought in a whopping 16 prospects, including New York Jet corner Dee Milliner, ranked four stars or higher.

So that's why it's just assumed that all the pieces will be filled in where needed. Milliner is off to the NFL, so some elite talent needs to step up in his place at corner. Three starters are gone off the incredible offensive line, so more pro prospects are rising up to join the fun this season. Two starters are gone from the defense front three, and more 290-to-310 pounders are rolling out to stuff things up on the inside.

But there are potential holes at corner and backup quarterback, even for a team with so much skill. Remember, as good as the Tide was last year, it needed minor miracle to beat LSU, lost to Texas A&M, and wouldn't have played for the national title had Oregon slipped past Stanford or if Ohio State was eligible.

With the players, the coaching and a relatively lighter schedule, no one is going to pick against Alabama to do anything less than get back to the SEC title game – watch out for Georgia from the East in the national title chase. The Tide machine will just keep on rolling, and it shows no signs of stopping.

What to watch for on offense: How quickly can the offensive line reload? It's not that Ryan Kelly can't replace Barrett Jones at center talent-wise, but can he become anywhere near the same sort of leader? Can Arie Kouandjio stay healthy and shine at guard next to his younger brother, Cyrus? Is Austin Shepherd ready to shine at right tackle, or will transfer Leon Brown try to take over for D.J. Fluker? There's a ton of talent up front, helped by Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle and Anthony Steen at right guard, but there's an extremely fine line between being great and national title special. Remember, last year's line, for all the accolades and honors, wore down a bit before kicking it in late, and it wasn't exactly a consistent rock in pass protection. Even so, that line had five NFL starters on it. This one will be good, but it might take a step back.

What to watch for on defense: Corner, corner, corner. The linebacking corps is the best in America, the safeties are terrific, and the front three will be the typical Alabama front three. However, as promising as John Fulton, Deion Blue, Geno Smith and Bradley Sylve are, there's no Dee Milliner-like talent on the outside to lock down No. 1 SEC receivers. Don't weep too much for the Tide secondary, everything will be fine, but considering the loss to Texas A&M and the near misses against Georgia and LSU came when the quarterbacks got hot on the corners, even with Milliner, this could be the Achilles heel.

The team will be far better if … the offense scores more than 28 points. Two years ago, the "team will be far better if" section set the bar at scoring 30 points, winning 24 straight and going 28-1 under Nick Saban when hitting the mark. After last year, Tide was a staggering 38-1 – with the only loss a 41-34 shootout to LSU in 2007 – when scoring 28 points or more, and now the numbers are even more ridiculous. In the 79-game Saban era, Alabama is a whopping 50-1 when scoring 28 or more. Defensively, considering the 29-24 loss to Texas A&M last year, the last time the Tide gave up more than 28 points and won was a 41-30 victory over Georgia in early 2008.

The schedule: Saban doesn't let his team take any game lightly, but if the Tide is 2-0, it's going to take something crazy to not go 12-0 – or at least 8-0 before getting LSU. The season kicks off with a bang going to Atlanta to deal with a Virginia Tech team looking to rebound from a mediocre 2012, and then comes the revenge date against Texas A&M in College Station. Fortunately, there's a week off before dealing with Johnny Football, and then the sailing is relatively smooth the rest of the way.

There's no Florida from the East. There's no Georgia or South Carolina, either. Instead, it's Kentucky and Tennessee as part of a run of six home games in the next seven after facing A&M. The lone road game is at UK with Colorado State, Ole Miss and Georgia State before and Arkansas and Tennessee after. And then comes the week off and then comes the build up for LSU. Closing out with two road games in the final three weeks would normally be tough, and it still might be if Mississippi State and Auburn get their acts together and turn things back around. It's okay to already start rolling your eyes at how Saban will play up how Chattanooga has to be taken seriously the week before the Iron Bowl.

Best offensive player: Junior OT Cyrus Kouandjio. AJ McCarron and T.J. Yeldon might be the Heisman-caliber stars, and Amari Cooper is growing into one of the nation's best receivers, but it's Kouandjio who has the NFL scouts drooling. Guard Chance Warmack went with the tenth overall pick to Tennessee, tackle D.J. Fluker went one pick later to San Diego, and center Barrett Jones went in the fourth round to St. Louis. Kouandjio would've gone ahead of all of them in this year's draft and might have been taken No. 1 overall ahead of Central Michigan's Eric Fisher. He has the almost perfect combination of size, athleticism and balance, and it's not a bad thing that there's still room for improvement. As good as he already is, he has to be more consistent and has to flash a nasty streak on a regular basis, but if he progresses just a wee bit more, the sky's the limit.

Best defensive player: Senior LB C.J. Mosley. However, there's absolutely no argument if you want to make a case for pass rushing outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard, or big-hitting missile Trey DePriest, or rising safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. It also wouldn't be totally out of line to suggest that new recruit defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson or linebacker Reuben Foster could be the most talented defenders on the roster. However, it's Mosley who's the tone-setter on the weakside with excellent range, toughness against the run, and a knack for always being around the ball at the right time. He's the best of a loaded linebacking corps that should once again dominate.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Blake Sims. The cornerbacks have to come up big when tested, and there might be some pressure on a few of the offensive linemen to be up to championship snuff, but the No. 1 question mark going into the season is backup quarterback. AJ McCarron has been durable, but with Phillip Sims never panning out before he transferred, freshman Cooper Bateman not ready for SEC primetime and Alec Morris and the rest of the options untested, the season could come down to Sims if disaster strikes. The 6-0, 202-pound junior is a good enough athlete to be moved around to get him on the field in a variety of ways, but now he has to be focused on what might happen if it's his team to run.

The season will be a success if … Alabama wins a fourth national title in five seasons. An SEC championship will be very, very empty if there isn't confetti falling on Nick Saban's head in Pasadena. At this point, with this much talent, win a national title or the season is a failure.

Key game: Nov. 9 vs. LSU. The SEC opener at Texas A&M will be the one the world is focused on, but the Alabama coaching staff is using the entire offseason and will take the two weeks of prep time to figure out how to stop ol' John Heisman. Bad, bad things happen when Saban and his boys are laser-focused on one team and one task – ask Notre Dame. The real killer could be LSU, who should have the kinks well worked out by November 9th. The Tigers beat the Tide two years ago in Tuscaloosa, and they had them beaten last year in Baton Rouge before AJ McCarron became Tom Brady in the final seconds. This will be yet another war that should decide the West, the SEC, and possibly the national title.

2012 Fun Stats:
- 1st Half Scoring: Alabama 358 – Opponents 61
- Rushing Yards Per Game: Alabama 227.5 – Opponents 76.4
- Field Goals: Alabama 15-of-20 – Opponents 5-of-12
- 2013 Alabama Preview | 2013 Alabama Offense
- 2013 Alabama Defense | 2013 Alabama Depth Chart