The Alabama Crimson Tide head into 2017 after another successful season, finishing 2016 with a 14-1, 8-0 record that included an SEC Championship and a victory in the College Football Playoff’s Peach Bowl semifinal. Even with a loss in the national title game to Clemson, the Saban Train continues to roll, seemingly unscathed, into this year’s campaign.
2016: 14-1, 8-0 SEC (SEC Champions, Peach Bowl Victory)
2017 Recruiting: #1 class nationally, according to 24/7 (7th straight #1 class)
Chaos defined Alabama’s early offseason, as the Crimson Tide played a game of musical chairs regarding their offensive coordinator position. Lane Kiffin took the head coaching vacancy at Florida Atlantic and was replaced by his USC head coaching successor, Steve Sarkisian, who then departed for the Atlanta Falcons. Enter Brian Daboll, who previously was in charge of tight ends for the New England Patriots. Daboll hasn't coached in the college ranks since 1999, when he was a graduate assistant at Michigan State under Nick Saban.
Daboll inherits an offense that racked up the most total yards in the SEC a year ago. They return Jalen Hurts at quarterback, whose freshman campaign produced 2,780 yards through the air from 240 completions, 23 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He is also a lethal threat on the ground, rushing for 954 yards from 191 carries and leading the team with 13 touchdowns. Hurts is Alabama’s first returning starter at quarterback since AJ McCarron in 2013.
Nick Saban’s offensive MO has always been the running back position, of which the Crimson Tide has no shortage. They return both Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough, who split carries in 2016. Harris led the team with 1,037 yards a year ago, and Scarborough compiled 11 touchdowns. Add Jalen Hurts to the list of rushers, in addition to Joshua Jacobs and incoming 5-star Najee Harris, and you've got one of the best backfields Alabama has possessed under Nick Saban.
Alabama has also produced some of the nation’s best wide receivers over the past decade. The Tide lose a solid pack of receiving threats this year — ArDarius Stewart, Gehrig Dieter, and tight end OJ Howard — but Calvin Ridley returns, who caught 72 passes for 769 yards and 7 touchdowns a year ago. Outside of Ridley, however, the Tide’s corps is lacking. Their second most productive returning receiver from 2016 is Cam Sims, who caught just 14 passes for 152 yards and zero touchdowns. Alabama brought in a flock of talented receivers in this year’s recruiting class (four recruits with at least 4 stars, to be exact), so some of the younger deep threats could find some playing time this season. In addition, running backs Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs found action at receiver a year ago, so they could play a role in Alabama’s receiving corps in 2017.
It’s always a guarantee that Alabama will have an insane defense, so I’ll keep this short. Jeremy Pruitt enters his 2nd year in charge of the Tide’s defense, taking over in 2016 when Kirby Smart departed for Georgia. The biggest question mark for Bama on defense is the linebacker position. They lose Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson, and Tim Williams, who combined for 207 tackles and 22.5 sacks in 2016. In addition, another one of Alabama’s superior defensive threats is not returning, defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. They're going to need some guys to step up in those positions, but knowing Nick Saban and Jeremy Pruitt’s defensive background, there shouldn't be much trouble.
Honestly, writing out a preview for an Alabama football team is kind of pointless. No matter who they lose, the Crimson Tide will plug in a player that is just as good, if not better, than the previous incarnation. Nick Saban is The Terminator, and the SEC is forced to experience his wrath, year in and year out. The Tide will be tested early with a major national title contender, Florida State, but if they can get past the Noles, then they should be booking hotel rooms for the College Football Playoff.
vs. Florida State (Atlanta, GA) - W (1-0, 0-0)
vs. Fresno State - W (2-0, 0-0)
vs. Colorado State - W (3-0, 0-0)
at Vanderbilt - W (4-0, 1-0)
vs. Ole Miss - W (5-0, 2-0)
at Texas A&M - W (6-0, 3-0)
vs. Arkansas - W (7-0, 4-0)
vs. Tennessee - W (8-0, 5-0)
vs. LSU - W (9-0, 6-0)
at Mississippi State - W (10-0, 7-0)
vs. Mercer - W (11-0, 7-0)
at Auburn - W (12-0, 8-0)
Prediction: 12-0 (8-0 SEC), SEC Champions