COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Nick Saban, 68-13 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Doug Nussmeier | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kirby Smart
The Crimson Tide is Athlon's pick to win the 2013 national title.
The AJ McCarron who quarterbacked Alabama to a second consecutive national championship in 2012 played with better restraint and an enhanced trust to do more in a Crimson Tide offense that aired it out with more frequency and less predictability. He heads an Alabama attack that is loaded with playmakers but features a bit of uncertainty on the offensive line.
At running back, it all starts with sophomore T.J. Yeldon, who has shown a veteran’s savvy when surveying the field and a natural ability to catch passes out of the backfield. Finding the No. 2 and 3 behind him could be an August project.
The Crimson Tide need to replace three starters on the offensive line. Sophomore Ryan Kelly will likely take command at center, but the competition at left guard and right tackle is far from over. Junior Arie Kouandjio, the older brother of starting left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, is among the frontrunners at left guard. Junior Austin Shepherd shares a similar distinction in the battle to replace D.J. Fluker and line up next to returning right guard Anthony Steen.
Amari Cooper, who broke most of Julio Jones’ freshman records last season, leads a receiving corps that returns every significant player from 2012 to go along with three players — Kenny Bell, DeAndrew White and Chris Black — returning from significant injuries.
The losses of nose guard Jesse Williams and defensive ends Damion Square and Quinton Dial might seem like a big-time blow, but there shouldn’t be much of a drop-off if players such as Jeoffrey Pagan, Brandon Ivory and LaMichael Fanning do what their predecessors did and step up their game now that their time has arrived. Senior Ed Stinson is the “old man” of a group that will hope to establish a more consistent pass rush in 2013.
C.J. Mosley passed on the NFL and returns to lead a linebacking corps that loses just one significant contributor (Nico Johnson) from 2012. Replacing Johnson might just mean more snaps for Mosley, who earned team MVP honors in 2012 despite starting just 10 games. Junior Adrian Hubbard is the biggest threat to bring down the quarterback.
Alabama’s secondary will be a mix of reliable veterans and promising youngsters. Cornerback Deion Belue and safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri provide the veteran experience, while sophomores Geno Smith and Landon Collins look to fill the roles vacated by cornerback Dee Milliner and safety Robert Lester.
AJ McCarron, QB – Incredibly efficient, he didn’t throw his first interception of 2012 until the 10th game of the season; threw for 2,933 yards and 30 TDs.
C.J. Mosley, LB – A finalist for the Butkus Award in 2012, he led Alabama with 107 tackles — 48 more than anyone else on the team.
T.J. Yeldon, RB – Split carries almost evenly with Eddie Lacy as a freshman en route to 1,239 yards of offense and a combined 13 touchdowns.
Cyrus Kouandjio, LT – Already drawing the interest of NFL scouts, he started all 14 games as a sophomore and is poised to do the same on a rebuilt offensive line.
Adrian Hubbard, LB – Gave the NFL some serious thought after leading the Crimson Tide with 11 tackles for a loss and seven sacks.
It remains to be seen whether Alabama will continue to go with a two-man kicking tandem now that Jeremy Shelley is gone. Cade Foster has handled kickoffs and long field goal attempts for the past few years, and he showed great improvement in both during his junior season. Redshirt freshman Adam Griffith came to Alabama in 2012 as one of the nation’s top-rated kickers, but he’s yet to attempt a meaningful kick. Punter Cody Mandell proved to be one of the SEC’s most reliable legs in 2012.
As historic and rare as it would be, the Crimson Tide will certainly be among the favorites to win it all in 2013 and deliver its fourth BCS National Championship in five years. Though questions remain on the offensive line, Alabama should have enough firepower at the skill positions to expect a more prolific attack in 2013. The defense, which features a few new faces sprinkled throughout the unit, should still be one of the best in the nation. Ultimately, if the Crimson Tide can get past Texas A&M on Sept. 14, the schedule sets up to be smooth sailing all the way to the SEC Championship Game and, just maybe, the BCS title game.