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Alabama Football: 2018 Crimson Tide Preview and Prediction

Nick Saban, Alabama Football

Nick Saban, Alabama Football

Forget about the fact that Alabama had 12 players taken in the 2018 NFL Draft; it's business as usual down in Tuscaloosa for Nick Saban's Crimson Tide. After all, Alabama is one of a select few teams that can be considered a favorite to get into the College Football Playoff despite dealing with the seemingly daunting task of replacing 11 starters. The quarterback competition may get most of the headlines but the reality is that this offense is loaded at every position. The defense is nowhere near as set, but talent is not the issue. Regardless of the overall lack of experience on that side of the ball, the expectations remain the same. The Crimson Tide are the favorite in the SEC and have as good a shot of any team in the nation of winning it all (again).

Previewing Alabama Football's Offense for 2018

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It's easy to overlook the rest of the Alabama offense in light of the current quarterback competition between two players who've already proven themselves. Jalen Hurts vs. Tua Tagovailoa is the battle that overshadows the rest of the offense this offseason.

This side of the ball worries Nick Saban much less than the defense given that many key components of the title-winning 2017 offense return. Four of the five offensive linemen and each of the tight ends are back for 2018. Damien Harris is going for a rare third straight 1,000-yard season as the top returning rusher. Only Bo Scarbrough departed from a loaded backfield that welcomes back Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson.

Calvin Ridley's 63 catches represented 30.9 percent of the 2017 team total; the next-best wideout had 14. That leaves a lot of production to fill with Jerry Jeudy the next in line to follow fellow South Florida products Amari Cooper and Ridley. Jeudy's 14 catches and 264 yards offered a glimpse into his explosiveness. It's also hard to forget DeVonta Smith after his game-winning catch against Georgia in the title game. Tight ends Irv Smith Jr. and Hale Hentges also figure to be a bigger part of the passing game this fall.

Previewing Alabama Football's Defense for 2018

There are major holes to fill on all three levels. The secondary presents the biggest challenge, as both cornerbacks and the top two safeties are gone. Deionte Thompson, starter in the CFB Playoff games because of Hootie Jones' injury, is the most experienced defensive back on the roster. Two new cornerbacks - Saivion Smith, a former LSU Tiger, and five-star freshman Patrick Surtain Jr. - will play right away.

It always starts up front with this defense, and Alabama welcomes back a few key pieces on the defensive line. Raekwon Davis and Isaiah Buggs became starters last season at end. They will be crucial given the early exit of nose tackle Da'Ron Payne, who set the tone and blew up the middle of offensive lines, most noticeably in the postseason. In the spring, Alabama tried a few options in the middle, including Johnny Dwight, Phidarian Mathis and Quinnen Williams, while signing another junior college nose tackle in Tevita Musika.

Outside linebackers should be the strength of the defense with Terrell Lewis, Christian Miller and Anfernee Jennings healthy after an injury-marred 2017. The issue is depth in the middle. There's little experience behind starters Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses - both of whom missed games with injuries last year.

Previewing Alabama Football's Specialists for 2018

Alabama must replace placekicker Andy Pappanastos and Ray Guy finalist punter JK Scott. Kicker Joseph Bulovas redshirted last year and worked on his consistency. Freshman Skyler DeLong was one of the top punters in the nation as a high school senior last year.

Final Analysis

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Alabama

There was a different feel to Alabama's most recent national title. For one thing, the Tide had to overcome a bewildering rash of injuries and a November loss to Auburn. There also were the emotional swings of the title game, topped off by the iconic second-and-26 walk-off winner.

The end result was the same, though - a fifth national title in the past nine seasons - and the expectations remain, thanks to many of the players who were involved in the crucial moments of that wild night in Atlanta. Alabama will begin the season ranked No. 1 in the nation. And there's a good chance the Tide will end the season in that spot as well.