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Alabama Football: 2022 Crimson Tide Season Preview and Prediction

Bryce Young, Alabama Crimson Tide Football

Bryce Young and the Crimson Tide are ranked No. 1 in Athlon Sports' Top 25 for the 2022 college football season

Alabama's status as a preseason favorite to make the College Football Playoff isn't exactly a novel concept. It's where Nick Saban's teams have lived since the CFP's inception in 2014. Only once in that time have the Crimson Tide not made the playoff. It should surprise precisely no one that that's exactly where they're favored to land again this season.

Alabama returns arguably the top two players in college football in quarterback Bryce Young and linebacker Will Anderson Jr. Young won the Heisman Trophy in his first season as a starter, and Anderson took home an armful of defensive awards and finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting. They are the rock stars and leaders of the nation's best team.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2022

Previewing Alabama's Offense for 2022

With Young back under center, much will be expected out of this unit. However, this year's edition may lean a little more on the run game thanks to a stable full of excellent running backs and a relatively inexperienced wide receiver corps.

Transfer running back Jahmyr Gibbs is set to take the SEC by storm after playing in relative obscurity at Georgia Tech. He's got talent in abundance, and his speed fits right in with offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien's offense. Gibbs averaged 5.2 yards per carry in his two-year career for the Yellow Jackets and was a threat in the passing game, catching 60 passes with five touchdowns. Jase McClellan and Roydell Williams both return from knee injuries and add depth to the position.

Wideout Jermaine Burton beat Alabama for the national championship in his last game for Georgia and then transferred to UA. No doubt, the opportunity to play with Young was a key reason. Burton wasn't featured at Georgia, but his skill set is comparable to that of John Metchie III, who caught 96 passes for the Tide in 2021.

Much is dependent on a rebuilt offensive line that loses first-round left tackle Evan Neal. The group is full of big, athletic road graders, so getting push shouldn't be as much of an issue as it was a season ago, when short-yardage situations were anything but a given. Three starters return, all on the interior of the line. It's the tackle spots that will be watched most closely.

What's left to say about Young that hasn't already been written or said? He was a playmaker and the reason Alabama won its 29th SEC championship last season. Even without the Tide's top two receivers, he helped UA to a fourth-quarter lead in the national championship game. He'll be expected to produce on a similar level this year even without the proven targets at wide receiver.

Previewing Alabama's Defense for 2022

On defense, it all starts with Anderson, who put up a historically great season in 2021. His 17.5 sacks as the primary center of attention of opposing offenses stood out, but his 34.5 tackles for a loss made his season truly remarkable. That might be hard to top, but one thing is sure: He's nearly impossible to block one-on-one.

His bookend is back this season. Dallas Turner had 8.5 sacks of his own, and the pair proved too tough for the Alabama offensive line to handle during the spring.

Saban says that the coaching staff is working on ways to get Chris Braswell on the field with them at the same time. That would put the three best pass rushers on the field together and could be the stuff of nightmares for offenses trying to protect their quarterbacks.

The defensive line doesn't have the kind of brand-name players that the edge rushers boast, but the rotation is expected to be deep, which should help keep the unit fresh in games and throughout the season.

Henry To'oTo'o is back for his fourth year as a starter — two with Tennessee and now two with Alabama. He's a tough and instinctive 'backer who played through pain last season. He'll have a new running mate beside him this year after Christian Harris opted for the NFL. Jaylen Moody, the most experienced candidate, had a solid spring and is in good position to earn the starting nod. Deontae Lawson is the other candidate.

Jordan Battle is the most experienced player in the secondary and a great athlete. He compiled 85 tackles and three interceptions at safety last season. He's the leader in the back end of the defense.

There's a three-man competition for the two cornerback spots. Kool-Aid McKinstry seems a lock at one of the spots, leaving Khyree Jackson and LSU transfer Eli Ricks battling for the second spot. Ricks was injured last season and subsequently lost weight. He's fought to add the weight back and learn the defense.

Brian Branch really came into his own late last season, and that carried over into an excellent spring. The Star defensive back is set for an excellent junior season.

Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2022

Previewing Alabama's Specialists for 2022

Placekicker Will Reichard has had two solid seasons in an area that has been known to give Alabama some trouble. He made 79 percent of his attempts last season. Punter James Burnip averaged 39.1 yards on 48 punts and dropped 15 inside the 20. The Tide will have to replace Jameson Williams on returns, but Saban likes the speedy options he has on hand.

Final Analysis

Bad sign for college football: Saban really likes this team, calling it a "fun group to coach." This group seems to have the intangibles that other great Saban teams have boasted.

"This team's been really good," he says. "This team doesn't have any complainers; guys just do what they're coached to do. They work hard. We don't have a lot of negative guys on this team, and we have some real positive leadership, which I think is always important. And hopefully we can build on that, and that will be something that's an asset to this team."

National Ranking: 1

Podcast: Top 25 Megacast! Complete Top 25 Breakdown, Rankings and Predictions Explained