That honor goes to Clemson. But it seems like it's been since the early 2000s that the Crimson Tide haven't been at the top of the rankings before the games even put the first toe to leather. But of course, Tide fans have no reason to run to their backyard distilleries and drink their pain away. Bama is Athlon Sports' No. 2 team. So put your houndstooth hats back on your boys are still projected to make it back to the national title game.
Since the College Football Playoff was introduced in 2014, the Red Elephants have missed it just once, and that was last year. Nick Saban has won five national titles in the past 11 years, so the proof of the pudding is in the fact that these guys are always within sniffing distance of ordering another round of championship rings. Keep in mind, the Tide fans think winning the SEC title is "cute."
Will the Tide rise back up and find their way back to the playoff? Let's dive in...
Three Reasons Why Alabama Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2020
1. The NFLers who returned to campus
The Crimson Tide's hopes got a significant shot in the arm when three seniors decided to put off turning pro for another chance at winning the national title. RB Najee Harris, WR Devonta Smith and OT Alex Leatherwood all could've been selected in the NFL draft in late April but are back in uniform for one more go-round. And with quarterback Mac Jones (or true freshman Bryce Young) having senior difference-makers like these guys in the huddle it is going to once again be a lot of stress to scoreboard light bulbs in every game. And keep in mind, Jones is no spring chicken. He completed nearly 70 percent of his pass attempts last season, relieving and then taking over for an injured Tua Tagovailoa, finishing 1,503 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air.
2. The return of Dylan Moses
The Tide's All-American linebacker injured his knee in the preseason and never did see the field at all last year. Well, Moses has returned from the mountaintop and with sophomores Shane Lee and Christian Harris also back after being thrown into the fire as freshmen last year, this gives the Tide a really solid linebacking corps that should be able to plug the holes that seemed to appear in a number of games a year ago. On top of that, the defensive M.A.S.H. unit from last year also included down linemen LaBryan Ray (who missed 10 games) and DJ Dale (missed four games), who will be forces in the trenches now that they're healthy.
3. Stability in the coaching staff
For the first time in years, there was no offseason turnover in the two coordinator positions. That makes a big difference, especially when it comes to making Jones more comfortable with the offense that he is used to running. Steve Sarkisian, the OC, knows the flexibility and limitations he'll have with Jones. On the defensive side, Pete Golding certainly has his work cut out for him after, but more that in a bit.
Three Reasons Why Alabama Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2020
1. The defense that looked very offensive
Did you get a load of that defense last year? Alabama kept eight opponents to 16 points or less, but when the Crimson Tide went up against the big boys... egad. Against the four best offenses Alabama faced (Ole Miss, Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn), the defense surrendered 153 points. Their run defense alone was just seventh in the SEC. And now, only five starters are back from that unit, only (DJ Dale) from the defensive line.
2. An inexperienced secondary
Give the Tide some credit, they finished 11th nationally in pass defense a year ago, giving up an average of 187.2 yards per game. But fast-forward to this fall, and things don't look so rosy. Only cornerback Patrick Surtain II remains from last year's defensive backfield. The remaining players on the two-deep are young and inexperienced and did not have the spring session to get some reps. This unit is very likely to give up some really big plays this season, especially early on. Facing talented quarterbacks like Jamie Newman, K.J. Costello, Kellen Mond, and Bo Nix could leave Golding shaking in his shoes.
3. Every dynasty comes to an end
All great things must end, right? Maybe we're starting to see that in the Crimson Tide now. Look, teams are starting to copy the Clemson blueprint and beat these guys. We saw that with LSU and Auburn last year. And while LSU might fall a little bit from their title perch, just about everyone else in the SEC West is on the rise. Nick Saban is now 68 years old. How much fire can he have left in him to keep doing this form of shout therapy game after game, week after week and year after year? Sure, their recruiting has still been top-notch, but is the intensity to see nothing but perfection from his charges still there?
Alabama doesn't like being average. As I mentioned above, last year was the only time the Tide has missed out on the four-team playoff since that format was introduced in 2014. They took a pair of painful losses to LSU and to Auburn last season, giving up 46 and 48 points respectively in those two games. They will be out for Tiger blood against those two big rivals this time around because nobody is better at revenge games than Nick Saban.
And yes the Tide weren't typically stingy on defense last year. But keep in mind, they were mired by the injury bug and still ranked 13th in the country in scoring (18.6 ppg) and 20th in total (324.5 ypg) defense. Most coaches would get a raise, a corner office, and a new car for those numbers.
The schedule lays out pretty well for the Crimson Tide as they'll play at home in their big showdowns with Georgia, Texas A&M and Auburn. Granted, they must go to Death Valley to face LSU, but ole Saint Nick has proven he can win in the Tigers' den more than anybody. Is his fire really starting to dim? Pfft, no.
This team gets back to the College Football Playoff this year. And there will be hell to pay.
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.