The postseason college football format might be new, but the results for Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide remain the same. Alabama snagged its first national championship of the College Football Playoff era Monday night, defeating No. 1 Clemson 45-40 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
Saban’s standing as college football’s preeminent coach becomes even more solidified as the win earned him his fifth national title overall, and his fourth with the Crimson Tide. As long as he lingers in Tuscaloosa, it’s safe to say that Alabama will remain a title contender. Can the Tide, however, withstand yet another mass exodus of talent and punch a ticket to an encore national championship performance in 2016?
Let’s take a look at the key returnees, departures and questions facing the team next season:
RB Bo Scarbrough
WR Calvin Ridley
WR ArDarius Stewart
TE O.J. Howard (he could leave early for NFL)
LT Cam Robinson
LG Ross Pierschbacher
QB Jake Coker
RB Derrick Henry
RB Kenyan Drake
WR Richard Mullaney
C Ryan Kelly
DE Da’Shawn Hand
DE Dalvin Tomlinson
LB Reuben Foster (he could leave early)
LB Tim Williams (he could leave early)
CB Minkah Fitzpatrick
CB Marlon Humphrey
DT A’Shawn Robinson
DE Jonathan Allen
DE Jarran Reed
LB Reggie Ragland
LB Reuben Foster
CB Cyrus Jones
S Geno Matias-Smith
Three Offseason Storylines to Watch
1. Life without Derrick Henry
The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner leaves Tuscaloosa as the SEC’s and Crimson Tide’s all-time leading rusher. Alabama is hardly unfamiliar with this predicament. The Tide have been able to successfully insert replacements for each of its outgoing backs throughout the Saban era. But losing Henry will have an impact. Bo Scarbrough is the likely recipient to carry his baton. Scarbrough’s hulking size (6-2, 240) quickly draw comparisons to his predecessor. Scarbrough carried 18 times for 104 yards and a touchdown this season. He also saw action in Alabama’s Cotton Bowl victory over Michigan State where he rushed for 17 yards on three attempts. Behind Scarbrough are rising sophomore and former five-star recruit Damien Harris, and former four-star recruit Desherrius Flowers. Flowers rejoined Alabama this month after being ruled ineligible in 2015.
2. New Defensive Coordinator Jeremy Pruitt
For the first time in nine seasons, a new defensive coordinator will join the Crimson Tide coaching staff as Kirby Smart has departed for Georgia. The move paves the way for Pruitt to return to Tuscaloosa after stints at Georgia and Florida State. Although Saban’s defensive wizardry will continue to command the respect of opposing coaches, one can’t help but wonder just how much the loss of college football’s highest-paid coordinator will impact the Tide. Pruitt should have no problem adjusting to the pressure cooker that is Alabama football, as he guided the Seminoles’ defense to the 2014 BCS National Championship in his first year as Florida State’s defensive coordinator. Pruitt’s also a fierce recruiter who will make an immediate impact on the recruiting trail.
3. Who Emerges as Alabama’s Long-term Quarterback?
For all of Alabama’s accomplishments during its current run, the quarterback position is one spot that has largely underwhelmed. That should change. There are several highly regarded signal-callers on the Tide’s roster that could transform Alabama’s reputation for producing NFL-talent quarterbacks. Rising redshirt junior Cooper Bateman earned the first start of his career in Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss. He went on to complete 37 passes for 291 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in 2015. Bateman will compete with youngsters David Cornwell and Blake Barnett for the starting job next season. Barnett, a Southern California native, is the early favorite to push Bateman for the starting job next season.
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)