Time to kick off the top 25 previews, and we kick it off with the defending National Champions Alabama. For these previews, we will take a look at who is departing, who is returning, and major questions facing each team. Let’s jump right in!
Quarterback: Mac Jones is heading to the draft after one of the best statistical years in college football history. While that might sound like a major loss, the Tide should still be in a good position. Bryce Young was a five star QB out of California who competed with Jones for the job and inevitably lost. It is time for Young to step into the role and continue the trend of successful Alabama QBs. While the Tide do lose a lot of play-makers on offense, Nick Saban has recruited well enough to keep plenty of talent waiting in the wings.
Running Back: Najee Harris is off to the NFL and looks like Derrick Henry but as Alabama typically does, they have recruited this position incredibly well. Brian Robinson Jr should be the first in line to take snaps but he will be pushed for touches behind him. Trey Sanders has been injured, but when healthy he can take the role of lead tailback. Sanders is a former five star RB. Jase McClellan was a four star running back in the class of 2020 who could look to make splash. Saban also signed five star running back Camar Wheaton in the most recent class. The Crimson Tide have plenty of talent at running back to replace Harris. The question is who works their way to the top.
Wide Receiver: For most teams, losing a Heisman Trophy winner would seriously hurt their offense, but this is Alabama. The Tide also lose Jaylen Waddle. Good news for Saban is his second leading receiver, John Metchie III, returns and should be the number one target. Slade Bolden who scored in the National Title game also returns to give Bryce Young another viable option. After Bolden and Metchie, the rest are relatively unproven. Alabama’s next leading receivers that are returning are Xavier Williams who only had three catches all season and Javon Baker who only had two.
Tight End: While wide receiver might be a question mark, tight end is not. Jahleel Billingsley returns after a productive season. He was the leading tight end with 287 yards and three touchdowns. Miller Forristall departs after being the second tight end but Major Tennison saw playing time and should step into that role nicely.
Offensive Line: Alabama loses three key starters on the line with Landon Dickerson, guard Deonte Brown and tackle Alex Leatherwood all entering the draft. The good news for Alabama is they do return experience on the line that should help with the transition of a few new starters. Chris Owens announced he will use his free year of eligibility to come back to Alabama. He started in place of Dickerson in the playoffs. Emil Ekiyor and Evan Neal both return as well giving Bama at least a center, guard, and tackle. Which side of the line those guys play are still up in the air. Overall, the offensive line should be solid once again, but do not be surprised if it takes a slight step back, as it was the best offensive line in football last year. Top 10 is still pretty good.
Defensive Line: As with most years, Alabama should have another formidable defensive line. As of when I am writing this, we do not have a decision on Labryan Ray. Should he leave, guys such as Justin Eboigbe and Byron Young will step up which should not be an issue as they both have playing experience. DJ Dale and Tim Smith should anchor down the middle of the line. On the other end, there are a plethora of guys who could step in such as Phidarian Mathis, Jamil Burroughs, and Jah-Marien Latham.
Linebackers: Alabama should return three of their four starting linebackers with Christopher Allen expected to return. Christian Harris and Will Anderson are both expected to return as well. Anderson had 7.0 sacks last year while Harris led the Bama defense in tackles. The remaining spot should be a battle between Jaylen Moody and Shane Lee, both of which have game experience and should fill in nicely for Dylan Moses. Drew Sanders should also look to rotate in as he showed he was ready for a larger role in limited snaps this year. Linebackers were the biggest weakness of the Crimson Tide defense, but returning three starters should help the chemistry and allow the unit to get better in 2021.
Defensive Backs: CB Patrick Surtain II is heading to the NFL and is likely a top 10 pick. Nick Saban did get good news as CB Josh Jobe is planning to return. Jalyn Armour-Davis and Ronald Williams Jr are expected to compete to start opposite Jobe. The pair have a combined three total tackles. One of them will have to step up to help replace the All-American. At safety, Jordan Battle returns to help solidify the secondary. Battle is a candidate to take a large step forward and be an All-SEC safety. Opposite of Battle will be a combination of Daniel Wright and DeMarcco Hellams. Expect Hellams to come out on top in this battle. Malachi Moore returns to play the STAR position, where he had three interceptions and a forced fumble as a freshman. Expect more of the same from the second year player.
Special Teams: Alabama only returned 18 kickoffs this year, once again proving kick returns are nearly dead. Replacing DeVonta Smith at punt returner should be an interesting competition. Slade Bolden took seven punt returns, the second most on the team, and I expect him to be the lead returner in 2021. Will Reichard did not miss a field goal or extra point this year. Has Saban finally found a reliable kicker? It appears so. Charlie Scott transferred from Air Force and lead the team in punting as a senior. Sam Johnson had limited opportunities to punt this year, but is expected to take over.
Coaching: OC Steve Sarkisian is the big name that departed the Alabama coaching staff as he took the head ball coach job at Texas. OL coach Kyle Flood and ST/TE Jeff Banks are expected to follow Sarkisian to Texas. AHC/RB Charlie Huff is heading to Marshall to be the new head coach for the Thundering Herd. Charlie Strong is following Urban Meyer to Jacksonville. This is not unusual for Nick Saban, most years his coaching staff is raided. Bill O’Brien is expected to be named the next offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide. Saban continues to find good coaches to replace those that leave, I would not worry about any of these departures.
Overall Analysis: Alabama loses a lot on offense, and the defense was suspect at times this year, but Nick Saban is still the best coach in college football history. Bryce Young should lead this team to another SEC Title appearance and the defense should take a step forward next year. The Tide open the season in Atlanta vs Miami which should be a formidable test, but not one that they cannot win. Most of their toughest conference games are on the road this year with them traveling to Florida, Texas A&M and Auburn. They do get LSU at home this season.
Overall prediction: 12-0