2013 Alabama spring football primer: Dates, players and more to know

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Crimson Tide's quest for a fourth national championship under Nick Saban begins on March 21.

Alabama won its third national title in four seasons in January, and unfortunately for fans of other schools in the SEC, the Crimson Tide appear to be in the middle of their dynasty, not at the end. With head coach Nick Saban still at the helm and plenty of experience coming back, 'Bama will be in the hunt for another championship in 2013.

For the second season in a row, Alabama lost one regular-season game in 2012, falling at home to Texas A&M on Nov. 10. And for the second season in a row, it didn't matter. One week following the Tide's defeat. Oregon and Kansas State fell, putting 'Bama right back in the driver's seat for the BCS Championship Game. Much to the chagrin of rival fans, not only does Alabama have the best coaching and talent right now, but it seems to get all the breaks, too.

Of course, the Tide didn't win the 2012 title without some heroics. At LSU on Nov. 3, Alabama needed touchdown with 51 seconds left to scrape by the Tigers, 21-17. And in the SEC Championship Game against Georgia, the Crimson Tide scored a touchdown with 3:15 remaining and stopped the Bulldogs five yards short of the end zone on the final play to pull off a 32-28 win. The BCS Championship Game against Notre Dame was a walk in the park, but for the third straight season, the Crimson Tide couldn't make it through SEC play unscathed.

Now, Alabama will try to win its fourth championship in five years, and if the Crimson Tide are successful, they'll give Saban his fourth title at the school, just two fewer Bear Bryant. However, it won't be easy. The Tide opens with Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Atlanta's Georgia Dome, and the schedule includes an early to Texas A&M in Week 3 and a season-ending Iron Bowl matchup at what should be an improved Auburn team. Still, it would seem foolish to bet against Saban and the Crimson Tide at this point.

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Spring practice start date: March 21

Spring game date, location, TV info: April 20, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, 2 p.m CT, ESPN2

Approximate returning starters: Alabama returns eight starters on offense, with the biggest being quarterback A.J. McCarron. Despite some accolades he's received, the rising senior is actually a little underrated, as most fans and pundits like to focus on the Tide's defense and ground game, but McCarron may finish his career as the best Alabama QB ever. The Crimson Tide returns eight starters on defense, too, including their entire linebacker corps and secondary.

Biggest addition: Offensive line coach Mario Cristobal should be a solid addition to Saban's staff. The Crimson Tide will have to rebuild to O-line in 2013, and doing it under the guidance of Cristobal will make things a little easier.

Biggest loss: Speaking of the offensive line, that's exactly where attrition hurts the Tide the most. 'Bama loses center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker, three All-Americans who were key to national title run in 2012. In the SEC, quality offensive line play is paramount, and right now, Alabama has a little bit of work to do.

New players? The early enrollees include athlete Derrick Henry, tight end O.J. Howard, quarterbacks Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod, offensive tackles Leon Brown and Brandon Hill, and wide receiver Raheem Falkins. When fall roles around, the Tide will welcome 18 talented players from the Class of 2013, including linebacker Reuben Foster, who flipped from 'Bama to Auburn and back to 'Bama during his recruitment.

New coaches? Cristobal takes over on the offensive line, replacing Jeff Stoutland, who joined Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles staff. Kevin Steele, who spent 2007 and '08 on Saban's defensive staff, returns to Tuscaloosa as director of player personnel. Billy Napier, who spent two months as Florida State's tight ends coach/special teams coordinator, replaces Mike Groh as wide receivers coach.

New schemes? With McCarron entering his senior season and a stable of solid wide receivers, Alabama may open up the passing game a little more in 2013. This will disappoint Tide fans, who want their team to simply RUN THE DERN BALL.

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