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The big 2014 Alabama football guide: A few questions ... and lots of answers

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For all of the talk of Alabama's weaknesses and Nick Saban's struggle against the hurry-up, it still took a miracle finish to keep the Tide out of the SEC Championship. And it might take a similar level of misfortune to keep them out of the Playoff.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. An unacceptable failure

Technically, Alabama did regress in 2013. If you rank all of the FBS teams from 2005 to 2013 using the F/+ ratings, the 2011 Crimson Tide rank No. 1 and the 2012 Tide rank No. 2. The 2013 Tide rank a lowly seventh.

Both the offense and defense regressed, and improvement in special teams couldn't make up the difference. Nick Saban was outcoached by both Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Oklahoma's Bob Stoops to finish the season.

After allowing four combined teams to stay within 14 points of them in 2011-12, they allowed four to do so in 2013. And in the Sugar Bowl, the Tide lost to Oklahoma by 14 points, as big a margin as their last previous losses combined.

So yes, technically, this team had some cracks compared to its predecessors. But the cracks were only noticeable because Alabama is Alabama and Nick Saban is Nick Saban.

Top 20 teams of the last nine seasons according to F/+

  1. 2011 Alabama (+53.9%)
  2. 2012 Alabama (+50.6%)
  3. 2008 Florida (+49.4%)
  4. 2013 Florida State (+49.2%)
  5. 2008 USC (+47.6%)
  6. 2011 LSU (+46.8%)
  7. 2013 Alabama (+42.3%)
  8. 2009 Alabama (+41.2%)
  9. 2009 Florida (+40.8%)
  10. 2013 Stanford (+40.0%)
  11. 2005 Texas (+39.9%)
  12. 2010 Boise State (+39.3%)
  13. 2012 Oregon (+38.3%)
  14. 2011 Oklahoma State (+37.9%)
  15. 2009 Texas (+37.9%)
  16. 2010 Alabama (+37.5%)
  17. 2008 Texas (+36.5%)
  18. 2010 Auburn (+36.5%)
  19. 2008 Oklahoma (+35.4%)
  20. 2005 USC (+35.4%)

In the last five seasons, Alabama has produced four of the top five on this list and five of the top 16. That's ridiculous. But thanks to Florida State's surge, and thanks to an incredibly unfortunate end to last year's Iron Bowl, 2013 felt like a changing of the guard.

If Florida State goes out and wins another national title this year, then replaces a boatload of stars and does just about as well in future seasons, then we can say that the Seminoles have caught the Tide. But for now, in terms of overall program reputation and stability, Alabama is still the king of college football. FSU has a slight edge on the field this year because of a wealth of experienced champions, but in 2015 the 'Noles will reset almost their entire offense, and the Tide will still be the Tide.

It's probably hard for Bama fans to take solace in that after the loss to Auburn and the failure to secure a third straight national title. But it's even harder for anybody else to feel too sorry for them.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 11-2 | Adj. Record: 13-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 2
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug vs. Virginia Tech 27 35-10 W 21.1 - 13.8 W
14-Sep at Texas A&M 23 49-42 W 46.5 - 33.5 W
21-Sep Colorado State 66 31-6 W 35.8 - 12.6 W
28-Sep Ole Miss 28 25-0 W 30.9 - 10.8 W
5-Oct Georgia State 121 45-3 W 42.6 - 10.5 W 19.1
12-Oct at Kentucky 97 48-7 W 45.8 - 13.6 W 24.1
19-Oct Arkansas 87 52-0 W 46.8 - 16.7 W 27.5
26-Oct Tennessee 72 45-10 W 40.6 - 26.3 W 25.8
9-Nov LSU 17 38-17 W 40.8 - 19.6 W 26.0
16-Nov at Mississippi State 33 20-7 W 30.4 - 10.1 W 23.6
23-Nov Chattanooga N/A 49-0 W 39.9 - 20.0 W 21.2
30-Nov at Auburn 4 28-34 L 42.5 - 23.9 W 18.9
2-Jan vs. Oklahoma 20 31-45 L 48.3 - 28.5 W 20.0
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +17.8% 10 +19.3% 7 +5.2% 1
Points Per Game 38.2 17 13.9 4
Adj. Points Per Game 39.4 7 18.4 6

2. A spectacular collapse

Alabama gave some mixed signals at the beginning of the season. Against Virginia Tech, the offense did next to nothing, averaging 3.3 yards per play and living off of turnovers and special teams. Against Texas A&M, the offense was spectacular, but the defense got torched, allowing 628 yards (8.9 per play) and 42 points.

The Tide settled in after that, hitting fourth gear, then fifth, on both sides of the ball. From the shutout of Ole Miss on September 28 to the 21-point win over LSU on November 9, the Tide were as good as ever. It may have taken them a little while to pull away from LSU, but that's nitpicking. This was a great team.

But while they still played well down the stretch, there was just enough of a drop-off to give really good teams a chance to catch them.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Alabama 33.6, Opponent 17.7 (plus-15.9)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): Alabama 43.3, Opponent 17.3 (plus-26.0)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Alabama 40.3, Opponent 20.6 (plus-19.7)

As much as we talk about Auburn torching Alabama, the Tigers still averaged only 5.8 yards per play, well under their 6.9-yard average for the season. And Oklahoma's offensive success was limited to a few specific drives; they also averaged only 5.8 yards per play. That Alabama drastically outgained both teams on a per-play basis -- they averaged 7.7 against Auburn and 7.9 against Oklahoma -- tells you how much each game came down to turnovers (especially OU) and missed opportunities (field goals against Auburn).

Still, both sides of the ball had indeed regressed a bit, and it ended up making the Tide vulnerable to bad breaks.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.26 18 IsoPPP+ 107.7 29
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 51.1% 5 Succ. Rt. + 121.6 6
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 25.2 1 Def. FP+ 106.4 11
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.7 26 Redzone S&P+ 124.6 8
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 14.7 ACTUAL 17 +2.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 33 8 6 18
RUSHING 25 6 4 23
PASSING 48 12 19 34
Standard Downs 10 6 41
Passing Downs 7 15 9
Q1 Rk 22 1st Down Rk 2
Q2 Rk 1 2nd Down Rk 17
Q3 Rk 9 3rd Down Rk 17
Q4 Rk 17

3. A total lack of big-play ability

In 2012, Alabama was led in rushing by Eddie Lacy, who produced an average of 6.5 yards per carry; in 2013, leader T.J. Yeldon averaged 6.0. In 2012, the top three receivers (Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood, and Kenny Bell) averaged 18.2 yards per catch; in 2013, the top three (Cooper, Norwood, DeAndrew White) averaged 16.0. These aren't enormous differences, and Alabama was still one of the better big-play teams in the country. But the frequency of big plays wasn't quite the same, and it threatened to backfire at times.

For the most part, the big plays were there in the big games -- the countless big gains against A&M, the 99-yard pass to Cooper against Auburn, etc. -- but if you're looking for a reason why Alabama sank slightly in the overall numbers, that was it.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
AJ McCarron 226 336 3063 28 7 67.3% 17 4.8% 8.3
Blake Sims 6'0, 208 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 18 29 167 2 0 62.1% 0 0.0% 5.8
Jacob Coker 6'5, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.7)
Cooper Bateman 6'3, 215 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8)
David Cornwell 6'5, 234 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)

4. An unsalvageable quarterback situation

A Bama-worthy attack

Matt Hinton has already written the opus on Alabama quarterbacks. Granted, you go back far enough and it might not say much about 2014 -- that Steadman Shealy was a solid game manager doesn't tell you much about Jacob Coker -- but Hinton's point was clear and well-written: Alabama has been winning without Heisman-level quarterback play for decades.

So when we talk about the loss of AJ McCarron and whether it dooms Alabama to a step backwards, realize that the Tide were not held back when McCarron was a first-time starter on the 2011 team that ranks so highly above.

McCarron improved throughout his three-year tenure as a starter, from a 147.3 passer rating in 2011, to 167 or higher in both 2012 and 2013. But with the talent all over, the 2014 starter -- we've been assuming that Florida State transfer Jacob Coker will win the job, but he hasn't beaten out Blake Sims just yet -- will only need to be competent to look great.

And yeah, there's talent. My goodness, is there talent.

We're almost bored with T.J. Yeldon at this point; he's suffered some untimely fumbles over the last couple of years, and his numbers paled in comparison to what his backups produced. Kenyane Drake averaged 7.5 yards per carry in reserve duty, and former blue-chipper Derrick Henry looked amazing in the Sugar Bowl, gaining 161 yards in nine touches. We have no idea whether Drake or Henry could out-produce Yeldon over the long haul, but we know that all three of them are in Alabama uniforms. And if one of them struggles or gets hurt, Altee Tenpenny or Tyren Jones or [name another blue-chipper here] waits for a turn.

At receiver, Bama still has Amari Cooper, who suffered through a sophomore slump, battled injuries ... and still averaged 9.9 yards per target last year. (He averaged a staggering 13.1 as a true freshman.) The Tide also still have seniors Christion Jones and DeAndrew White (combined: 10.0 yards per target) and blue-chip sophomore O.J. Howard. And of course they have another batch of wideouts trying to crack the rotation. This is one of the better skill units in the country.

Of course, there's another person who will have a significant impact on the offense: new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Once an up-and-coming USC offensive coordinator, Kiffin's reputation took obvious hits during his head coaching tenures for the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee, and USC (and what I'll call his negative quotability).

His pro-style approach fits Saban's intentions to a T, and lord knows he has pieces to work with. Granted, he had pieces at USC, and he only thrived when he had a great quarterback. (And granted, Cooper is probably going to catch six screen passes per game.) But Alabama's talent is closer to that of 2005 USC than 2013 USC; if he can't make something of this offense, he won't be able to make something of any offense. He's a story because he's Lane Kiffin, but he'll probably do just fine.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
T.J. Yeldon RB 6'2, 221 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 207 1235 14 6.0 6.1 42.0%
Kenyan Drake RB 6'1, 202 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 92 694 8 7.5 5.5 56.5%
Derrick Henry RB 6'3, 241 So. 4 stars (6.0) 35 382 3 10.9 9.3 68.6%
Altee Tenpenny RB 6'0, 218 So. 4 stars (6.0) 22 82 1 3.7 3.0 31.8%
Dee Hart RB 22 78 1 3.5 1.4 45.5%
Jalston Fowler HB 6'1, 248 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 20 88 0 4.4 2.6 45.0%
AJ McCarron QB 17 96 0 5.6 2.6 47.1%
Blake Sims QB 6'0, 208 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 15 61 0 4.1 1.9 46.7%
Tyren Jones RB 5'9, 215 RSFr. 4 stars (6.0)




Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Amari Cooper WR-X 6'1, 210 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 74 45 736 60.8% 21.1% 64.2% 9.9 175 9.9 136.0
Christion Jones WR-H 5'11, 187 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 47 36 349 76.6% 13.4% 59.5% 7.4 -52 7.5 64.5
Kevin Norwood WR-Z 44 38 568 86.4% 12.6% 44.7% 12.9 167 12.6 104.9
DeAndrew White WR-X 6'0, 192 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 41 32 534 78.0% 11.7% 64.9% 13.0 181 13.1 98.7
T.J. Yeldon RB 6'2, 221 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 32 20 183 62.5% 9.1% 46.2% 5.7 -63 4.2 33.8
Kenny Bell WR-Z 30 14 167 46.7% 8.6% 52.4% 5.6 -35 5.3 30.9
O.J. Howard TE 6'6, 240 So. 5 stars (6.1) 25 14 269 56.0% 7.1% 68.4% 10.8 87 12.9 49.7
Kenyan Drake RB 6'1, 202 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 14 12 135 85.7% 4.0% 81.8% 9.6 8 6.9 24.9
Brian Vogler TE 6'7, 263 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 11 8 71 72.7% 3.1% 60.0% 6.5 -20 7.2 13.1
Jalston Fowler HB 6'1, 248 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 8 7 15 87.5% 2.3% 85.7% 1.9 -58 3.1 2.8
Chris Black WR-H 5'11, 186 So. 4 stars (6.0) 8 8 79 100.0% 2.3% N/A 9.9 0 0.0 14.6
Altee Tenpenny RB 6'0, 218 So. 4 stars (6.0) 3 1 4 33.3% 0.9% N/A 1.3 -14 0.0 0.7
Harrison Jones TE 3 1 12 33.3% 0.9% N/A 4.0 -6 0.0 2.2
Corey McCarron TE 6'2, 245 Jr. NR 2 1 3 50.0% 0.6% N/A 1.5 -11 0.0 0.6
Raheem Falkins WR-X 6'4, 210 So. 4 stars (5.8)
Robert Foster WR-Z 6'3, 191 RSFr. 4 stars (6.0)
ArDarius Stewart WR-X 6'5, 193 RSFr. 4 stars (6.0)
Cam Sims WR 6'4, 208 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 120.6 3.53 3.93 48.0% 78.4% 14.0% 120.9 5.4% 4.1%
Rank 5 7 16 7 9 9 45 84 23
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Cyrus Kouandjio LT 27 Consensus All-American, 1st All-SEC
Anthony Steen RG 36 2nd All-SEC
Arie Kouandjio LG 6'5, 315 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 13
Austin Shepherd RT 6'5, 320 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 13
Ryan Kelly C 6'5, 296 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 10
Chad Lindsay C 3
Leon Brown RG 6'6, 320 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 1
Kellen Williams LG 1
Isaac Luatua C 6'2, 315 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0
Alphonse Taylor RG 6'5, 325 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0
Grant Hill RT 6'6, 322 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0
Brandon Greene LT 6'5, 304 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0
Dominick Jackson LG 6'7, 320 Jr. 4 stars (6.0)
Cam Robinson LT 6'6, 323 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
Ross Pierschbacher OL 6'4, 295 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)
J.C. Hassenauer OL 6'3, 290 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Josh Casher OL 6'1, 295 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Montel McBride OL 6'4, 330 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

5. An intolerable lack of power

I headed into 2013 assuming that any regression that took place for Alabama's offense would happen because of the offensive line. It was otherworldly in 2012 and had nowhere to go but down after losing three All-Americans. And technically, there was regression ... all the way from first in Adj. Line Yards to fifth.

Again, slight regression can add up after a while, and in replacing another All-American (Cyrus Kouandjio) and a three-year starter (Anthony Steen), there's nothing saying the Tide won't regress up front again in 2014. But this is still going to be one of the best lines in the country. It still features three returning starters, blue-chip sophomore Grant Hill, big-time JUCO transfer Dominick Jackson, and a new batch of blue-chippers (including five-star Cam Robinson, who appears to be starting at left tackle from day one).

We can argue about degrees of greatness, but this line will be excellent.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.09 38 IsoPPP+ 111.8 16
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 37.4% 16 Succ. Rt. + 120.1 9
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 31.6 34 Off. FP+ 103.5 23
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.6 10 Redzone S&P+ 122.8 9
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.1 ACTUAL 19.0 -5.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 5 8 9 1
RUSHING 7 3 5 1
PASSING 11 24 24 8
Standard Downs 9 10 9
Passing Downs 6 6 38
Q1 Rk 17 1st Down Rk 26
Q2 Rk 11 2nd Down Rk 2
Q3 Rk 20 3rd Down Rk 17
Q4 Rk 2

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 125.8 2.91 1.95 33.2% 69.0% 19.3% 78.8 3.5% 4.2%
Rank 5 58 1 13 77 60 103 94 111
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ed Stinson DE 13 30.0 4.6% 2.0 1.5 0 1 0 0
A'Shawn Robinson DE 6'4, 320 So. 5 stars (6.1) 13 27.0 4.1% 8.0 5.5 0 0 0 0
Jeoffrey Pagan DE 12 25.0 3.8% 3.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Ivory NG 6'4, 308 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 16.0 2.4% 1.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jonathan Allen DE 6'3, 272 So. 5 stars (6.1) 12 12.5 1.9% 3.0 0.5 0 0 1 0
Darren Lake NG 6'3, 323 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 11.5 1.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Korren Kirven NG 6'5, 297 So. 4 stars (5.8) 5 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dalvin Tomlinson DE 6'2, 290 So. 4 stars (5.8) 1 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Anthony Orr DL 6'4, 289 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 4 2.5 0.4% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dee Liner DE 6'3, 295 So. 4 stars (6.0) 1 1.5 0.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
D.J. Pettway DE 6'2, 265 Jr. 4 stars (5.8)
Jarran Reed DE 6'4, 315 Jr. 3 stars (5.7)
Da'Shawn Hand DE 6'4, 273 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
Josh Frazier DT 6'3, 335 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)







6. An unreasonably poor pass rush

Okay, we're going for silly and outlandish subtitles for each section in this guide. But this one's actually kind of true.

Alabama doesn't worry too much about rushing the passer -- the Tide swarm and pummel well enough that they don't have to blitz or take many chances. Still, they ranked 17th in Adj. Sack Rate in 2012, and they ranked 103rd in 2013.

This was still a top-10 defense, and they don't need an elite rush, but they need more than they got last year. While we focused on the secondary as the primary weakness for this defense, it did have to cover receivers for quite a while at times. Even the best secondary in the country can be victimized eventually if the pass rush isn't rushing.

Sophomore A'Shawn Robinson is an absolute freak (he led the Tide with 5.5 sacks at 320 pounds), but he needs some help, especially in the absence of ends Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan and leading 2012 pass rusher Adrian Hubbard. If he gets it, everything else should fall into place. This was still a perfectly strong line against the run, and it should be again with Robinson, senior nose Brandon Ivory, last year's entire second- and third-string, and [insert your blue-chipper of choice here].

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
C.J. Mosley WILL 13 85.0 12.9% 9.0 0.0 0 5 1 0
Trey DePriest MIKE 6'2, 250 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 48.0 7.3% 7.5 2.0 1 1 2 0
Adrian Hubbard SAM 13 26.5 4.0% 5.5 3.0 0 3 0 0
Denzel Devall JACK 6'2, 254 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 13 21.5 3.3% 5.0 3.0 0 1 2 0
Reggie Ragland WILL 6'2, 254 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 13 11.5 1.8% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dillon Lee SAM 6'4, 243 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 13 11.5 1.8% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 1
Xzavier Dickson JACK 6'3, 268 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 12 8.5 1.3% 2.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Reuben Foster WILL 6'1, 244 So. 5 stars (6.1) 9 8.0 1.2% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tana Patrick WILL 13 7.0 1.1% 0.0 0.0 0 1 1 0
Ryan Anderson LB 6'2, 258 So. 4 stars (5.9) 13 3.5 0.5% 1.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Tim Williams SAM 6'3, 242 So. 4 stars (5.9) 7 2.5 0.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Rashaan Evans LB 6'3, 225 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
Christian Miller LB 6'4, 215 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)
Shaun Dion Hamilton MIKE 6'0, 233 Fr. 4 stars (5.9)

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Landon Collins SS 6'0, 222 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 13 61.5 9.4% 4 0 2 6 2 1
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix FS 11 40.5 6.2% 3.5 0 2 4 0 0
Jarrick Williams STAR 6'1, 215 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 12 32.5 4.9% 2 1 0 2 0 0
Nick Perry (2012) S 6'1, 211 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 14 28.0 4.2% 2 1 0 2 0 1
Cyrus Jones CB 5'10, 194 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 11 21.5 3.3% 1.5 1 2 5 0 0
Deion Belue CB 11 18.5 2.8% 1 0 1 3 0 0
Eddie Jackson CB 6'0, 188 So. 3 stars (5.7) 7 17.5 2.7% 1 0 1 2 0 1
Vinnie Sunseri SS 7 17.0 2.6% 1 0 2 4 0 0
John Fulton CB 13 14.5 2.2% 2 0 0 1 0 0
Maurice Smith CB 6'0, 195 So. 4 stars (5.9) 12 9.0 1.4% 0.5 0 0 3 0 0
Bradley Sylve CB 5'11, 180 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 8 9.0 1.4% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Geno Smith FS 6'0, 197 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 12 8.5 1.3% 1 0 0 4 0 0
Jabriel Washington CB 5'11, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.7)
Jonathan Cook S 6'0, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Tony Brown CB 6'0, 198 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
Marlon Humphrey CB 6'1, 186 Fr. 5 stars (6.1)
Hootie Jones S 6'2, 221 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)
Ronnie Clark S 6'3, 215 Fr. 4 stars (6.0)

7. A deplorable secondary

It was difficult to complain too much about Alabama's safety play in 2013; even with Nick Perry missing all season with a shoulder injury, and even with Vinnie Sunseri missing half of the season with a knee injury, the Tide still had Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Landon Collins, and Jarrick Williams. There were breakdowns here and there (minimal outside of the trip to College Station), but this was still one of the country's better safety units.

Cornerback, however, was unsettled for most of the season. Converted receiver Cyrus Jones ended up leading the unit in tackles and passes defensed, but Deion Belue and John Fulton were each shaky at times, and Eddie Jackson, then a freshman, wasn't quite ready to dominate. Belue and Fulton are both gone this fall, but between Jones, Bradley Sylve, Jackson (still recovering from offseason knee surgery), and two five-star freshmen (Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey), it appears that both the experience and upside are improved.

Clinton-Dix is gone from the safety corps, but Collins and Williams are back, as is Perry.

We'll have to see how C.J. Mosley's leadership and production are replaced at weakside linebacker, but it's hard to ever worry too much about Saban linebackers. That means that the secondary might again hold the "weakest unit on the defense" title. But it's hard to worry too much about it, either. Hell, even during last year's struggles, only really, really good offenses were able to take advantage.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Cody Mandell 39 47.1 6 8 15 59.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Cade Foster 74 62.2 17 0 23.0%
Adam Griffith 5'10, 188 So. 14 63.2 4 0 28.6%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Cade Foster 60-60 7-9 77.8% 5-8 62.5%
Adam Griffith 5'10, 188 So. 5-5 1-2 50.0% 0-1 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Christion Jones KR 5'11, 187 Sr. 22 28.7 1
DeAndrew White KR 6'0, 192 Sr. 3 18.7 0
Christion Jones PR 5'11, 187 Sr. 23 14.0 2
Dee Hart PR 4 14.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 1
Field Goal Efficiency 102
Punt Return Efficiency 10
Kick Return Efficiency 10
Punt Efficiency 3
Kickoff Efficiency 1
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 114

8. Worst. Special teams. Ever.

It's difficult to erase the Auburn game from our collective mind. In that game, Alabama missed three field goals to allow Auburn to tie the game, then allowed Auburn's Chris Davis to race 109 yards to win the game after fielding a fourth missed punt near the back of the end zone. Special teams absolutely, positively cost Alabama that game.

And in the other 12 games, Alabama's special teams were by far the best in the nation. Kicker Cade Foster was 12-for-14 against teams not named Auburn, Christion Jones was one of the best return men in the country, and while he was only needed about three times per game, punter Cody Mandell had a cannon.

There's some turnover this year; Mandell and Foster are both gone, and while 'Bama fans probably won't complain too much about losing the latter, they should. He was mostly great. Jones' return alone means the Tide will once again have solid special teams, but they'll need some new legs to come through to match last year's excellent overall performance.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug vs. West Virginia 71
6-Sep Florida Atlantic 89
13-Sep Southern Miss 114
20-Sep Florida 29
4-Oct at Ole Miss 24
11-Oct at Arkansas 53
18-Oct Texas A&M 11
25-Oct at Tennessee 55
8-Nov at LSU 12
15-Nov Mississippi State 26
22-Nov Western Carolina NR
29-Nov Auburn 8
Five-Year F/+ Rk 45.1% (1)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 1
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* 2 / 9.4
TO Luck/Game -2.8
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (7, 6)

9. There's just no coming back from this

The 2014 season is one of urgency for Alabama, but only in the way that every season is urgent in Tuscaloosa.

Despite fewer big plays on offense, despite shakiness in the secondary, despite special teams not making the trip to Auburn, and despite the whole "Saban's not adjusting to the hurry-up spread as well as we assumed he would" narrative that we haven't dealt with in this preview, the Tide were at worst one of the two or three best teams last year.

It still took a miracle finish to keep them out of the SEC Championship, and it took a wave of fumble recoveries for Oklahoma to build the distance it did in the Sugar Bowl. With some of the worst turnovers luck in the country (nearly three points per game in the red), Alabama still won 11 games (nine by at least 21 points) and finished second in the F/+ rankings.

The train's rolling in T-town, and even if there are some occasional bumps (2010, 2013), Bama's bad seasons are still better than almost everybody else's good ones. They start 2014 in a strange place -- as the second-most likely team to win the national title -- and between the specter of Florida State in a Playoff and the typical SEC West slate, there's always a possibility that the Tide lose a game or two and only finish NEAR the playoff and not in it.

But Bama is still as safe a bet as there is in college football. The Tide begin 2014 as once again the class of the Southeastern Conference.

10. SEC balance of power

Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

At the end of each conference run-through, I take a look at how I perceive the conference's balance of power heading into the season. This is in no way based on schedules, so they are not predictions. They're just how I would rank the teams after writing 4,000 or so words about each of them.

Tier 1
1. Alabama
2. Auburn
3. South Carolina
4. LSU
5. Georgia

I was tempted to put Alabama in its own tier again, as I do think the Tide start a step ahead of everybody else. But all five of these teams have top-10 potential, and there's been just enough turnover in Tuscaloosa to hold off.

Tier 2
6. Ole Miss
7. Texas A&M
8. Missouri
9. Florida
10. Mississippi State

Any of these Tier 2 teams could end up playing at a top-15 level ... which would make them Tier 1 candidates in any other conference. Instead they're at least one step behind each of the top five teams.

Tier 3
11. Tennessee

The Vols are too young (and have been too iffy in recent years) to be considered anything more than a top-40 or -50 team this year, but they have too much potential to be stuck with the names below.

Tier 4
12. Arkansas
13. Vanderbilt
14. Kentucky

Arkansas almost belongs with Tennessee, but I think the Hogs are still a year away from top-50 quality. And if you combined Vandy's defense with Kentucky's offense, you might have close to a Tier 2 team. So there's that, at least.