Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.
1. The gold standard
It's nice to simplify a complex operation whenever possible. Football is as complex as they come, but it and every other team sport can be distilled into three pieces: acquisition, development, and deployment.
How good is the talent you're bringing in? How well are you developing that talent for your needs? How well are your tactics maximizing the talent you have acquired and developed?
Happy answers to those questions will make you a pretty good team. A+ answers will make you the sport's standard-bearer.
I wrote this year in Athlon's preseason publication that Nick Saban's current run at Alabama is as good as college football has seen since at least the 1990s, during Florida State's long run of top-five finishes. His peak has outlasted that of Pete Carroll at USC, Jim Tressel at Ohio State, or even Tom Osborne at 1990s Nebraska.
Saban's dominance has been easy to understand:
- Alabama recruits better than anyone else. Saban has now signed the top recruiting class in the country for six straight years. And while that streak will end one day, Alabama will that year probably fall all the way to ... second or third.
- Alabama develops the talent it brings in. The Tide had seven players drafted in 2016, seven in 2015, eight in 2014, nine in 2013, eight in 2012, five in 2011, etc. Saban has proven better than anybody else at not only convincing blue-chippers to enter his program, but also wait for their turn in line. They don't often transfer if they fail to quickly see the field. (The 2015 class is becoming an exception to this rule, however.) This assures quality depth and experience.
- Alabama deploys its talent in the most simply effective way. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin runs a bell cow offense; he finds the guys he trusts the most and gives them the ball a ton. And when college football's increasing tempo forced Saban and his defensive coaches to simplify, they did so. They follow trends just enough to make sure the game doesn't leave them behind, and they maximize their talent advantage. Plus, Bama's immense support staff allows the program to scout opponents and themselves with as much richness as any other school, and the program's place in the facilities arms race allows them to remain state-of-the-art.
That pretty much covers it, doesn't it?
It almost feels like we're running out of things to say about Saban, not only because they've been good for so long, but because they've succeeded in such an easy-to-understand manner.
And because that easy-to-understand approach is so nearly impossible to pull off, Alabama's SEC companions are slowly starting to lose their minds. Simply winning is no longer quite enough. Les Miles nearly got fired at LSU, and he's won 70 games in seven years. Mark Richt did get fired at Georgia after a run of 50 wins in five seasons. Barely two years after winning the SEC and reaching the national title game at Auburn, Gus Malzahn might be a few months from being fired. Et cetera.
Saban is setting the bar impossibly high, and he's the only one regularly clearing it.
|Record: 13-1 | Adj. Record: 14-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 1 | Final S&P+ Rk: 1|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|17-Oct||at Texas A&M||34||41-23||W||85%||86%||+10.7||+14.0|
|14-Nov||at Mississippi State||16||31-6||W||97%||100%||+18.6||+17.5|
|31-Dec||vs. Michigan State||9||38-0||W||99%||100%||+27.0||+28.5|
|Points Per Game||35.1||30||15.1||3|
2. Bama Problems
For the second straight season, Alabama was dealing with the growing pains of both a starting quarterback battle and the lumps of a first-time starter. In 2014, career reserve Blake Sims took over the job, and in 2015, Florida State transfer Jake Coker outlasted sophomore Cooper Bateman. The turnover at QB, combined with a nearly total reset in the receiving corps, resulted in some sustained offensive issues.
Alabama's offense wasn't ever BAD, mind you. But from September 19 to November 7, a span of seven games, the Tide averaged better than 5.5 yards per play in a game just twice and never better than 6. (National average: typically around 5.7.) A lack of consistency in the passing game meant Bama had to lean heavily on an efficient run game.
This offensive mediocrity led to ... a 9-1 record, and an average percentile performance as good as anyone's. And then the offense got off the schneid.
- First 9 games:
Record: 8-1 | Average percentile performance: 90% (~top 13) | Yards per play: Bama 5.6, Opp 4.2 (+1.4)
- Last 6 games:
Record: 6-0 | Average percentile performance: 94% (~top 8) | Yards per play: Bama 6.3, Opp 4.5 (+1.8)
After struggling a bit against Florida's defense in the SEC title game, Alabama scored 38 points and averaged 6.7 yards per play against Michigan State in the Playoff semis, then scored 45 and averaged 6.7 against Clemson in the championship game. Special teams helped against Clemson, but that was still the definition of saving your best for last.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.8%||42||Succ. Rt. +||119.5||10|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||27.6||22||Def. FP+||25.6||9|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||4.3||78||Redzone S&P+||107.9||44|
|Q1 Rk||24||1st Down Rk||16|
|Q2 Rk||25||2nd Down Rk||21|
|Q3 Rk||16||3rd Down Rk||22|
3. The bell cow offense
We saw all of Kiffin's strengths and limitations in 2015.
He has long identified the best weapons on his offense and given those guys as many touches as they can possibly handle. That meant 183 combined catches for Robert Woods and Marqise Lee at USC in 2011, then 194 for Lee and Robert Woods the next year. (No other Trojan had even 30 catches in either of those seasons.)
In 2014 at Alabama, it meant 124 catches for Amari Cooper (only one other player had more than 20) and a combined 366 carries for Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon. When Yeldon left in 2015, Henry carried 395 times by himself.
Bama's drastic turnover at receiver made finding a go-to guy difficult. The top three wideouts from 2014 (Cooper, DeAndrew White, Christion Jones) were all gone, and the fourth (Chris Black) dealt with injuries for most of the season, then transferred. Robert Foster caught eight passes in the first two games, then injured his shoulder and missed the rest of the season.
The top two targets, then, ended up a true freshman (Calvin Ridley) and a sophomore (ArDarius Stewart).
Ridley exploded late in the year. He caught 22 passes for 330 yards against Auburn, Florida, and Michigan State, and Stewart became a far more vertical threat as the season progressed (9.3 yards per catch over the first seven games, 12.4 over the final eight).
In the national title game against Clemson, Kiffin spotted a mismatch for tight end O.J. Howard and exploited it ruthlessly; Howard had 394 receiving yards through 14 games, then posted 208 against the Tigers.
Kiffin's approach avoids overthinking. If two or three guys give you far more of a matchup advantage than anybody else, there's no need to distribute the ball just for distribution's sake.
But it does require guys who provide big matchup advantages. For much of the year, Henry was the only person who could do that, and he took on an almost impossible load. And now Henry's gone.
Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Cooper Bateman||6'3, 220||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9623||37||52||291||1||2||71.2%||1||1.9%||5.5|
|David Cornwell||6'5, 228||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9624|
|Blake Barnett||6'5, 211||RSFr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9896|
|Jalen Hurts||6'2, 209||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9231|
|Damien Harris||RB||5'11, 214||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9859||46||157||1||3.4||4.6||28.3%||1||0|
|Bo Scarbrough||RB||6'2, 228||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9916||18||104||1||5.8||3.6||50.0%||0||0|
|Derrick Gore||RB||5'11, 210||Jr.||NR||NR||6||15||0||2.5||2.6||16.7%||0||0|
|Ronnie Clark||RB||6'2, 215||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9659||5||20||0||4.0||2.0||40.0%||0||0|
|ArDarius Stewart||WR||6'1, 204||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9594||5||14||0||2.8||1.7||60.0%||1||1|
|Cooper Bateman||QB||6'3, 220||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9623||4||10||0||2.5||1.2||50.0%||0||0|
|B.J. Emmons||RB||6'0, 206||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9799|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|WR-Z||6'3, 207||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8475||141||94||1033||66.7%||24.5%||7.3||76.6%||56.7%||1.19|
|Calvin Ridley||WR-X||6'1, 188||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9928||126||89||1059||70.6%||29.2%||8.4||69.0%||49.2%||1.60|
|ArDarius Stewart||SLOT||6'1, 204||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9594||99||63||700||63.6%||22.9%||7.1||54.5%||39.4%||1.70|
|O.J. Howard||TE||6'6, 251||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9909||47||38||602||80.9%||10.9%||12.8||61.7%||61.7%||1.90|
|Robert Foster||WR-Z||6'2, 191||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9892||12||10||116||83.3%||2.8%||9.7||75.0%||58.3%||1.65|
|Cam Sims||WR-Z||6'5, 203||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9610||11||6||46||54.5%||2.5%||4.2||54.5%||36.4%||1.13|
|Brandon Greene||TE||6'5, 295||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9445|
|Raheem Falkins||WR||6'4, 200||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8833|
|Hale Hentges||TE||6'5, 256||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9332|
|Derek Kief||SLOT||6'4, 200||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9116|
|Trevon Diggs||WR||6'2, 195||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9441|
|Miller Forristall||TE||6'5, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8822|
|T.J. Simmons||WR||6'2, 201||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8721|
4. Options vs. star power
When three of your four recent national titles have come behind new quarterbacks, it's hard to worry too much about a quarterback change. It is easy to assume it's Cooper Bateman's turn behind center -- the junior briefly eased ahead of Coker in the race in September before losing the job for good in the second half against Ole Miss -- and that everything will be just fine.
Maybe that's how things play out, but true freshman Jalen Hurts is apparently gumming up the works by being awesome in practice, and redshirt freshman Blake Barnett isn't far behind.
Putting a freshman in charge of the No. 1 team in the country would be risky, but even if Hurts ends up the guy, he will certainly have a depth of options.
- Ridley battled some ups and downs but still finished with 1,059 receiving yards at 8.4 yards per target. His late-2015 play suggested he could be ready for a star turn.
- In Howard's three seasons in Tuscaloosa, he has oscillated between invisible and Next Ozzie Newsome. That he caught eight passes for 267 yards in two CFP games last winter was an encouraging sign, but that came after another extended disappearing act. Does he finally put everything together (and keep it together) as a senior?
- Sophomore backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough are former blue-chippers who appear to be next in line. Scarbrough sent a message with a pair of carries late in the Michigan State game, and the fact that he hasn't completely pulled away from Harris might reflect well on Harris.
Scarbrough isn't quite Henry's size, but he's big enough to carry a large load if he lives up to his reputation. (Harris isn't exactly small, either.)
The run game could become a little more important if Hurts overtakes Bateman, but even without Henry, you could assert that the skill positions are further along than they were a year ago simply because of continuity in the receiving corps. In addition to Ridley, Howard, and Stewart, Robert Foster returns, and Bowling Green graduate transfer Gehrig Dieter brings experience and efficiency.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||2015 Starts||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Ryan Kelly||C||15||35||Rimington Trophy winner, 2015 All-American, 2015 1st All-SEC|
|Cam Robinson||LT||6'6, 310||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9979||15||29||2015 1st All-SEC|
|Alphonse Taylor||RG||6'5, 345||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9066||15||17|
|Ross Pierschbacher||C||6'4, 304||So.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9646||15||15|
|Brandon Greene||TE/OL||6'5, 300||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9445||1||3|
|Bradley Bozeman||RG||6'5, 319||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8708||0||2|
|Korren Kirven||LT||6'4, 311||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9288||1||1|
|Dallas Warmack||LG||6'2, 299||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9079||0||0|
|J.C. Hassenauer||C||6'2, 299||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9263||0||0|
|Lester Cotton||LG||6'4, 319||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9732||0||0|
|Josh Casher||C||6'1, 294||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8956||0||0|
|Richie Petitbon||RG||6'4, 302||RSFr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9671|
|Brandon Kennedy||RG||6'3, 301||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8973|
|Matt Womack||RT||6'7, 316||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8610|
|Jonah Williams||RT||6'5, 296||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9873|
|Deonte Brown||OL||6'4, 350||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9237|
|Chris Owens||OL||6'3, 307||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9229|
|Scott Lashley||OL||6'7, 313||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9200|
5. One really big loss
The 2015 line wasn't Alabama's best, but it was solid, and the fact that three starters return (including left tackle and likely All-American Cam Robinson) probably means it will be fine again.
But losing All-American center Ryan Kelly still hurts. Left guard Ross Pierschbacher moves to the middle, and maybe everything will be fine. While centers are replaceable, it makes you nervous until you see that the new guy isn't going to bomb three snaps per game over the QB's head.
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||29.7%||2||Succ. Rt. +||156.6||1|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||33.2||10||Off. FP+||34.8||2|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity||3.6||13||Redzone S&P+||150.6||2|
|Q1 Rk||1||1st Down Rk||1|
|Q2 Rk||1||2nd Down Rk||2|
|Q3 Rk||1||3rd Down Rk||2|
6. A couple of injuries away from depth issues
Talking about injuries luck is always tricky. Anytime I point out that a team skated by with minimal injuries, fans can always respond with: "Well what about [Player A, who missed this one big game] and [Player B, the only guy who lost significant time]????"
Those are both legitimate points and beside the point. Everybody suffers injuries, but some teams suffer far fewer in a given year. And good luck tends to balance out.
Alabama's defensive continuity in 2015 was ... a little bit too good. I'm sure the Tide are on the cutting edge in health technology, but this was a little bit ridiculous.
- Seven linemen averaged at least half a tackle per game; combined games missed: zero.
- Seven linebackers averaged at least a tackle per game; combined games missed: zero.
- Nine defensive backs averaged at least three-quarters of a tackle per game; combined games missed: three.
Once the lineup was set at the beginning of the year, it almost didn't change, despite the fact that Alabama played 15 games. Having the depth to rotate guys helped. Most of the second string took quite a few snaps, and if a starter isn't on the field, he's not going to get hurt. Still, there was almost certainly luck here. And good luck doesn't tend to stick around for more than one season.
If luck skews the other direction, it could damage either the line or the secondary. Both appear a bit thin ... or at least, they could quickly become thin with a couple of ill-timed dings. Four of the top seven linemen are back, but experience vanishes after them. And while five of the top seven defensive backs return, quite a few backups do not, and it wouldn't take much for Bama to have to lean on freshmen.
This is another Bama kind of problem. The talent is obvious, and the starters are proven, but if a couple of bad things happen, then maybe this could eventually become an issue. You feel so sorry for them, don't you?
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jonathan Allen||DE||6'3, 291||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9920||15||27.5||3.8%||14.5||12.0||0||4||2||0|
|Dalvin Tomlinson||DE||6'3, 305||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9162||15||23.0||3.2%||0.5||0.0||0||6||0||0|
|Da'Shawn Hand||DE||6'4, 280||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9978||15||11.5||1.6%||6.5||3.0||0||0||0||0|
|Daron Payne||NG||6'2, 319||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9870||15||9.5||1.3%||0.5||0.5||0||1||1||0|
|Joshua Frazier||NG||6'4, 315||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9609||6||2.5||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Raekwon Davis||DL||6'7, 315||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9562|
|Quinnen Williams||DL||6'4, 284||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9281|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Reuben Foster||WILL||6'1, 236||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9958||15||60.5||8.4%||8.0||1.0||0||9||0||0|
|Ryan Anderson||SAM||6'2, 253||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9618||15||29.0||4.0%||11.5||6.0||0||0||2||0|
|Shaun Dion Hamilton||WILL||6'0, 232||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9173||15||20.5||2.9%||1.5||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Tim Williams||JACK||6'4, 252||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9613||15||16.0||2.2%||12.5||10.5||0||1||0||0|
|Rashaan Evans||MIKE||6'3, 231||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9918||14||8.5||1.2%||4.0||4.0||0||0||0||0|
|Keith Holcombe||WILL||6'4, 227||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8954||15||7.5||1.0%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Christian Miller||JACK||6'4, 230||So.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9796|
|Mekhi Brown||LB||6'5, 246||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9452|
|Anfernee Jennings||SAM||6'3, 264||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9237|
|Joshua McMillon||LB||6'3, 237||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9055|
|Ben Davis||LB||6'4, 234||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9951|
|Mack Wilson||LB||6'2, 244||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9879|
|Terrell Hall||LB||6'5, 247||Fr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9663|
7. The pass rush will be terrifying
Alabama was as dominant as ever in run defense last year. The Crimson Tide have all the biggest, meanest defensive linemen, and the blue-chip linebackers always flow to the ball and gang tackle incredibly well.
There was a new twist last year, however. Bama had a pass rush. After ranking 92nd in Adj. Sack Rate in 2014 and 103rd in 2013, the Crimson Tide surged to No. 2 in the country. Jonathan Allen logged 12 sacks (at 291 pounds, no less), and linebacker Ryan Anderson added six. Backup LBs Tim Williams and Rashaan Evans were specialists, but that specialty was pretty incredible; 14.5 of their 24.5 combined tackles were sacks.
Saban and longtime coordinator Kirby Smart seemed to tweak their aggression to adapt to tempo offenses. Efficiency is the oxygen that tempo offenses breathe, and a little more disruption went a long way. We, uh, didn't exactly hear much of that "Saban struggles against tempo" meme last year.
Alabama is going through the typical year-to-year attrition this year. Linemen Jarran Reed, A'Shawn Robinson, D.J. Pettway and linebackers Reggie Ragland, Dillon Lee, and Denzel Devall are all gone.
But the front seven still boasts impact upperclassmen, and the four biggest pieces of the awesome pass rush are all back. And while Smart is now Georgia's head coach, I'm doubting too much changes with new D.C. Jeremy Pruitt.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Marlon Humphrey||CB||6'1, 196||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9940||15||40.0||5.6%||3.5||0||3||8||2||0|
|Eddie Jackson||SS||6'0, 194||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8857||15||40.0||5.6%||3||0||6||2||1||0|
|Minkah Fitzpatrick||CB||6'1, 203||So.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9867||14||37.5||5.2%||3||2||2||11||0||0|
|Tony Brown||SS||6'0, 198||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9951||13||14.0||2.0%||1||0||0||2||1||0|
|Ronnie Harrison||FS||6'3, 216||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9175||15||14.0||2.0%||1||1||2||6||1||0|
|Anthony Averett||CB||6'0, 183||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.9008||6||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Hootie Jones||FS||6'2, 215||Jr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9753|
|Deionte Thompson||DB||6'2, 190||RSFr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9795|
|Nigel Knott||DB||5'11, 175||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)||0.9669|
|Shyheim Carter||DB||6'0, 190||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9644|
|Jared Mayden||DB||6'0, 200||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9307|
8. Aggression looked good on the Tide
The pass rush had an added impact. After a couple of years of struggling with play-making in the secondary, a unit that was improving anyway also got to benefit from harried quarterbacks. In 2014, only 32 percent of opponent incompletions were due to passes defensed; in 2015, that rose to 40.4 percent. Unsurprisingly, opponents' completion rate fell from 54.4 percent to 50.5, and interceptions rose from 11 to 19.
There could be a depth problem in the back if someone gets hurt, but until then, the starting lineup is loaded. Corners Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick combined for 6.5 TFLs, five picks, and 19 breakups last year, and safeties Eddie Jackson, Tony Brown, and Ronnie Harrison proved themselves as well. Brown is suspended for four games, which opens the door for a youngster at nickel back, but the first string should still be fine.
|JK Scott||6'6, 202||Jr.||70||44.2||9||18||17||50.0%|
|Adam Griffith||5'10, 191||Sr.||100||63.2||55||1||55.0%|
|Adam Griffith||5'10, 191||Sr.||62-62||16-21||76.2%||7-11||63.6%|
|JK Scott||6'6, 202||Jr.||1-1||0-1||0.0%||0-0||N/A|
|Damien Harris||KR||5'11, 214||So.||9||19.3||0|
|Special Teams S&P+||54|
|Field Goal Efficiency||88|
|Punt Return Success Rate||11|
|Kick Return Success Rate||69|
|Punt Success Rate||39|
|Kickoff Success Rate||10|
9. A bad unit came around
Adam Griffith missed his first four field goals of the year and six of his first 12, then went 17-for-20 thereafter. His touchback rate was 39 percent through six games, then 65 percent from there. JK Scott averaged 39.4 yards per punt through five games, then averaged 46.7. Cyrus Jones' first 25 punt returns produced an average of 8.8 yards; his next 17 averaged 18.3 with four touchdowns.
Alabama's special teams unit was bad in September, solid in October, and one of the best in the country in November and beyond. The loss of Jones and Kenyan Drake in the return game hurts, but if Griffith and Scott pick up where they left off, special teams won't be a concern in 2016. (And if they don't, it will probably only be a concern for a little while.)
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk||Proj. Margin||Win Probability|
|17-Sep||at Ole Miss||7||4.4||60%|
|Projected wins: 9.5|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||65.7% (1)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||1 / 1|
|2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||10 / 15.3|
|2015 TO Luck/Game||-1.9|
|Returning Production (Off. / Def.)||55% (45%, 66%)|
|2015 Second-order wins (difference)||13.1 (-0.1)|
10. Bama vs. little things
Alabama has won the national title in four of seven years and will begin 2016 as a favorite to win a fifth in eight. The reasons are obvious. Bama should still have an elite defense, and the raw ingredients on offense should congeal, even if slowly.
The biggest Bama enemies in 2016 will be the Little Things™ that trip teams up sometimes (and have helped to trip the Tide up in three of the last seven seasons). Maybe the new center struggles to approach the standard set by Kelly. Maybe the new quarterback makes some iffy reads in key moments. Maybe the new running back fumbles a few times. Maybe injuries force the line defense to turn to freshmen. Maybe this (*GASP*) leads to a couple of Bama losses and only a 10- or 11-win season and opens the door for a new champion.
(Alabama will face five projected top-20 teams away from Tuscaloosa. These bad breaks tend to magnify away from home.)
If this happens, though, try your hardest to avoid going down the "The Dynasty is dying!!!" road. Until Alabama's recruiting takes a step backward, a recent run of young transfers continues, and new coordinator hires become clear missteps, the ship is still sailing.
In about five months, there's a very good chance we'll be watching Saban lift another trophy.