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Based on my analysis, Alabama will probably win several football games in 2016

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If your biggest problems are having to choose a new QB from among four blue-chips or maybe having to start a five-star underclassman on defense at some point, you don't have problems. You have Bama Problems.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

This is the final entry in Bill C's daily preview series, which just worked its way through every 2016 team. Catch up on the SEC!

2015 Schedule & Results

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
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep vs. Wisconsin 32 35-17 W 98% 100% +7.6 +6.0
12-Sep Middle Tennessee 82 37-10 W 98% 100% -9.0 -8.0
19-Sep Ole Miss 5 37-43 L 54% 8% -13.6 -13.0
26-Sep UL-Monroe 121 34-0 W 99% 100% -12.0 -4.0
3-Oct at Georgia 30 38-10 W 99% 100% +16.6 +30.0
10-Oct Arkansas 11 27-14 W 92% 93% -8.3 -4.0
17-Oct at Texas A&M 34 41-23 W 85% 86% +10.7 +14.0
24-Oct Tennessee 18 19-14 W 89% 85% -12.9 -10.5
7-Nov LSU 10 30-16 W 92% 93% +6.6 +7.5
14-Nov at Mississippi State 16 31-6 W 97% 100% +18.6 +17.5
21-Nov Charleston Southern N/A 56-6 W 98% 100% -3.7
28-Nov at Auburn 33 29-13 W 93% 98% -1.3 +2.0
5-Dec vs. Florida 27 29-15 W 98% 100% +1.7 -3.5
31-Dec vs. Michigan State 9 38-0 W 99% 100% +27.0 +28.5
11-Jan vs. Clemson 2 45-40 W 78% 43% +1.7 -1.5

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 37.9 24 7.9 1
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.25 69 IsoPPP+ 116.8 23
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.0 ACTUAL 17 0.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 45 18 10 23
RUSHING 32 20 11 31
PASSING 62 15 14 20
Standard Downs 14 7 23
Passing Downs 36 36 28
Q1 Rk 24 1st Down Rk 16
Q2 Rk 25 2nd Down Rk 21
Q3 Rk 16 3rd Down Rk 22
Q4 Rk 24

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.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Jake Coker 263 393 3110 21 8 66.9% 25 6.0% 7.0
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

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Derrick Henry RB 395 2219 28 5.6 5.4 41.3% 4 3
Kenyan Drake RB 77 408 1 5.3 5.3 45.5% 1 1
Jake Coker QB 49 261 2 5.3 3.7 49.0% 3 1
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







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Gehrig Dieter
(Bowling Green)
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
Richard Mullaney SLOT 60 38 390 63.3% 13.9% 6.5 48.3% 48.3% 1.24
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
Kenyan Drake RB 40 29 262 72.5% 9.3% 6.6 55.0% 37.5% 1.53
Derrick Henry RB 17 11 91 64.7% 3.9% 5.4 41.2% 23.5% 2.17
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.

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 116.3 3.01 3.79 41.5% 75.0% 17.4% 116.9 4.4% 7.8%
Rank 12 45 16 33 24 34 42 55 77
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
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
Dominick Jackson RT 14 14
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.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.27 75 IsoPPP+ 143.9 1
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 32.3 ACTUAL 27.0 -5.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 3 1 1 1
RUSHING 1 1 1 1
PASSING 30 1 1 1
Standard Downs 1 1 2
Passing Downs 3 2 3
Q1 Rk 1 1st Down Rk 1
Q2 Rk 1 2nd Down Rk 2
Q3 Rk 1 3rd Down Rk 2
Q4 Rk 28

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?

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 132.8 2.28 2.55 28.6% 50.0% 25.5% 195.6 7.6% 13.3%
Rank 2 7 9 3 6 8 2 7 3
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jarran Reed DE 15 37.0 5.2% 4.5 1.0 0 2 0 0
A'Shawn Robinson DE 15 32.0 4.5% 7.5 3.5 0 2 0 1
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
D.J. Pettway DE 15 14.5 2.0% 5.0 2.0 0 2 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
Darren Lake NG 13 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 1 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








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Reggie Ragland MIKE 15 81.0 11.3% 6.5 2.5 0 7 2 0
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
Dillon Lee SAM 15 21.5 3.0% 1.5 1.0 2 1 0 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
Denzel Devall JACK 15 18.0 2.5% 5.0 1.0 0 2 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.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Geno Matias-Smith FS 15 61.5 8.6% 1 0 1 1 1 0
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
Cyrus Jones CB 15 33.0 4.6% 4 0 2 7 2 1
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
Bradley Sylve CB 15 12.5 1.7% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Maurice Smith CB
15 11.0 1.5% 1 1 0 1 1 0
Jabriel Washington NB 8 5.0 0.7% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Shawn Burgess-Becker SS
13 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
JK Scott 6'6, 202 Jr. 70 44.2 9 18 17 50.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Adam Griffith 5'10, 191 Sr. 100 63.2 55 1 55.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
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
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Kenyan Drake KR 19 26.6 1
Damien Harris KR 5'11, 214 So. 9 19.3 0
Cyrus Jones PR 42 12.6 4
Richard Mullaney PR 2 15.0 0
Category Rk
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.)

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep vs. USC 8 9.6 71%
10-Sep Western Kentucky 45 24.7 92%
17-Sep at Ole Miss 7 4.4 60%
24-Sep Kent State 104 38.8 99%
1-Oct Kentucky 83 32.7 97%
8-Oct at Arkansas 17 8.1 68%
15-Oct at Tennessee 9 6.4 64%
22-Oct Texas A&M 25 17.8 85%
5-Nov at LSU 2 -1.1 47%
12-Nov Mississippi State 21 16.7 83%
19-Nov Chattanooga NR 44.9 100%
26-Nov Auburn 24 17.8 85%
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.