Tuscaloosa Two Timers?

Bama will rely heavily on linebacker Nico Johnson to fill the void left by the 6 NFL draft picks that made up the 2011 Championship Defense.

2. Alabama

2011 Record (SEC): 12-1 (7-1)
Returning Starters (Off/Def/ST): 13 (7/4/2)

Ryan Trapp and Kristina Taylor | Staff Writers

For an Alabama program that’s known for building stalwart defenses, this year’s edition of the Crimson Tide returns a loaded offense. Headlining the returning starters is the bulk of an offensive line which includes Outland Trophy winner and 1st Team All-American Barrett Jones. Joining Jones in the trenches will be All-American contenders Chance Warmack, Anthony Steen and D.J. Fluker, who together claim a combined 95 career starts. Sophomore and mega-prospect Cyrus Kouandijo should work the blind side as he tries to return from the ACL injury that cut his freshman season short. They’ll be blocking for last year’s BCS National Championship Game MVP, quarterback AJ McCarron. A winning the starting job prior to the 2011 season, the junior silenced his critics to the tune of 2,600 yards, 16 touchdowns and only five interceptions (including a streak of 152 straight attempts without a pick). Despite having to replace all-everything back Trent Richardson who left for the NLF, the running backs lining up behind McCarron are the type you’d expect out of Tuscaloosa: big, fast, and bursting with talent. The Crimson Tide will turn to junior Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 7.1 yards per carry and seven touchdowns last season. Junior Jalston Fowler, redshirt freshman Dee Hart and true freshman T.J. Yeldon provide with more backfield depth than any other team in the country. Although McCarron’s top two targets from 2011 (Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks) are now in the NFL, the Tide does return a dangerous wide receiver group. Expect Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, DeAndrew White and Christion Jone to compete for catches, while tight end Michael Williams and true freshman Eddie Williams could emerge as big time threats as well.

While there’s they type of raw talent you’d expect out of a Nick Saban defense, there’s very little experience. Gone are the likes of All-Americans Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick, DeQuan Menzie and Courtney Upshaw, along with nose guard Josh Chapman and linebacker Jarrell Harris. Fortunately, the Bama defense features at least one returning starter on each level. Seniors Damion Square and Jesse Williams are the two incumbents on the defensive line, where they’ll look to occupy blockers for the Tide’s linebackers to wreak havoc. Nico Johnson and C.J Mosley return from one of the best group of linebackers in college football, and prized youngsters Trey DePriest and Adrian Hubbard figure to work into the rotation as well. Former second-team All American Robert Lester is the lone anchor in the secondary, while hard-hitting sophomore Vinnie Sunseri expects to settle in at the other safety spot. Moving on without two All-Americans at corner is never easy, but the rotation of Dee Milliner, John Fulton, and junior college transfer Deion Belue has Saban excited for the heights this group can reach. Despite the significant defensive losses, Alabama is equipped with the nation’s number one recruiting class to help fill some holes and make a run for a second straight national championship.

Alabama’s 2012 season kicks off with a marquee non-conference matchup against Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines. Two weeks later, the Tide travel to Fayetteville to take one Arkansas, one of the SEC West’s "big three." However, the game everyone’s circling is a rematch of the 2012 BCS National Championship Game against the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge on November 3. A win against the Tigers, combined with an earlier victory over Arkansas, should put the Tide in the SEC Championship Game, where they’ll likely meet either the Georgia Bulldogs or Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks. They’ll need to win those four top-ten matchups en route to an undefeated season if they want to do what they couldn’t in 2010: repeat as national champs.

BURNING QUESTION: Can Nick Saban retool the defense?
Replacing one All-American is difficult enough, replacing seven? Daunting. That is the task Saban and the Tide face coming into this season. The biggest issue is not inherent talent, but rather experience. In his years at the helm in Tuscaloosa, Saban has recruited a top-three class each year, including this year’s class which ranks number one in defense. There’s potential all over the place, but just seven true freshmen saw the field last season. If there’s any coach who can build an elite defense from the ground up its Nick Saban. And he’ll need to if they want to win their third national championship in four years.


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