Breaking news, rankings, predictions and analysis all in one place.

College Football Preview 2021: 2. Alabama Crimson Tide

Bryce Young, Alabama


2. Alabama Crimson Tide

There will be the usual reloading in Tuscaloosa this fall, but another trip to the National Championship seems likely

2020 Review
After missing the College Football Playoff for the first time since its creation, Alabama responded with a vengeance in the wacky 2020 campaign. They went a flawless 13-0 and dominated their competition the entire year, with their closest game coming in the SEC Championship Game, a six-point victory over Florida. In addition, the Tide claimed their third Heisman winner of the Nick Saban era with wide out DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris took home the Doak Walker, and Mac Jones won the Davey O'Brien. In the weirdest college football season of our lifetimes, Alabama's dominance gave the sport a real sense of normalcy. 

2021 Outlook
Offense: The Tide offense will undergo a significant transition in 2021, as they replace their offensive coordinator, quarterback, running back, and several receivers. Former Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien will take over for Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator, hoping to oversee a successful "rebuild".

Mac Jones evolved into a Heisman finalist during his time at Alabama, but some around the program believe they may end up upgrading in the form of Bryce Young. Young was the top quarterback in the Class of 2020 and went on to play in nine games last season, throwing for 156 yards. He will undoubtedly need some time to acclimate to the new look 'Bama offense, but his athleticism and natural arm talent are already at higher levels than Jones. It wouldn't be surprising to see him put up All-SEC numbers right away, and even more could be in store.

At tailback, Alabama is likely to use more of a committee approach in 2021 after Harris operated as their workhorse for several seasons. Senior Brian Robinson Jr. is the veteran in the room, coming off a season in which he tallied 483 yards. He'll likely get first crack at being the feature guy, but expect Jase McClellan, Trey Sanders, Roydell Williams, and possibly even freshman Camar Wheaton to get carries. McClellan had 245 yards as a true freshman and can make plays as a receiver, while Sanders should be healthy again after missing most of 2020. Although Harris is clearly a significant loss, the committee should be able to come close to replicating his production based on talent alone.

DeVonta Smith likely would've been a first-rounder in the 2020 NFL Draft, but instead opted to stay one more season Tuscaloosa last year. It turned out to be the right decision, as he evolved into one of the most dominant receivers in recent college football history, with 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns a season ago. His departure, along with Jaylen Waddle, leaves a hole at the top of the depth chart for the Tide receivers, but sophomore John Metchie looks capable of taking a leading role. Metchie stepped up when Waddle went down with an ankle injury and ended up with 55 receptions for 916 yards. He doesn't quite have the top-end speed of either Smith or Waddle, but is a physical wide out with a massive catch radius.

In addition to Metchie, the Tide are also counting on sophomore Slade Bolden, Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams, and several freshman to play large roles. Bolden has gotten usage as a Wildcat QB and has flashed upside as a receiver, while Williams was a major off-season acquisition. A huge spring from Agiye Hall earned him a lot of attention this fall, although fellow freshmen Christian Leary and Ja'Corey Brooks will also get opportunities.

With Miller Forristal also moving on after a solid final season with Alabama, it is Jaheel Billingsley's time at tight end. Billingsley plays more like another wide receiver than true tight end, with serious speed and downfield playmaking ability. With O'Brien's past affinity for tight ends, it wouldn't be shocking to see him become a feature part of this Tide offense. Sophomore Cameron Latu may also be in store for snaps as a backup after beginning his 'Bama career as a linebacker.

The offensive line isn't devoid of losses either, as Rimington Trophy winner Landon Dickerson and Outland Trophy winner Alex Leatherwood both move on. However, much like the other places on this offense, Alabama has enough talent and experience returning and should have players ready to step up. The anchors of the unit will be sophomore left tackle Evan Neal and guard Emil Ekiyor. Neal is an absolute behemoth, a 6'7", 360 pounder who has played primarily guard in his career, but is likely to kick to the outside this fall. The center spot will be in an interesting spot without Dickerson, but senior Chris Owens should be able to step in. He's played both center and tackle in his career and played in 11 games a season ago.

It will be nearly impossible for Alabama to replicate what last year's offense did, where they averaged nearly 49 points per game. However, O'Brien has the usual collection of star talent throughout this roster and enough proven commodities for this unit to still be near the top of the SEC.

Defense: After taking a slight backseat to the historical Tide offense last season, expect Alabama's defense to return to its elite form. Eight starters return to this unit and there's some tantalizing young talent just waiting to shine through.

Up front, the Tide lose second-rounder Christian Barmore, but the defensive line should still be stout. Veterans Phidarian Mathis, sophomore Justin Egbioge and LaBryan Ray should handle defensive end duties. Ray is still waiting on his long anticipated breakout after flashing serious potential over the years and it wouldn't be shocking if 2021 is the year for him. Up the middle, sophomore D.J. Dale returns, but don't be surprised if its Tim Smith who begins to get the attention. Smith played in ten games as a true freshman and looked more than capable of being a dominant interior force.

The linebacker corps was going to challenge as the best in the SEC, and that was before the off-season addition of Tennessee transfer Henry To'o To'o. To'o To'o started 22 games over the last two seasons in Knoxville and led the Volunteers in tackles last year. His addition is the very definition of the "rich getting richer".

To'o To'o is likely to start alongside middle linebacker Christian Harris and emerging outside linebacker Will Anderson. Harris was an All-SEC 'backer in 2020 and is likely to continue the long tradition of elite Tide linebackers becoming high draft selections. However, Anderson may end up being the better player in the long-term, as he tallied seven sacks as a freshman last year. He's an explosive pass rusher looking to grow the other parts of his game this season. In addition to the starting trio, the Tide boast impressive depth at the position. Names like Christopher Allen and Shane Lee have performed admirably when they've seen the field, while young guys such as Demouy Kennedy and Drew Sanders are waiting for their chances. Sanders is a player I'm particularly high on, an Athlete coming out of high school who can be plugged in just about anywhere.

There is a significant loss in the secondary, as Patrick Surtain departs after putting together an impressive 'Bama career, which wrapped up with All-American honors. He leaves a vacated cornerback spot opposite of Josh Jobe, a multiyear starter who has proven he can be a productive defender. Jalyn Amour-Davis, who has played in 17 games the last two years, will likely get the first crack at the starting role, but don't be shocked if freshman Ga'Quincy "Kool-Aid" McKinstry takes over. Not only does he have one of the best nicknames in college football, McKinstry was rated as the top corner in the Class of 2021.

The safety and "Star" positions appear to be in great hands. Jordan Battle is expected to once again man the strong safety spot, while rangy junior Daniel Wright handles free safety. Battle finished third on the team in tackles in 2020 and also showed he could blitz when needed. At "Star" rising star Malachi Moore is ready to become a household name. He was All-SEC as a freshman a season ago, with six pass deflections and three interceptions. 

This has the chance to be the best Alabama defense we've seen in years, possibly even challenging the elite groups Nick Saban sent out when he first took over in Tuscaloosa. There's at least five to six players here who could clearly be All-Conference, if not more. That bodes well for coordinator Pete Golding, who could soon be in line for a head coaching job somewhere.

Special Teams: Placekicking has been the notorious Achilles Heel for Alabama teams of old, but Will Reichard has stabilized the position. He was perfect in 2020, going 14-14 on field goals, with a long of 52. However, punter may be a slight concern for the Tide as they enter the fall. Sam Johnson saw some action last year but is still somewhat inexperienced, meaning newcomer Jack Martin has a chance to come in and play right away. Martin had good numbers while at Troy, with a net average of 40.6.

Bottom Line: The Alabama dynasty doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. In fact, Nick Saban has seemingly elevated the program in some ways, recruiting at a rate we haven't seen in college football history, while also adding former NFL coaching to his program. That type of evolution should ensure that there's no drop-off in 2021, even after the offense was gutted. Since it is Alabama after all, there's plenty of talent ready to step up at the skill positions, and the stacked defense is enough to keep the Tide as the SEC favorite. They will likely face increased resistance inside their division from Texas A&M and possibly LSU, plus Georgia out East. However, the conference is still theirs until some program moves they have taken it away from them and outside of a fairly tricky matchup with Miami, the schedule in general will be favorable. It may be hard to reach the heights of last year's team, but another trip to the National Championship Game still seems highly likely.

Further Breakdown
Team Projections
Projected Record: 12-1 (8-1, Win SEC Championship Game)
Offensive MVP: QB Bryce Young
Defensive MVP: LB Will Anderson
Breakout Player of the Year: TE Jahleel Billingsley
Impact Freshman: WR Agiye Hall

Recruiting Breakdown
All Alabama did on the recruiting trail for the Class of 2021 was land the best group in the history of college football. They brought in seven five-stars and a mind-boggling 16 four-stars, with 27 prospects in total. The top two players in the class are both on the offensive line in Tommy Brockermeyer and J.C. Latham, who may not play much this fall but are likely to be studs. Brockermeyer's brother, James, also comes in from Fort Worth, Texas as the less-heralded (but still quality) recruit. On defense, Dallas Turner and Damon Payne are future contributors on the D-Line, while Ga'Quincy McKinstry is the big name to watch on defense. At the skill positions, the freshman receiver quartet of Agiye Hall, Jacorey Brooks, Christian Leary, and JoJo Earle is very reminiscent of the 2017 group, which had Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy and DeVonta Smith. Hall was the big name during the spring, but any of the four could come on and have a productive 2021 campaign.

Five-Year Trend

No comments:

Theme images by LUGO. Powered by Blogger.