Nick Saban and Les Milles will meet at midfield in November. Maybe.
We're down to the final two of the Crystal Ball Run Preaseason Top 10. And it kind of feels like these last three teams are a notch above the rest, doesn't it?
To rundown our Top Ten so far:
1. ??? (OK, it's USC).
9. Ohio State
10. West Virginia
No. 2 -- Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama in a Word: Elite
Las Vegas oddsmaker Todd Fuhrman estimated Southern Cal would be a three-point favorite over Alabama on a neutral field in a fantasy Week 1 matchup. That’s got to irk Tide fans, and likely SEC fans overall.
Nick Saban, as most expected, has taken Alabama to another level. The ridiculousness of the Tide’s dominance in last year’s 21-0 victory over LSU in the National Championship Game still hasn’t set in for some folks. LSU rolled everyone, but couldn’t cross midfield against Alabama. There may never be another title-game performance like that again.
Why Alabama Will Live Up to its Billing: In Saban we trust
When you recruit like Saban, having only 11 returning starters and losing four first-round draft picks doesn’t hurt as much as it should. The old adage about not rebuilding, just reloading certainly applies in Tuscaloosa.The Tide has 13 NFL prospects on this year’s squad; ten are projected in the top five at their position.
Junior quarterback AJ McCarron returns for his second season as starter. McCarron either careered out in the national championship game or is on his way to becoming an all-time great Tide QB. He was deadly accurate against LSU’s star-studded secondary and, when unleashed in the spring game, passed for 304 yards and two touchdowns.
Why Alabama Will Disappoint: The Tide won’t, but …
McCarron also threw three picks in the spring game, while trying to gel with a brand new receiving corps. Last year’s top four pass catchers are gone, including overpowering running back Trent Richardson. But future-pro Eddie Lacy is next man up and, along with McCarron, will benefit from playing behind a stacked offensive line, featuring All-Americans Barrett Jones and DJ FLuker.
Key Game: at LSU, Nov. 3
If this isn’t the best rivalry in college football right now, what is? Alabama faces a daunting task, when it travels to Baton Rouge for a night-time showdown with the Tigers in Death Valley. The LSU rowdies will have all day to get take out their championship game frustrations on some Miller Light and will certainly create an unfriendly atmosphere. Yet, oddsmakers have installed LSU as only a two-point favorite. Hmmmm …
The winner will be expected not only to win the SEC West but also earn a spot in the national title game.
On the Spot: Vinnie Sunseri, free safety
A converted linebacker, Sunseri steps in for Mark Barron, the seventh overall pick in the NFL Draft and the unquestioned leader of the Tide defense. Sunseri, a sophomore, will be the backstop of a revamped secondary that features two first-year starters at corner. That seems like a recipe for giving up a few big plays.
But it’s hard to get overly concerned about a Saban-coached defense. Opponents have averaged just 11.92 points against Alabama the past four seasons.
The season-opener against Michigan will be a great gauge to see if there is any type of post-championship drop-off at Alabama. The Tide are a 10-point favorite over the Wolverines, so an upset would be shocking. A trip to Arkansas two weeks later could be tricky, but the Tide are expected to be undefeated when they arrive in Baton Rouge in November.
Best Case Scenario: 14-0, SEC champions, BCS champions
Worst Case Scenario: 11-2, 2nd in SEC West, Cotton Bowl