The case for
The subject was history, and the speaker was AJ McCarron. As the Crimson Tide's senior quarterback sat in the Alabama football offices one afternoon in June, he articulated what it will take for the Tide to repeat as national champs. "I was here in 2010 when we lost three games after winning the national title," said McCarron. "We didn't have the right chemistry then, but things are different here now. We have leadership, and we have a ton of talent. We're going to be ready for anything."
Last season the 6'4", 214-pound McCarron drew raves from coach Nick Saban for his heady, risk-averse play. McCarron led the nation in passing efficiency (175.3) and threw a school-record 30 touchdown passes. This fall he should put up even more impressive numbers, because in Saban's seven years in Tuscaloosa he has never had more gifted skill-position players.
There's running back T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for an Alabama freshman-record 1,108 yards. There's sophomore wideout Amari Cooper, who caught a school-record 11 touchdown passes And there's 6'6", 237-pound freshman O.J. Howard, who was ranked by Rivals.com as the nation's No. 1 tight end and may end up as the gem of the Crimson Tide's 2013 recruiting class.
"Our offense didn't miss a beat this spring and looked as dominating as it did against Notre Dame," says junior safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, referring to Alabama's 42--14 win over the Fighting Irish in last January's BCS title game.
In 2012 the Tide led the FBS in scoring defense (10.9 points per game). Eight starters return from that unit, including senior weakside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who topped the team with 107 tackles. The 6'2", 232-pound All-America will make all the calls in the huddle this fall.
You won't hear anyone in the football offices say it, but this Alabama team has a chance to achieve something that has never been accomplished since the AP poll began in 1936: win four national titles in five seasons.
The case against
The two areas of concern are on the offensive line and in the defensive backfield. The line must replace three players, including center Barrett Jones, the 2012 Rimington Trophy winner. In the secondary three of Saban's top four cornerbacks this fall have never been full-time starters.
When you're on vacation, do you turn off your phone?
• NICK SABAN
Not much.... Maybe 90% of the day I can do what I want to do, but I'm going to do what I have to do that 10% to keep things going in the right direction.
How do you explain to the guys coming in the amount of hard work that it takes to get the program where you have it right now?
That's the challenge. Complacency is always an issue when you have success. I think it's a part of the human condition. It's what we have to fight to overcome.
What are your greatest concerns heading into the season?
How the players who are not as experienced continue to develop and accept the roles that they have now—how efficient and effective they can be in taking advantage of the opportunities that they have. We have [some opportunities] on the offensive line, some on defense, field goal kicker. And we want the players who are supposed to be our best players to be our best players.
Player to Watch
Freshman Chris Black seemed to be in the 2012 wideout rotation before he hurt his shoulder in practice last August, forcing him to redshirt. Lining up in the slot, the speedy 5'11", 182-pound playmaker gives quarterback AJ McCarron another deep threat.
Projected 2013 Stats
QB AJ McCarron
Pass: 2,565 yards, 23 TDs
Run: ‚àí15 yards, 1 TD
RB T.J. Yeldon
Run: 1,015 yards, 13 TDs
Rec.: 215 yards, 2 TDs
WR Amari Cooper
Rec.: 1,100 yards, 13 TDs
Run: 25 yards, 0 TDs
The Crimson Tide's biggest test comes early: a Sept. 14 showdown in College Station against Texas A&M, the only team to beat them last season. (As a constant reminder, the Alabama coaching staff has the Aggies' 29--24 victory playing on a loop in the weight room—and the A&M logo at every station.) On Nov. 9, LSU comes to Tuscaloosa.
SI Power Ratings
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
MATTHEW EMMONS/US PRESSWIRE (MCCARRON)
The 6'4", 214-pound McCarron is 25--2 as a starter in Tuscaloosa.
JOHN BIEVER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (SABAN)
JEFF ROBERSON/AP (MOSLEY)