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2 Alabama

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OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE

Let's remember: They probably shouldn't have even been in the playoff and won the championship by the skin of their teeth. It wasn't a totally dominant Nick Saban team. That being said, this team could be better than last year's.... Their offense could be as explosive as it's ever been in the Saban era. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa can make plays that you've never seen from a QB there before, and the new offensive coordinator, Mike Locksley, is more of a spread guy than his predecessors, so he'll air things out. Jerry Jeudy is their next great receiver. They are very strong at running back: Damien Harris and Najee Harris are one of the best tandems in the country.... There's more uncertainty on the defense. They lost eight starters to the NFL, but the big question is if they'll take a step back with [former coordinator] Jeremy Pruitt now at Tennessee. When you have a guy like 6'7", 300-pound end RAEKWON DAVIS, it may not matter.... As good as they are, nothing will come easy, because the competition in the SEC West is closing in: Auburn is loaded; LSU and Mississippi State will be a handful; and Texas A&M, under Jimbo Fisher, is coming.

BY THE NUMBERS

53

Games won by Alabama since 2014, an FBS record for most wins in a four-year span.

11.9

Points allowed per game by the Tide defense in '17, fewest in the country.

5-YEAR TREND

WINS

The only team to make all four college football playoffs is a good bet to make the fifth, giving Saban a shot at a record seventh national championship.

[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]

15

12

9

6

3

12-2

14-1 (NATIONAL CHAMPS)

14-1 (SEC CHAMPS)

13-1 (NATIONAL CHAMPS)

11-1

YEAR

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018*

*SI PROJECTION

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X-FACTOR

The hero of last year's national championship game returns. So, too, does the QB with the 27--2 career record. And so the stage is set for a QB showdown between sophomore TUA TAGOVAILOA and junior Jalen Hurts that promises to rage on during the season. Tagovailoa flashed a mighty left arm in the national championship, but Hurts, who has rushed for 1,809 yards over the last two seasons, gives the offense a different dimension with his legs. The competition has provided more drama than Nick Saban prefers, but there's a good reason he had yet to anoint one the starter and allowed the other to transfer: Having both makes his Tide a better team.

2018 SCHEDULE

SEPT. 1

LOUISVILLE

SEPT. 8

ARKANSAS STATE

SEPT. 15

@ OLE MISS

SEPT. 22

TEXAS A&M

SEPT. 29

LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE

OCT. 6

@ ARKANSAS

OCT. 13

MISSOURI

OCT. 20

@ TENNESSEE

NOV. 3

@ LSU [KEY MATCHUP]

NOV. 10

MISSISSIPPI STATE

NOV. 17

THE CITADEL

NOV. 24

AUBURN (8) [BIGGEST GAME][SI RANKINGS]

KEY MATCHUP

BIGGEST GAME

SI RANKINGS