If you are looking forward to seeing Alabama play this year just because you think they will be more human, you are out of luck. Head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are once again favored to win the SEC West Division title even after having lost the likes of quarterback Blake Sims, wide receiver Amari Cooper, and running back T.J. Yeldon.
Even without Cooper, the nation’s leading receiver and winner of the Biletnikoff Award, Sims, and leading rusher Yeldon, the Alabama offense will be strong. Senior Jake Coker, who transferred prior to last season from Florida State, has the inside track at replacing Sims. There are a few others pressing Coker for the job including true freshman Blake Barnett who enrolled at the school early. Regardless of who wins the job, they should do well in offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s QB-friendly offense.
Derrick Henry, a 6-3, 240-pound beast, will take over the majority of the carries in the backfield. Henry rushed for 990 yards last season while sharing time with Yeldon. Henry’s presence will make it much easier on the Tide quarterbacks.
As for receiving threats, there may not be another like Cooper who took with him 124 receptions, 1,727 yards, and 16 touchdowns. The cupboard is not bare as ArDarius Stewart, Chris Black, and Robert Foster all have experience. The one receiver who could be the next Cooper, though, is incoming freshman Calvin Ridley. The Florida native was a five-star recruit who many felt was the best wide receiver prospect in the nation. Ridley may have an immediate impact on the Tide’s offense.
When you go to see Alabama play, the one thing that you can guarantee is that you are going to see some of the best defense played in the entire nation. Saban has a reputation for fielding great defenses and 2015 will be no different. Seven defensive starters return from a unit that was fourth in the country against the run and sixth in scoring defense.
The entire defensive line returns as does linebacker Reggie Ragland (6-2, 252), the unit’s leader. Cyrus Jones and Eddie Jackson return to the secondary and Alabama should continue its dominance on the defensive side of the ball. It will have to in order to give the offense time to come together and gel as a unit, especially early in the season.
That will be important as the Tide squares off with perennial Big Ten contender Wisconsin in the season opener in the Cowboys Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex. It will be one of the hottest tickets of the opening week of the season and will also help to give Saban and his staff a gauge of where they are at the beginning of the year.
Alabama will look to avenge their only regular season loss last year when they face Ole Miss in their SEC opener in the third week of the season. The Rebels return a roster full of NFL-type talent but are looking for a QB to replace Bo Wallace. The Crimson Tide will crossover and play the top two favorites in the SEC East, Georgia and Tennessee. They will travel to Georgia, but face the Vols at home late in October.
When it is all said and done, the West division title will probably come down to the annual Iron Bowl, the year-end clash with in-state rival Auburn. If you ever craved tickets for a football game, this is one you want to see year-in and year-out. The Tigers have to replace QB Nick Marshall but will have a wealth of talent in head coach Gus Malzahn’s up-tempo spread offense. The Tide won last year in a shootout, 55-44. This year, fans may see more of the same.
Since 2009, Alabama has figured into the national championship picture each and every year. They won the national title in 2009, 2011, and 2012. Last year, they qualified for the first ever College Football Playoff, losing to Ohio State 42-35 in the national semifinals. Saban and company would love nothing more than a return to the playoff and another crack at a national championship. Another SEC West Division title will most likely earn the Tide that shot.