No. 1 Alabama
Another season, another parade of new players to the NFL and another run at the national championship.
"We're Bama," senior linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said. "We just reload. Everybody is going to embrace the challenge."
Hamilton is one of 11 returning starters for the Tide, who are seeking a third-straight 14-win season and — more importantly — redemption for last year's title game loss.
2016 Record: 14-1 (8-0, SEC)
Alabama became the first program in college football history to win 14 games in back-to-back seasons. They don't give out rings for back-to-back 14-win seasons — not that the Tide would even want one.
Head Coach: Nick Saban (11th year, 119-19 overall)
Nick Saban is 112-13 since 2008 — his second season as head coach, meaning he's averaging 1.4 losses per season. He hasn't lost more two games in a season or one SEC game since 2010. The failures are few and far between but those are what keeps him going.
"We don't want to waste a failure," he said of missing out another national championship, which would've been his fifth since 2009.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Jalen Hurts, RB Bo Scarbrough, RB Damien Harris, RB Joshua Jacobs, WR Calvin Ridley, OT Jonah Williams, G Ross Pierschbacher, C Bradley Bozeman
Alabama has a new offensive coordinator in ex-Patriots' assistant Brian Daboll but they return a starting quarterback for the first time since 2013. Jalen Hurts directed a unit that ranked 16th nationally in scoring but outside the top 30 in several areas (third-down conversions, passing efficiency, total yards) and outside the top 50 in several other areas (turnovers lost, passing).
Though not much will change schematically under Daboll, Saban hired him — in part — because of his knowledge of defenses, which he believes will help Hurts and their other playmakers deliver more consistent performances.
"Understanding the game and how you're getting defended and maybe some of the weak points and some of the coverages and some of the front schemes or the force alignments, that can be an advantage, Daboll said. "It doesn't mean it's going to be an advantage, but it can definitely be an advantage in terms of understanding how team are playing you and maybe how you want to attack them formationally or use some motion or lined up empty, your motion, whatever it may be."
Hurts has been working on becoming more efficient after completing 63 percent of his passes last year for 2,780 yards, 23 scores and nine touchdowns. He also added five yards per carry on the ground, racking up 954 yards and 13 more scores.
"The goal was stated many times before that we wanted to improve his ability to be more efficient, effective, confident passer," Saban said.
At receiver, Calvin Ridley is back for what is presumed to be his final season with the Tide. He's a reliable target with 161 career catches in just two seasons. Don't let his 11.3 yards-per-catch average suggest he's only a short-yardage possession guy. Ridley will burn you anywhere.
Bama is stacked at running back with a three-headed monster of Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and Joshua Jacobs, the latter of whom gets lost in the shuffle despite averaging 6.7 yards per carry as a freshman in 2016.
"That whole, 'I want the carries' mentality, that really doesn't exist among us," said Harris, last year's leading rusher with 1,037 yards.
They'll be aided by an offensive line led by junior guard Ross Pierschbacher, an AP All-SEC Second-Team selection a year ago. He is one of three returning starters for the unit.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Da'Ron Payne, DT Raekwon Davis, DE Da'Shawn Hand, LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB Rashaan Evans, CB Tony Brown, CB Anthony Averett, S Ronnie Harrison, S Minkah Fitzpatrick
Alabama gave up 78 combined points against Clemson and Ole Miss. They gave up 105 in the other 13 games.
The nation's ranked top-ranked defense lost seven players to the NFL, but defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt hardly sees that as a problem. It's an opportunity for the next wave of future pros.
"It creates opportunities for other guys," he said early in fall camp. "That's why they came here, to have an opportunity to get on the field and compete and play. I think we have good competition everywhere.”
One of those players is Shaun Dion Hamilton. The 6-foot, 230-pounder is the lone returning player on a unit that lost Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams and Reuben Foster. He missed the playoffs after tearing his ACL in the SEC Championship but has been a full participant during camp.
“He’s the leader,” Ross Pierschbacher said. “He’ll call out the defense. Very smart player.”
Behind Hamilton is one of the nation's best secondaries, which returns three starters (plus pseudo-starting corner Tony Brown), including First-Team All-American safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Pruitt said Fitzpatrick — who has 17 passes defended and eight interceptions in two seasons — will play everywhere on the field this season, which should help the front seven apply pressure.
"It allows me to come off the edge or come through the middle and you really don't know where it's coming from," Fitzpatrick said. "We can disguise it a whole lot better when we have a defensive back instead of a linebacker disguising, because it looks like I'm going to cover and then I can go and blitz. And if you have a linebacker (blitzing), he's just sitting in the box and, you know, he might come."
Up front, sophomore defensive tackle Raekwon Davis has been one of the biggest storylines this August. A 6-foot-7, 315-pounder who runs a 5.1 40-yard dash, he's pushing for a starting job after appearing in seven games a year ago.
Notable Player Losses
WR ArDarius Stewart, TE O.J. Howard, OT Cam Robinson, DT Jonathan Allen, LB Ryan Anderson, LB Tim Williams, LB Reuben Foster, CB Marlon Humphrey, S Eddie Jackson
Alabama's NFL train kept rolling in April. They had 10 players selected, including four in the first round, among them tight end O.J. Howard and linebacker Reuben Foster. Foster was one of three linebackers selected, while Howard is gone after catching 83 passes for nearly 1,200 yards the last three seasons.
The secondary is in great shape but do not overlook the loss of safety Eddie Jackson.
Notable Player Additions
OT Jedrick Willis, DE Isaiah Buggs
Jedrick Willis was expected to spend 2017 as a reserve or redshirt offensive tackle. Instead, the four-star recruit from Kentucky is competing for the starting right tackle job.
"Jedrick has really done a good job for us," Saban said. "He's very athletic. He's physical. I think he's going to be a really good player.
Defensive end Isaiah Buggs is a JUCO transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast who's currently listed as a backup to Da'Shawn Hand. Don't be surprised if he overtakes the senior by late September.
In case you're living under a rock, Alabama opens the season against Florida State at the new Mecedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
They start SEC play on Sept. 23 with a trip to Vanderbilt and have their home SEC opener a week later against Ole Miss. Other notable games include a trip to raucous Kyle Field on Oct. 7, home game vs. LSU on Nov. 4 and the Iron Bowl at Auburn on Nov. 25.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. Florida State|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Fresno State|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Colorado State|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||at Vanderbilt|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||vs. Ole Miss|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||at Texas A&M|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||vs. Arkansas|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. Tennessee|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||vs. LSU|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||at Mississippi State|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||vs. Mercer|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||at Auburn|