It's hard to believe storied Alabama has produced just one Heisman winner: Mark Ingram in 2009. This year the Tide have two solid betting candidates for the award: running backs T.J. Yeldon (+1800 on NCAA football odds) and Derrick Henry (+3500).
Top Backfield In Nation
Here's what new Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin recently said of the Alabama backfield of Yeldon, a junior, Henry, a sophomore, and Kenyan Drake, a junior: "There probably aren't three more talented tailbacks in the NFL on a roster." And you wonder why Kiffin always gets fired quickly?
It certainly looks to be the most talented stable of running backs in the nation, and the Tide might be very run-heavy this season with the graduation of three-year starter A.J. McCarron, one of winningest quarterbacks in college football history. We still don't know who will replace him: It likely will either be former backup Blake Sims, or Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, the former backup to 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston. Coker has his own Heisman odds at +5000 (none for Sims at sportsbooks).
Yeldon split carries with Eddie Lacy as a freshman in 2012, and finished with 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Tide are always bringing in five-star recruits, so while Yeldon thought he would be the clear-cut No. 1 last year, he had to share some carries with Drake (92 carries, 694 yards, eight touchdowns), and Henry (10.6 yards per carry). Yeldon finished with 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's the first Tide back to go over 1,000 yards in his first two seasons. Pretty darn good numbers, yet if you ask most Bama fans whom they prefer, it's the electric Henry, the all-time leading high school rusher in the nation. That's probably because Henry's performance in the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma is fresh in fans' minds. He had a 43-yard touchdown run and 61-yard touchdown catch. That was his only catch of the year, by the way. Yeldon carried 17 times for 72 yards and a 1-yard TD.
There's no question that there will be a running back by committee here, but then again Ingram shared carries with Trent Richardson during Ingram's Heisman year, so it's still possible to win the award.
As usual, the Tide are among the national title favorites, currently +800 at sportsbooks, behind only Florida State. Alabama is +110 to make the College Football Playoff, +150 to win the SEC title and has a regular-season wins total of 10.5, with the 'over' a -140 favorite.
Looking Ahead To 2014
Alabama opens Aug. 30 in Atlanta against West Virginia as 23.5-point favorites on NCAA football odds. Maybe two years ago that would have been a good game, but the Mountaineers appear to be trending in the wrong direction after last season's 4-8 record. They were also terrible on defense, so whichever QB Alabama starts, he won't have to throw much. The Tide will simply bludgeon WVU on the ground.
After that are two laughable games, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss, that might as well be scrimmages. I could see Nick Saban playing both quarterbacks and each running back getting about 8-10 carries in what should be two mammoth blowouts. The first SEC game is Sept. 20 in Tuscaloosa against Florida, which should have a good defense again. Bama didn't play the Gators in 2013.
Maybe Ole Miss on Oct. 4 can put a scare in the visiting Tide. I doubt it. Alabama beat the Rebels 25-0 last year behind 121 yards and a 68-yard TD run from Yeldon. Henry barely played; he sat out four total games as well. Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa on Oct. 18? Yeah, did you see that Aggies defense last year? Yeldon rushed 25 times for 149 yards and a score. Clearly the game to circle before the Iron Bowl is Nov. 8 at LSU. Yeldon had 25 carries for 133 yards and two scores in last year's 38-17 win over the Tigers.
Perhaps a letdown game the next week against Mississippi State? It was last year as the Tide only beat the Bulldogs 20-7 the week after LSU. Yeldon rushed for a season-high 160 yards. Auburn visits Alabama this season -- think the Tide are eager for payback? Yeldon had 141 yards and a TD on 26 carries in last season's incredible 34-28 loss.
NCAA Football Free Picks: If you are making college football picks, don't bet on the Heisman for Yeldon or Henry, maybe yes if they were on a great team (Oklahoma, LSU, Michigan State, Stanford, etc.) that emphasizes the run, and where they could be the featured back.
Alabama will go 'over' 10.5 wins. The Tide probably only can lose at LSU, and that's 50-50. Alabama will win the SEC, and be in the College Football Playoff. As for the national title? Withholding judgment until a starting QB is named.