The University of Alabama football team are listed at +900 on College Football odds to win the National Championship. Find out if we consider the Crimson Tide legit to be contenders in 2015.
Recapping Last Season
Alabama was the last team to repeat as the national champion, when they won a third in four years back in '12. So the fact that the Tide haven't even played for it all since then is just about unacceptable in Tuscaloosa with the (somewhat unrealistic) expectations created by Coach Nick Saban. It's not like this past season was a failure. Alabama beat Missouri in the SEC Championship Game and was the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff, also the betting favorite to win it all. The Tide were 7.5-point favorites at sportsbooks in the Sugar Bowl against No. 4 Ohio State but were pushed around in a 42-35 loss.
Ohio State put up 537 yards of offense on what was supposed to be one of the nation's top defenses. Ezekiel Elliott ran for a Sugar-Bowl record 230 yards on the Tide, including the game-clinching 85-yard touchdown with 3:24 left in the fourth quarter. You just don't see guys score from 85 yards out on a Bama defense. In fact, that was the longest rushing play ever against Alabama since Saban arrived on campus. OSU gashed the Tide for 222 yards rushing just inside the tackles, 39 more rushing yards overall than Alabama had allowed in a game all season. The Buckeyes had eight runs inside the tackles that gained 10 yards or more. It used to be that Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart was mentioned a candidate for any major head coaching job that came open but you didn't hear his name at all for any of the openings thus far this offseason.
Led by quarterback Blake Sims and receiver Amari Cooper, a Heisman finalist, the Crimson Tide offense was the best in school history under first-year coordinator Lane Kiffin. So good that Kiffin was reportedly offered the coordinator's job with the San Francisco 49ers, but he decided to stay put.
Looking Toward 2015
Alabama is expecting back just 11 starters, which ranks 100th nationally. Among SEC teams, only Florida (10) and Mississippi State (nine) bring back fewer. Just four of the returning starters are on offense. Sims is gone after throwing 3,487 yards and 28 touchdowns. Ditto Cooper, who will be a very high draft pick later this year and for sure the first receiver taken. The Biletnikoff Award winner finished second in the nation with 1,727 yards, No. 2 with 16 touchdowns and led the country with 124 catches. Cooper almost single-handedly beat Auburn in the Iron Bowl by tying his own school record with 224 receiving yards to go with three touchdowns. Also headed to the NFL is running back T.J. Yeldon, who rushed 194 times for 979 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Question No. 1 for Kiffin will be choosing a starting quarterback between Florida State transfer Jacob Coker, the favorite, redshirt sophomore Cooper Bateman, redshirt freshman David Cornwell and incoming freshman Blake Barnett, the No. 1 pocket passer prospect on ESPN's recruiting ratings. Coker is the favorite because he's a senior, backed up Sims last season and Jameis Winston two years ago. Coker has a huge arm and was 38 of 59 (64.4 percent) for 403 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in his limited 2014 action.
Obviously there's no replacing Cooper, and the receiver with the most receptions returning to school is Chris Black, who had only 15 catches this past season. The offense likely will revolve around running back Derrick Henry, who is an early Heisman favorite at sportsbooks. He rushed 172 times for 990 yards and 11 scores in 2014 and is a beast at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds. And Saban has plenty of new talent on the way as he is set to sign yet another recruiting class on Wednesday's National Signing Day that ranks No. 1 in the country.
The 2015 schedule opens with a game against Wisconsin at AT&T Stadium outside of Dallas. The Tide certainly will be favored on College Football odds for that, and their other three non-conference opponents are cupcakes. The toughest SEC games figure to be Oct. 3 at Georgia, Nov. 7 against LSU and Nov. 28 at Auburn. The Tide also visit Mississippi State and Texas A&M but I don't expect great things from either of those programs.
College Football Futures Pick
You know this program will win at least 10 games because it has every season under Saban other than his first. It all really boils down to the quarterback position. I'm willing to make a College Football Pick on the Tide finishing the regular season at 10-2, losing at Georgia and Auburn, and end up second in the SEC West to the Tigers. That won't be good enough to return to the College Football Playoff but should be for a major bowl game.