AJ McCarron leads what could be a stronger Alabama offensive attack in 2012.
Before you get too deep into the Alabama hype, make sure you look at the depth chart. Sure, the Tide returns the core of its offense, including four starters along the offensive line and a solid quarterback in AJ McCarron. Even with the loss of Trent Richardson and receiving leader Marquis Maze, there's a chance that Alabama could be as good or better than it was on offense last year. (And when it comes to the regular season tilt that will likely once again decide the West, against LSU, it could hardly be much worse.)
Defense -- well, defense is a different matter. Alabama loses seven starters on defense, including three of its four linebackers, it's nose guard and three quarters of the secondary. And while talent is not going to be a problem in Tuscaloosa as long as Nick Saban is doing the recruiting, we've seen an Alabama team that had a similar drain on defense come out less than sharp the season after a national title.
BIGGEST RETURN | QB AJ McCarron
The fact that he didn't throw for 4,000 yards -- and wasn't asked to -- in the Alabama offense probably leads to McCarron being a little underrated. He's actually a very good quarterback. McCarron completed just over two thirds of his passes (219-of-328) for 2,634 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. Largely, McCarron did what Nick Saban wants his quarterbacks to -- make smart throws, don't make stupid throws and don't do anything to hurt your team's chances to win the game. You might call that being a game manager, but there are a lot of Alabama quarterbacks who have worn that label along with their national title rings.
BIGGEST LOSS | LB Courtney Upshaw
There's no lack of choices on the defense alone for Alabama, much less when you throw Richardson at running back into the mix. But Upshaw was one of the leaders of the unit that did more than its fair share en route to the Tide's national championship last season. Upshaw recorded 9.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hurries, 18 tackles for loss and 52 tackles overall. He also had a pick and two forced fumbles. It will be difficult to replace that kind of production.
BREAKTHROUGH POSSIBILITY | DB Dee Milliner
Milliner, who was used in most nickel and dime packages last year, could certainly do big things if he can hold down a starting position this season. Even last year, Milliner had a team-leading three picks and nine passes broken up, second on the squad. And with Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie all leaving the Tide after last season, there's more than enough room for a big contributor to emerge.