Last Year: Alabama started the season getting swept by Florida Atlantic; the Crimson Tide didn't do much better after that. Alabama would get above .500 once the entire year, and for a single day, after beating South Alabama to get to 4-3. The Tide didn't get its second SEC win until April 6, almost a month after SEC play began and after Alabama's record stood at 1-8. Needless to say, Alabama missed the SEC tournament (which was only slightly less ridiculously large than it is now) and ended the season 13 games below .500, 21-34.
What's Changed: Quite a bit, but mostly the loss of Taylor Dugas, who hit .343/.498/.450 while starting all 55 games for the Tide in 2012. In fact, four of Alabama's five top hitters in terms of batting average and five of the best nine are gone. The second-best returning hitter was Austen Smith, who batted .240/.353/.311. The Tide's offense is going to have to be completely overhauled, which might not be a bad thing when you consider that it wasn't very good last year to begin with.
What's the Same: The pitching staff, on the other hand, isn't going anywhere. Almost all of the pitchers from last year's team return; then again, last year's pitching staff allowed more than five earned runs a game, so take from that what you will. On offense, Alabama does get back Ben Moore, a two-time SEC freshman of the week who batted .342/.432/.412 in 2012 and stole 10 bases on 12 attempts. Moore also made the SEC All-Freshman Team and is the closest thing this team has to a star.
The Schedule: The non-conference slate is pretty tough -- No. 4 Louisville hosts the Tide March 8-10 and there are a pair of games with No. 23 Southern Miss -- but whether that matters for a team this unlikely to make it to Omaha is dubious. (All rankings from Baseball America.) The draw out of the SEC East is actually not terrible -- it includes a season-ending trip to No. 2 Vanderbilt, but the rest of the interdivision slate consists of unranked Tennessee, Georgia and Missouri. That allows Alabama to avoid three other teams all ranked in the Top 17 (South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida). Of course, that doesn't spare the Tide from series against No. 3 Arkansas, No. 5 Mississippi State, No. 10 LSU and No. 13 Ole Miss. There are no easy baseball schedules in the SEC.
Prognosis: Mitch Gaspard needs some good things to happen after steadily diminishing returns over the course of his first three seasons -- from a Super Regional appearance in the first season to the Regionals in 2011 to being out of the postseason altogether in 2012. This is not a super-young team -- though there is a lot of youth here -- but it is a somewhat inexperienced one, having lost 224 position starts while returning 271. But most of the focus has to come back to the pitching. If the Tide can tighten that up, they can probably wrangle an invitation to Hoover, but a trip to the NCAAs still seems to be asking a bit much for now.