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2021 SEC Football Season Preview: Alabama Crimson Tide

Despite yet another National Championship, there are a lot of questions surrounding the new look of the Saban dynasty

NCAA Football: Alabama - A-Day Gary Cosby-USA TODAY Sports

2020 at a Glance

Record: 13-0 — National Champions
SRS: 30.26 (1st)
SOS: 9.72

2021 Schedule

(All times are Eastern and all rankings are via AP)

9/4: vs. 14 Miami (3:30 PM, ABC; game in Atlanta)
9/11: vs. Mercer (4 PM, SEC Network)
9/18: @ 13 Florida (3:30 PM, CBS)
9/25: vs. Southern Miss
10/2: vs. Ole Miss
10/9: @ 6 Texas A&M
10/16: @ Mississippi State
10/23: vs. Tennessee
11/6: vs. 16 LSU
11/13: vs. New Mexico State
11/20: vs. Arkansas
11/27: @ Auburn

Overview

Amidst all of the chaos COVID-19 presented for not just college football but the world as a whole in 2020, there was one thing that remained the same, and that was the Alabama Crimson Tide. Moving into 2021, Nick Saban’s perennial powerhouse have a lot of questions to answer. Mac Jones, DaVonta Smith, and Najee Harris led an overwhelming and historic Crimson Tide offense to their third CFP National Championship. However, they’re all gone, and it’s up to former five-star recruit Bryce Young to head the helm at QB on an overwhelmingly new-look offense.

Alabama is returning just 33% of its offensive production from 2020 according to ESPN’s Bill Connelly. That is 126th of 127 teams. This is not ideal for most teams, but for Alabama, this is just a normal offseason, though it’s never been this drastic on offense, and while Alabama is ready to reload at every position, it’s the coaching staff that might be what raises the eyebrow most. With Steve Sarkisian gone to Texas, the Saban-Save-A-Coach Program has called upon Bill O’Brien to fill those massive shoes as offensive coordinator. O’Brien’s reputation is in the mud, for lack of a better term, following the fiasco with the Houston Texans, but he’s the OC at Alabama now, and he’s looking to leave that all behind him and start anew with Bryce Young.

Despite all these questions, Alabama is still Alabama. They’re number one in the preseason AP Poll, they still have Nick Saban, and they have the deepest team in college football. They are more than capable of defending their title, but it won’t be without a challenge.

Biggest Questions

A special thanks to Joshua Chatham over at Roll Bama Roll for some insight on the Crimson Tide!

1. What can we expect from highly touted prospect Bryce Young with a completely new offense under Bill O’Brien?

Joshua Chatham: This is the, ahem, million-dollar question. Bryce has the pedigree, he looked solid in the spring game, and Saban seems happy with him. Like every young quarterback, however, we have to see him do it in the games. O’Brien has been intentional about reiterating that he’s running the Alabama offense and not reinventing the wheel. He is an old tight ends coach and we saw that position heavily utilized in the spring game, but in general, the offense should look a lot like it has the past few seasons. The execution will determine how close it comes to that lofty standard of success.

2. With such a historic offense last year, the defense was never put in high leverage situations. This year, that is expected to change. Can this defense dominate as we’re accustomed to seeing an Alabama defense do?

Joshua Chatham: This should be Saban’s best defense in a few seasons. Back in 2019, injuries forced the Tide to play a significant number of freshmen in the front seven, and they understandably struggled. We saw significant improvement last season, and this season have tons of experience at all three levels of the defense. This group will allow DC Pete Golding to call whatever he likes at any time, which is a huge advantage. The linebackers, in particular, look like a dominant group with Tennessee transfer Henry To’oTo’o joining returnees Christian Harris, Will Anderson, and Christopher Allen.

3. Losing Heisman winner DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle leaves just John Metchie as the only real experienced receiver on offense. Who steps up to fill that void as Bryce Young’s second option?

Joshua Chatham: Ohio State transfer Jameson Williams is listed first on the depth chart, and word out of camp is that he has looked great. Freshman JoJo Earle seems to have a little bit of Waddle in him as an undersized slot receiver with track speed. Slade Bolden saw plenty of action last season and will also factor in the slot, and freshman Agiye Hall wowed people in the spring game. We fully expect to see him on the field earlier than later.

4. Finally, with a couple of top-ranked road games at Florida and College Station, can anyone pose a threat to Alabama’s stranglehold on the SEC, stopping them from repeating as champs?

Joshua Chatham: It’s tough not to be confident in Alabama with the talent that is on the roster every year, but in this era of offense it’s always a little scary when you have to replace so much on that side of the ball. If they don’t click, either of those road trips could trip them up and a prospective SEC Championship against Georgia will be no picnic either. Nick Saban has already mentioned this team’s need to establish its own identity, and that will go a long way toward determining how far they can go.

Projection

Matt Seese: Despite all the questions, despite all the change, they’re ranked number one in every poll. Alabama doesn’t rebuild, they reload. Where the offense takes an expected step back this year, it’s still set to be one of the best in the SEC, and the defense is experienced with top prospect draft picks everywhere. The SEC as a whole is in a similar situation as Alabama, with Florida having similar offensive overturn and LSU being such an enigma. Texas A&M possibly poses the biggest single threat to stopping this juggernaut, and if Alabama does slip up, it will be on the road at College Station. I think Alabama will still win the SEC and we should expect to see them in the Playoff come the new year.

Joshua Chatham: Again, it’s tough not to be bullish on Alabama with the talent assembled on the roster, combined with Nick Saban’s developmental process that has landed more than 48% of his five-star signees in the first round of the draft. We can’t be sure about the cohesiveness on the offensive side of the ball, but with the talent on hand, I’d expect them to be plenty good enough. Alabama should be right back in the thick of the national title chase.