A documented winner

Today at No. 3: Alabama Crimson Tide Coach: Nick Saban (79-15, entering eighth season; 165-57-1 overall) 2013 results: 11-2 (7-1 SEC, second in West...

college football pickToday at No. 3: Alabama Crimson Tide

Coach: Nick Saban (79-15, entering eighth season; 165-57-1 overall)

2013 results: 11-2 (7-1 SEC, second in West Division)

Pictures: Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders 2015 Swimsuit Calendar

Offensive starters returning: 7

Offensive starters lost: 4

Defensive starters returning: 5

Defensive starters lost: 6

Key losses: QB AJ McCarron, LB C.J. Mosley, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, LT Cyrus Kouandjio

Top returnees: QB Jacob Coker, RB T.J. Yeldon, RB Derrick Henry, WR Amari Cooper, S Landon Collins, DL A’Shawn Robinson, LB Trey DePriest, TE O.J. Howard

Look back: Alabama appeared to be on its way to its third straight national title, winning 10 of its first 11 games by at least 13 points. The exception was a 49-42 shootout against Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel, during which quarterback AJ McCarron looked like he might win his own Heisman.

But during the most highly anticipated Iron Bowl matchup in years, the Crimson Tide came up short. Auburn returned a missed field goal for a touchdown in the final seconds for a stunning 34-28 win. Third-ranked Alabama then failed to show up in the Sugar Bowl, losing to 45-31 to No. 11 Oklahoma and SEC-bashing coach Bob Stoops.

The last time the Tide lost consecutive games was 2008, the season prior to the school’s run of three national titles in four seasons. While an 11-win season would be cause for celebration for most programs, it led coach Nick Saban and Co. to do some soul searching during the offseason.

Strengths: The Tide are loaded with playmakers on offense. Wide receivers Amari Cooper is one of the nation’s best, but looks to produce like he did as a freshman (1,000 yards, 11 TDs) after a drop-off as a sophomore (736 yards, four TDs). DeAndrew White and Christion Jones join Cooper to form one of the nation’s top trios. Alabama boasts college football’s best running tandems, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Yeldon rushed for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore, while Henry averaged 10.9 yards a carry as a freshman backup. Linebacker Trey DePriest and safety Landon Collins are the key playmakers on what promises to be another strong defense. Sophomore end A’Shawn Robinson, who had 5.5. sacks as a freshman, and junior-college transfer Jarran Reed anchor a defensive line that can go eight deep.

Weaknesses: The biggest question mark is quarterback. Jake Coker and Blake Sims are sharing quarterback duties in the opener and will work to replace McCarron, a three-year starter and two-time national championship winner. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Coker lost the FSU quarterback competition to 2013 Heisman winner Jameis Winston last summer and sought greener pastures.

Alabama also must replace three starters on the offensive line, including left tackle left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, a second-round pick, as well as two first-round picks on defense — linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

Both cornerbacks also will be new. Alabama lost All-SEC punter Cody Mandell and must find a reliable kicker, especially given the costly kicking game blunders against Auburn last season.

Outlook: The Tide have new top quarterbacks (Coker and Sims), new offensive coordinator (Lane Kiffin) and new leader on defense (DePriest). But one thing remains the same — Saban. That will be enough for Alabama to be a national title contender. The Tide could once again be undefeated late in the season. If so, dates at LSU on Nov. 8 and on Nov. 29 at home against Auburn will be the keys to the season.

2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 West Virginia

Sept. 6 Florida Atlantic

Sept. 13 Southern Miss

Sept. 20 Florida

Oct. 4 at Ole Miss

Oct. 11 at Arkansas

Oct. 18 Texas A&M

Oct. 25 at Tennessee

Nov. 8 at LSU

Nov. 15 Mississippi State

Nov. 22 Western Carolina

Nov. 29 Auburn


Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,

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