TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Two years into the College Football Playoff era, Alabama is the only school to make it to football’s final four in back-to-back seasons.
The Crimson Tide came up short in 2014, falling to eventual champion Ohio State. But Alabama rebounded with a resounding run in 2015 to claim the program’s fourth national championship in seven seasons.
Talent-wise, Alabama has the pieces to repeat as national champions in 2016. Repeating won’t be easy and a lot will have to go Alabama’s way, but don’t be surprised if the Crimson Tide is once again in the playoff.
Here are 10 reasons why Alabama can/will get back to the College Football Playoff in 2016.
1. Nick Saban
Following the 2013 and 2014 seasons, pundits wondered if the game had passed Saban bye, and if he’d ever win another national championship. But if the 2015 season showed anything, it’s that Saban is willing to adapt. He sped up his offense with the help of Lane Kiffin. His defense neutralized up-tempo attacks with help from Kirby Smart.
Saban also showed that he’s willing to take risks, calling the gutsy onside kick that swung the flow of the national championship against Clemson.
At 64, Saban is still sharp and at the top of his game. Is there any coach in the country you’d rather have leading your program than Saban?
2. Elite pass rush
With Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson all coming back for their senior seasons, Alabama returns 28.5 of its nation-leading 52 sacks from last season.
All three harass pass rushers and do it in different ways. Allen is one of the few defensive lineman in the country who can rush the passer and stop the run. Alabama let Allen rush from the outside and the inside last year, and he was productive all over. Allen finished tied for seventh in the nation with 12 sacks.
Williams is a speed demon off the edge. He has an otherworldly first-step, and despite playing only a situational role, Williams totaled 10.5 sacks. He’ll be an every-down player this season.
Anderson may have been one of the most underrated players on Alabama’s defense last year. Anderson can both rush the passer and set the edge from the outside linebacker spot. Look for Anderson to have a monster season.
Alabama also has hungry young players like Christian Miller, Anfernee Jennings and others eager to fill those situational pass rushing roles.
3. Capable replacements at QB, RB
Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake will be missed, but Alabama has talent ready to step in. Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris, along with 2016 signees B.J. Emmons and Joshua Jacobs, are capable replacements. No one expects them to rush for 2,000 yards or carry the ball 40-plus times in one game, but look for Alabama to return to more a two-back system like Saban has used throughout his time at Alabama.
At quarterback, each of the four players competing to replace Jake Coker were rated as 4-star prospects or higher during their respective recruiting cycles.
Cooper Bateman is the leader to start Week 1 at this point because of his experience and knowledge of the offense. David Cornwell is probably the best passer of the group, but he’ll need to show more consistency if he wants to compete for the job. Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts are both talented playmakers, but they’ll need to continue to work toward earning the trust of the coaching staff and their teammates.
4. Lane Kiffin
Kiffin has worked wonders with Alabama’s offense in both of his seasons in Tuscaloosa. In 2014, Kiffin took Blake Sims and set school passing records. Last season, Kiffin pushed Coker to become a national championship quarterback. So we probably should give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this quarterback race.
Kiffin will have plenty of receivers to use in his system this year. It’ll be interesting to see what type of mismatches he can create with guys like Calvin Ridley, O.J. Howard, Robert Foster and others.
Piggybacking off our last point, Alabama is loaded at wide receiver. Ridley is just a sophomore, but he’s already being considered as one of the best returning receivers in the country.
Foster was ready to break out last season before his shoulder injury sidelined him for the year. He’ll be motivated to make his mark on the program, and show NFL teams his potential. Foster’s presence should take some pressure off Ridley. ArDarius Stewart made clutch catch after clutch catch last year. Once he settled into his role, Stewart blossomed in Alabama’s offense.
Howard is a tight end, but he may as well be an extra wide receiver. Howard finally had the breakout performance Alabama fans had been looking for in the national championship. Gehrig Dieter, Cam Sims and others also will factor into Alabama’s deep receiver group.
6. Vegas knows
At last check, VegasInsider.com had Alabama at 7/1 odds to win the 2016 national championship. Clemson and Ohio State are the next two teams at 15/2.
7. Returning Seniors
Saban’s best recruiting job didn’t happen on National Signing Day. It was when he got guys like Allen, Williams, Anderson, Eddie Jackson, Reuben Foster and Howard to return for their senior seasons.
This group of leaders has seen both the high of winning a national championship and the low of coming up short in 2013 and 2014. Those experiences should prove valuable when trying to motivate a new crop of young players throughout the course of a grueling season.
It also helps that Alabama won’t be so young at a lot of key positions with these guys staying in school.
8. Kirby Smart to Jeremy Pruitt should be smooth transition
From a defensive standpoint, Saban typically brings back coaches who have worked in his system or in the program at some point. Saban likes the familiarity and the idea of there not being a huge learning curve when bringing in a new coach.
When Kirby Smart decided to take the Georgia job, Saban said it was a “no-brainer” to bring back Pruitt as the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator. Pruitt was a defensive backs coach at Alabama under Saban before becoming the defensive coordinator at Florida State and then Georgia. Pruitt has both knowledge of Saban’s system and independent success (helped Florida State to 2013 national championship) which Saban likes.
Alabama’s defense will be similar to what it was under Smart, but look for Alabama to be even more aggressive and exotic with some of its blitz packages.
9. Alabama has question marks, but other teams do as well
Looking around at some of the contenders in the SEC and nationally, and you’ll see that everyone has questions surrounding their programs. Clemson, which lost to Alabama in the championship game, must replace a big portion of its defense. Ohio State, which won the title in 2014, lost the majority of its two-deep on both sides of the both to the NFL draft. In the SEC, Georgia has a new coach, Florida has quarterback questions and we’re still wondering if LSU can get enough quarterback play to put them over the hump.
Those are just a few of the top programs from around the league and country. Point being, no team is perfect. Alabama’s deficiencies may not be that big of an issue.
10. Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting
According to the 247Sports composite, Alabama has had the No. 1 recruiting class for six straight years. Talent won’t be an issue in Tuscaloosa for along time.