TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — We’ve already given you 10 reasons why Alabama can/will return to the College Football Playoff, but things don’t always go the way of the defending champs.
Here are five reasons why Alabama may not get back to the College Football Playoff in 2016.
1. Tough road games
Alabama’s season may come down to four road games: at Ole Miss, at Arkansas, at Tennessee and at LSU.
No disrespect to USC, but Alabama thrives in these big-time season openers against Power 5 opponents.
Ole Miss has beaten Alabama twice, and the Rebels get the Crimson Tide in Oxford, Miss., this season. While it’s not likely Ole Miss wins three straight in the series, the Rebels do get Alabama early in the season when Alabama could still be figuring things out.
Arkansas has played Alabama extremely tough the last two seasons, including a 14-13 loss to the Crimson Tide in Fayetteville in 2014. Arkansas is one of the few teams that can match Alabama’s physicality because of the style head coach Bret Bielema likes to play.
Everyone says this is the year Tennessee makes a serious push for the SEC crown, and at some point that has to be true … right? This is Tennessee’s best chance to beat Alabama in the last decade. Everything is set up for the Volunteers to break Alabama’s winning streak in the series.
Like it has many times in recent years, Alabama vs. LSU could decide the SEC West. And if you’re an LSU fan, you should like your chances with this one being in Tiger Stadium. Alabama has won five straight, but the Tigers return a lot on offense, including one of the nation’s top players in running back Leonard Fournette.
2. Key contributors on both sides of the ball are gone
At what point does Alabama’s revolving door at quarterback catch up with them? How will the Crimson Tide replace its Heisman Trophy winner and the most prolific running back in school and SEC history? And what about all those guys Alabama lost on defense?
It’s nice to talk about what a team brings back and where new signees can fit it, but what a team lost must be acknowledged.
Alabama lost its starting quarterback (Jake Coker), running back (Derrick Henry), center (Ryan Kelly), right tackle (Dominick Jackson), two starting defensive linemen (A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed), starters at linebacker (Reggie Ragland, Denzel Devall), its top cornerback (Cyrus Jones) and one of its safeties (Geno Matias-Smith). And that’s not including other players who provided depth on both sides of the ball.
With the way Alabama recruits, there won’t be a lack of talent. But how fast that inexperienced talent develops will decide Alabama’s season.
3. Question marks at key positions
To piggyback off the last point a bit, Alabama has some holes at key spots heading into this season.
The biggest on offense are quarterback and running back. It’s easy for the fans to just give Lane Kiffin the benefit of the doubt because of the work he’s done with Alabama’s last two quarterbacks. It’s also easy for pundits to question the quarterbacks on Alabama’s roster because no one was able to completely separate from the group during the spring.
Both of those points can be argued. All of Alabama’s quarterbacks were rated 4-star prospects or higher coming out of high school and Kiffin has been somewhat of a quarterback whisper during his time in Tuscaloosa. But it should be a little concerning that neither of the guys did enough to earn the job in the spring.
From a running back standpoint, let’s look at the years Alabama has won the national championship under Saban. In 2009, Mark Ingram won the Heisman Trophy. In 2011, Trent Richardson was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Both Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon rushed for 1,000 yards when Alabama repeated in 2012. Henry won the Heisman Trophy in the midst of last season’s championship run.
Point being that Alabama has gotten incredible production from its running backs during the its title runs. Are we to expect a running back on Alabama’s roster to produce like some of other Crimson Tide greats? This is the thinnest and most inexperienced Alabama has been at running back under Saban.
4. A lack of depth within the defensive front
The biggest difference between Alabama’s national championship team in 2015 and the ones that came up short in 2013 and 2014 was depth along the defensive front. Not leadership. Not talent. It’s depth. And not just bodies, but supremely talented depth.
For the first time in Saban’s tenure, Alabama had the personnel to combat every type of offense. There wasn’t a ton of drop-off between the first and second units and the second and third units.
As we mentioned above, guys like Ragland, Robinson, Reed, D.J. Pettway, Dillon Lee, Denzel Devall and Darren Lake are all gone. That’s seven players who played a lot of football and were contributors throughout their careers.
Yes, Alabama returns Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Da’Shawn Hand and Dalvin Tomlinson along the defensive line as well as Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams at linebacker. But what about the guys behind them?
The defensive line depth was one of the concerns Saban addressed following Alabama’s A-Day spring game. With guys like Allen and Dakota Ball out, the defensive line was very thin. Hand dealt with back spasms. Lingering issues like that point to a potential bigger problem for Alabama: If one or more of the top guys get banged up, the Crimson Tide could be in serious trouble if young players don’t step up.
5. Repeating is extremely hard
Ask Ohio State. Ask Florida State. Ask pretty much every team that has won a national championship, and they’ll tell you that repeating is one of the hardest things to do in sports.
Yes, Alabama repeated by winning the 2011 and 2012 national championships, but before the Crimson Tide, the feat hadn’t been accomplished since 1994 and 1995 by Nebraska (USC’s 2004 BCS title was stripped).
As much as coaches try to push the message of “this is a new team” or “we’re not defending anything,” teams can’t escape the fact that they won the national championship the year before. Every opponent wants to play their best game against the defending champs to see how they stack up.
When trying to repeat, teams don’t always come back with the same hunger and focus as they had when pursuing their first title. Coaches and players can’t play the “nobody respects us” card while also being praised for being the defending champions. Things are just different.
Key players are gone. Leadership is different. Teams have to have a lot go right in order to win back-to-back titles.
Look at Alabama’s 2012 season. The Crimson Tide was the best team in the country, but after a home loss to Texas A&M, Alabama needed help in the form of other teams losing just to make the championship game.
Everything has to break right in terms of staying healthy, team chemistry and more just to win one championship. Getting all of those things to happen again for two straight years is a lot easier said than done.