National championships are inevitably pinnacles of prosperity, a culmination of building in which the next logical question revolves around how many years it’ll take to get back to this same spot. Unless, that is, you’re Alabama.
After the Crimson Tide won the College Football Playoff in January, there was a legitimate thought that the 2016 edition could be even better than its predecessor.
There’s a joke around the South that coach Nick Saban doesn’t rebuild, he restocks. The seemingly endless train of four- and five-star recruits that sign with Alabama makes it nearly impossible for a down year to crop up. Consider recent history as proof.
After Saban’s first season, when the 2007 Tide went 7-6, Alabama fans have enjoyed eight straight seasons of at least 10 wins, no more than three losses and, oh year, four national titles.
There’s no need for further proof, but take this fact: In every season since 2008, Alabama has at one point been ranked No. 1 in the country. The 2016 season should be no different. In fact … Alabama could be better next season than it was in title run of 2015.
Here are three reasons to like the Tide’s chances for a repeat in 2016:
Blake Barnett (or Cooper Bateman)
If Barnett emerges from the preseason quarterback competition, he’ll undoubtedly become the best passer of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s time in Tuscaloosa.
Kiffin, who took barely-known Blake Sims and turned him into a star and then pushed perennial backup Jake Coker to a national title, now could get to build plays around a mega-talent.
A prototypical 6-foot-5 pocket passer, Barnett spent his first year on campus in redshirt status, but brought five-star hype and a year of learning and growing into spring camp. He should be ready to give the Crimson Tide a different look at quarterback than they’ve seen in some time.
If Cooper Bateman wins, Kiffin can mold another passer who has waited a long time for his chance.
No fall-off in the front seven
Typically when a college team loses three first-round talents to the NFL in the same year, setbacks follow. Now imagine that all three guys come from the same positional grouping.
Alabama’s front seven was the best in the country last season, bar none.
Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson and Reggie Ragland will be missed, but names like Dalvin Tomlinson, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne have been waiting in the wings. What’s more, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson should be ready to step up and push the opposition around as every-down linebackers.
“I really don’t think they’re going to lose a beat,” Reed said at the Senior Bowl. “I think they’re going to be a great defense. I think they’re going to uphold the standards of what we held them to.”
This WR corps could be special
The 2015 Alabama offense pounded opponents with a steady diet of running back Derrick Henry and side-courses of Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart at receiver.
This year could be the receiving corps’ turn to shine.
Ridley, who went for 89 catches and 1,045 yards as a freshman, is knocking on the door to the room where Julio Jones and Amari Cooper held “Elite Status” meetings in the past. Stewart added 63 grabs and 700 yards and complements Ridley in ways Kiffin should exploit further in 2016.
Add in a healthy Robert Foster (former 5-star signee) and Bowling Green transfer Gehrig Dieter, who caught 94 passes for 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, along with depth pieces like Cam Sims and this unit could produce numbers like it hasn’t been able to in years.
Somewhere, Kiffin is smiling about the upside potential of these receivers and remembering that tight end O.J. Howard caught eight passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns in his final two games on the season — College Football Playoff wins over Michigan State and Clemson.