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Matt Smith previews the 2020 Alabama Crimson Tide.

ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Head Coach: Nick Saban; 14th season at Alabama, 20th season overall (117-27 SEC, 248-65 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Steve Sarkisian (third season)
Defensive Coordinator: Pete Golding (second season)
2019 Recap: 11-2 (6-2 SEC); defeated Michigan in Citrus Bowl
The dynasty is dead. That’s far from true, of course, but Alabama did lose multiple games in a season for the first time since 2014, and for the first time in the regular season since 2010. Two different leg injuries to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa derailed national title hopes, but the Crimson Tide did punch at LSU’s level for most of their 46-41 loss to the eventual national champions. With a playoff bid still on the table, Alabama lost a 48-45 heartbreaker to Auburn in the Iron Bowl. The defense was good, but not to the level of most Nick Saban teams, and it showed in two defeats in which the offense put up more than 40 points. Luck was not on Alabama’s side last season, which is the main reason why the team missed the College Football Playoff for the first time in its six seasons of existence.

2020 Schedule
Sept. 26 – at Missouri (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Oct. 3 – TEXAS A&M (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Oct. 10 – at Ole Miss
Oct. 17 – GEORGIA (8 p.m. ET, CBS)
Oct. 24 – at Tennessee
Oct. 31 – MISSISSIPPI STATE
Nov. 7 – Idle
Nov. 14 – at LSU (6 p.m. ET, CBS)
Nov. 21 – KENTUCKY
Nov. 28 – AUBURN
Dec. 5 – at Arkansas

Under Center
Redshirt junior Mac Jones filled in admirably for an injured Tua Tagovailoa late last season, but even with the Crimson Tide scoring 45 points against Auburn, two pick-sixes in Alabama’s 48-45 national title-eliminating defeat were costly. Nothing really pops about Jones’ game, but he’s a veteran who has spent the past two seasons with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Jones has the necessary traits for Alabama to regain its perch as the SEC’s best team and national title contender.

True freshman Bryce Young arrived in Tuscaloosa in January with hopes of competing with Jones for the starting. The California native missed out on 15 on-field opportunities with the cancelation of spring practice and now finds himself squarely as the No. 2 option heading into the fall. Young’s pedigree should keep Jones on a relatively short leash, but the unusual offseason likely means it will be 2021 before we see Young take meaningful snaps if Jones remains healthy.

In The Trenches
Alabama’s offensive line should be the nation’s best. Left tackle Alex Leatherwood surprisingly opted to return for his senior season, meaning the Crimson Tide only have to replace right tackle Jedrick Wills from the 2019 starting unit. Sophomore Evan Neal likely will kick outside to tackle, so the only competition for a starting role will likely come at Neal’s vacated guard role. Former Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood has done a fine job since taking over this unit after the 2018 season, as Alabama led all Power Five teams in 2019 with just 12 sacks allowed.

On the defensive side of the ball, the household names aren’t necessarily there, but there’s plenty to like as usual for the Crimson Tide. Sophomore tackle DJ Dale and junior end LaBryan Ray battled injuries for much of last season, forcing Alabama to take a patchwork approach. The Tide finished an uncharacteristically low No. 7 in the SEC in yards per carry allowed last season. Helping the front will be the return of a pair of inside linebackers who missed all of 2019 in Dylan Moses and Christian Harris. Moses was an All-American candidate before his knee injury last summer.

On The Edge
Alabama possesses perhaps the most exciting player in college football in junior receiver and returner Jaylen Waddle. Waddle’s receiving production dipped from 45 receptions to 33 as a sophomore (Alabama did play two fewer games in 2019), but he ran a punt back for a touchdown against LSU and had a kickoff return touchdown against Auburn. He’ll team with DeVonta Smith to make up the SEC’s top receiving duo, but there is room for a No. 3 option. Keep an eye on sophomore John Metchie.

Running back Najee Harris returning to Alabama was an even bigger surprise than Leatherwood, as the Crimson Tide now have one of the most physical runners in the country at their disposal who can also be a threat in the passing game. He’s not defined by his explosiveness, but his ability to break tackles allows for plenty of big plays. The secondary is Nick Saban’s bread and butter, but there’s little proven production there behind junior cornerback Patrick Surtain II.

Ranking The Units
1. Offensive Line
2. Receivers
3. Running Backs
4. Linebackers
5. Defensive Line
6. Quarterbacks
7. Defensive Backs

Schedule Analysis
Alabama’s added games were Kentucky and Missouri, so the Crimson Tide avoid having to play Florida this season in addition to Georgia and Tennessee. The toughest stretch comes in October, when Alabama faces Texas A&M, Georgia and Tennessee in a four-week span. There are no back-to-back road games, and there is the usual off-week before LSU. Kentucky isn’t a threat to beat Alabama, but the Wildcats are physical enough to give the Tide an interesting sandwich game between the trip to LSU and the Iron Bowl.

Season Prediction
This is the SEC’s best team, with only one notable question mark and a ton of motivation after the team’s first two-loss regular season since 2010 a year ago. There’s a stumble somewhere along the line, but it shouldn’t be enough to keep Alabama out of the SEC Championship Game and the College Football Playoff. They’ll take down Florida in Atlanta before moving on to the CFP, where they will be awaited by . . . the Florida Gators.

Record: 10-1
CFP Ranking: 1
Bowl: Sugar Bowl (CFP semifinal) vs. Florida
 

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