It’s not easy to stay at or near the top like Alabama has over the course of the Nick Saban era, but it’s hard to imagine them being anywhere else. At the same time though, with several key positions – including quarterback – needing to be filled, going through the season unscathed is a reach. The Crimson Tide will lose at least one regular season game, but recover in time to make the SEC Championship game, and ultimately advance to the national championship under the new four-team College Football Playoff format. However, UA will fall just short against a Florida State that will be loaded again after its national championship run a year ago.
Worst case scenario: 10-3. This year’s team, albeit as talented as ever, is the most vulnerable Alabama has been in years after losing seven starters on defense, including Butkus Award winner C.J. Mosley; two starting offensive linemen; and Heisman Trophy runner-up AJ McCarron at quarterback. The new starters struggle to fill the void left by their predecessors, particularly at quarterback, and the Crimson Tide suffers because of it with losses at LSU, Auburn and a potential sleeper team that is able to take advantage of the inexperience.
Toughest game: Auburn. Among the teams it’s already scheduled to play, it’s the Iron Bowl that will be circled a few extra times on the calendar this year for obvious reasons and not just because of revenge. By the end of last season, Auburn’s offensive rushing attack was not a secret to anyone in the country, yet no team came even close to slowing it down, including two top 5 defenses in Alabama and Florida State. Until proven otherwise, the Tigers will be a dominant rushing offense again in 2014 and force the Crimson Tide to give everything it has with the SEC West title likely on the line for a second straight season.
MVP: Trey DePriest. By default, DePriest is the next man up to fill C.J. Mosley’s shoes as both a player and leader in 2014, and he will be more than capable of doing so. The rising senior will be the most experienced player on either side of the ball for the Crimson Tide and help continue the stellar inside linebacker play that has been a staple in Nick Saban’s defenses at Alabama.
Breakout player: O.J. Howard. For a player who played in all 13 games, including six starts, last season, Howard is still virtually an unknown in the Alabama offense. As a freshman last season, Howard had only 14 catches for 269 yards and two touchdowns, but that could quickly change under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who has been known to utilize his tight ends in his past offenses.