At this stage of the game it should come as no surprise that those who make a living prognosticating — a guesswork that understandably irritates Nick Saban — are in consensus that the University of Alabama is the top team in the land.
That doesn’t mean much when a game hasn’t been played and not so much as one fall-camp reputation has been taken. Yet a study of three college football preseason magazines (Phil Steele, Athlon and Lindy’s) reveal that Alabama is the consensus No. 1.
This fact will undoubtedly be one of the subjects during Saban’s upcoming stop at SEC Media Days this week, and the veteran head coach will rightfully point out that this team has accomplished nothing.
But armed with a returning starting quarterback for the first time since 2013, Alabama is loaded for bear offensively and has enough talent on defense that most think a steep drop off isn’t in the cards on that side of the ball.
All in all, the college football world thinks highly of Alabama.
“Their ceiling is a national championship,” said Chris Van Dine of Phil Steele Publications. “We have Alabama, in the magazine, as our No. 1 team in the country and the national champion at the end of the year.
“It’s a different Alabama team because they’re built a little bit differently. They have a returning starting quarterback, which Alabama hasn’t had in a little while. There’s more experience on the offensive side of the ball than they normally have, and their running game is absolutely potent with (Bo) Scarbrough, Damien Harris and adding a guy like Najee Harris. So one through five, their running backs are just loaded.”
According to Phil Steele’s 2017 College Football Preview, widely considered the best resource on the market for college football fans, the Crimson Tide fields the top-ranked SEC unit at every position save for two: receiving (No. 2) and special teams (No. 7). You didn’t misread that. Steele has Alabama ranked No. 1 in the conference at quarterback, running back, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker and defensive back.
That may come as a surprise given all the front-seven talent UA lost from last year’s stingy defensive unit. But when you recruit and develop as well as Saban and company, you earn the benefit of the doubt.
“Defensively, they do lose some guys from the front seven, but they have a lot of talent coming in,” Van Dine said. “A guy we like is Terrell (Lewis) out of Washington D.C. He was a freshman last year and played a little bit. He’s stepping into a starting role maybe this year, and he can be a big-time talent for them.
“The secondary is absolutely fantastic with (Minkah) Fitzpatrick and (Ronnie) Harrison returning. So Alabama is going to be just as strong on defense as they normally are. We have them rated as our No. 1 defense in the country this year.”
Steele has seven Alabama players rated as First-team All-SEC selections, including quarterback Jalen Hurts, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, offensive tackle Jonah Williams, defensive tackle Da’Ron Payne, linebacker Rashaan Evans and safeties Fitzpatrick and Harrison.
Steele projects Alabama as the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff matching up with USC in the semifinal with Ohio State and Florida State in the other semifinal. He predicts Alabama to defeat Ohio State in the CFP National Championship Game.
Interestingly enough, Alabama meets Florida State on Sept. 2 to kickoff the season the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.
That challenging game starts a relatively favorable schedule for the Crimson Tide, one that features key home games against Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU. Key road games include Texas A&M and Mississippi State and Auburn.
“I don’t know that there’s a question mark so much as can they get through some of those tougher games,” Van Dine said. “The Florida State game is the big one because if they don’t win that game it definitely puts them behind the eight ball as far as getting through the season. They get LSU at home this year. The big road game will be Auburn at the end of the year. The question will be how well does Jarrett Stidham jell by then. A lot of their tougher games are at home.”
One big question fans still have is the development of Hurts as a passer. Obviously, Phil Steele’s publication doesn’t have those same questions.
“We have Jalen Hurts as a possible Heisman Trophy contender,” Van Dine said. “He’s a very talented quarterback, and he’s a true dual-threat for them which is something a little bit unique for Alabama.
“The talent around him obviously helps, but he absolutely, we think, is going to have an excellent season. He looked great in the spring, and it should be a very strong offense for them. He should continue to grow as a quarterback.”
Reach Aaron Suttles at email@example.com or at 205-722-0229.