Alabama is the preseason No. 1 again for most publications, but it isn’t unanimous, and it’s only a small gap from Alabama to the No. 2 team.
Three of four major preseason college football magazines rank Alabama as the No. 1 team entering the 2018 season. Lindy’s Sports ranks Clemson as the top team but has Alabama at No. 2. All three publications that rank Alabama No. 1 have the Tigers slotted second.
“I think the two teams are close,” said Phil Steele. “I do think Alabama is better, and Bama is the only team in the country that I feel is going to be a double-digit favorite in every single game this year. Right now in the Iron Bowl they’re only a nine-point favorite but if they go 11-0 and play as impressively as I think they will, they’ll probably end up being a double-digit favorite in that game.”
All four preseason magazines project Alabama to meet Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Santa Clara, Calif. on Jan. 7. All four publications also included Ohio State in their projected playoff and three included Georgia, while Phil Steele’s magazine had Washington as the fourth playoff participant.
Steele’s preseason magazine is in its 24th year and is often considered the most comprehensive preseason publication. He said Alabama’s schedule projects to be weaker than Clemson, which is one reason why he placed the Crimson Tide at No. 1.
“Auburn, I think, has the talent to be able to line up with them,” Steele said. “When you look at Auburn’s defense, that is a very good defensive line that I have ranked fifth-best in the country. The linebackers are solid, they have good receivers and a capable quarterback in (Jarrett) Stidham. It’s a rivalry game, which is huge. I know the LSU game is a rivalry game as well, but it’s the Iron Bowl for crying out loud. I think Auburn is going to give them their best test. LSU won’t be easy, but if I was looking for the one game I’d be most concerned with, it would be the Iron Bowl against Auburn.”
Running back Damien Harris, defensive end Raekwon Davis and offensive linemen Ross Pierschbacher and Jonah Williams were the most commonly mentioned Alabama players on preseason All-America teams.
Expectations are also high for sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Athlon Sports lists him as the top candidate for the Heisman Trophy and its second-team All-American quarterback. Lindy’s has him as the No. 5 Heisman candidate despite the fact that Alabama’s quarterback battle has yet to play out this fall. Steele included Tagovailoa at No. 10 on his list of players that could win the Heisman, but was more cautious.
“As high as I am on Tua, I’m not ready to anoint him one of the best quarterbacks in the country until I see it on a consistent basis,” Steele said. “… I do think he’ll have a good year and I do think he’s the choice at quarterback. I think he gives Alabama a downfield pass threat. You’re not going to see Tua throw for 4,000 yards. That would be so anti-Nick Saban and so anti-Alabama. Sometimes you go with quarterbacks who are going to put up more yards on the season. That would be the reason I don’t have him as high. I saw somebody rank him as like the No. 2 quarterback in the country, and I’m not going that far. No way.”
Even after losing 12 NFL draft picks and the entire secondary, Alabama’s roster remains loaded. The running backs, offensive line, defensive line and linebackers were all listed among the best groups at their position by several publications. All that talent should keep the Crimson Tide in the conversation for another national championship.
“The one question mark I have with Alabama has to be on special teams,” Steele said. “The field goals in the title game were huge. They do have a true freshman punter coming in to replace JK Scott. New kicker as well with the grad transfer from Temple. Special teams is my biggest question mark on this team.”
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