2020 Team Preview: Can Alabama Reclaim SEC Dominance?
It is a rare year when Alabama doesn’t make the College Football playoff, and 2019 was a rare year. Alabama had made the playoff in each of the first five years of the event’s existence, winning national titles in 2015 and 2017 while making the championship game in 2016 and 2018. Last year, however, LSU disrupted Alabama’s run of SEC dominance by beating the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. LSU won the SEC West Division, then the SEC championship, and then the national title. Clemson, the team which beat Alabama in the 2018 season’s national championship game, was once again in the final game of the college football season against an SEC West team. Alabama was not the opponent last season. This year, the Crimson Tide want to shove aside LSU and regain their place atop the toughest division, and conference, in college football.
The Tide lost quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who got injured late in the season and predictably went to the NFL to cash a paycheck and capitalize on his earnings-winning potential. Tagovailoa was a special quarterback. Getting decent production from the position is an obvious Alabama priority. What will make the Tide’s challenge even greater is that two elite receivers, Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy, both went in the top 16 of the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. That is a lot of offensive firepower to lose in one offseason. The Alabama passing game will be a central point of intrigue this coming season.
The Crimson Tide Will Succeed If…
They can be healthy on defense this year. Last year, Alabama was destroyed by injuries to its defensive line and especially its linebackers. Injuries piled up early in the season and kept coming. Head coach Nick Saban had to go very deep into his depth chart and play backups at crucial positions. This is why Auburn was able to score 48 points against Alabama this past season, even though Auburn did not have an especially strong passing attack. Alabama’s defense was simply hollowed out by injuries and didn’t have nearly enough experience to handle any situation. If the Crimson Tide can avoid a plague of injuries on defense, that alone will immensely improve their odds of succeeding this year.
The Crimson Tide Will Fail If…
Mac Jones struggles. Jones replaced Tagovailoa late last season after Tua got severely injured. He gained experience in big games against Auburn and then against Michigan in the Citrus Bowl, so he enters this season with some snaps in live action. That is important. Yet, Mac Jones is not Tua, and he is also not Jalen Hurts, who preceded Tua to Tuscaloosa. Jones doesn’t have to be the second coming of Tagovailoa; he doesn’t have to be equally as good. If he can be 75 percent as good and specifically avoid critical turnovers, Alabama should be just fine in 2020.
The enormous losses by LSU – which had 15 players drafted by the NFL, five in the first round, and 10 of the first 97 picks – enable Alabama to have the inside track to the SEC title. Alabama still has Jaylen Waddle at receiver, Najee Harris at running back, and a solid offensive line. Mac Jones can trust his playmakers to make plays. This team is the best in the SEC and will prove as much this fall.
Prediction: 1st in SEC West, SEC Champion