Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ 2018 college football preseason top 25. A poll that’s guaranteed to be wrong like every other preseason poll out there. Every day in August we’re going to reveal a new team in our top 25 culminating with the reveal of our No. 1 team on Aug. 25. That’s today. It’s a big surprise, isn’t it?
Previously: No. 25 South Carolina, No. 24 Utah, No. 23 West Virginia, No. 22 Central Florida, No. 21 Texas, No. 20 USC, No. 19 Florida State, No. 18 Oregon, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 16 TCU, No. 15 Michigan, No. 14 Boise State, No. 13 Notre Dame, No. 12 Auburn, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 10 Stanford, No. 9 Miami, No. 8 Penn State, No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 5 Georgia, No. 4 Washington, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 2 Clemson
Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback
There is no perfect solution to Alabama’s quarterback competition. There never is when it comes to a position battle between two evenly-matched players, but it’s magnified when that quarterback battle has the layers that Alabama’s does.
If Jalen Hurts is never replaced by Tua Tagovailoa in the National Championship Game and the Tide loses, Alabama may still have this situation to figure out. Or, if you want to believe Lane Kiffin and maybe Tagovailoa himself, Hurts would have the starting job all to himself and Tagovailoa would be at another school.
But the touchdown pass got us to this point. It won a national title for the Tide and made things a lot more complicated in the future. Is Hurts, the guy under center as Alabama went to two title games, worthy of a third season as the team’s primary quarterback? Or is Tagovailoa the quarterback of Alabama’s present and future?
Hurts was outspoken about the way the spring has gone for him earlier in August. He said that no one from Alabama’s coaching staff asked him how he was handling the “uncontrollable” situation.
Hurts is set to graduate at the end of the semester. He could transfer and play his final season of college football in 2019 at another school if he wants to. But December is a whole football season away.
Tagovailoa would probably be the favorite if you were to do a straw poll of Alabama fans. He was a highly-rated recruit out of high school and there’s that whole thing about what happened in Atlanta when he found DeVonta Smith in the back of the end zone. But don’t rule out Hurts, or at least a timeshare of sorts to start the season.
We’re not sure whatever happens at quarterback will make — or break — Alabama’s season. The Tide are too good elsewhere to have to rely on great quarterback play to get through the 2018 season without a chance at the playoff. The offensive line returns four starters and running backs Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs are all back. The run game will still be the driving force behind Alabama’s run game, not only because it’s good but also because it may have to be.
Who steps up to replace Calvin Ridley?
Hurts and Tagovailoa combined to complete over 60 percent of their passes, throw for over 2,700 yards and toss 28 touchdowns to three interceptions. Those are good numbers, even if the touchdown-to-interception ratio is just a tad unsustainable.
A huge chunk of those yards and completions went to Calvin Ridley. The Atlanta Falcons’ first-round pick had 63 catches for 967 yards and five touchdowns. Alabama’s next-leading receiver was Jerry Jeudy. He had 14 catches for 264 yards and two scores.
Yes, outside of Ridley no other Alabama player had more than 14 catches. Someone has to replace that production in 2018. It could be Jeudy, who did that in 2017 as a freshman. Or Henry Ruggs, who had more yards per catch than Jeudy did (albeit on 12 catches) and caught six touchdowns. Smith was a freshman in 2017 too. So there’s a good chance that all three of Alabama’s top receivers in 2018 will be sophomores.
That youth bodes well for 2019. But Alabama is also playing for a national title in 2018. And would be well-served for one or more to emerge as a go-to threat this season.
There’s even more than normal to replace on defense
This year may be the ultimate test of the recruiting machine that Nick Saban has built. The Tide return just three starters on defense, the fewest number of starters back in the past eight seasons.
Defensive end Raekwon Davis, defensive end Isaiah Buggs and linebacker Anfernee Jennings are the team’s only three returning starters. You’ll notice that none of them play a position in the defensive backfield.
Davis is a beast. He was Alabama’s third-leading tackler and had 8.5 sacks in 2017. He’ll be the focal point of the pass rush. He’ll need to be too. Alabama’s depth at linebacker is already pretty thin. Terrell Lewis and Chris Allen have already suffered knee injuries. The starting group of Jennings, Mack Wilson, Dylan Moses and Christian Miller is pretty great. But all four players need to stay healthy. Five-star freshman Eyabi Anoma may end up getting some playing time.
Another freshman who could contribute right away is Patrick Surtain Jr., the son of the former NFL cornerback. He was a five-star recruit at cornerback and could play some in nickel packages. Trevon Diggs was Alabama’s primary punt returner in 2017 and he’ll be called on to be one of the team’s best corners in 2018. Don’t be surprised if Alabama’s pass defense gives up a big play or two to Louisville in Week 1.
Irv Smith, TE: It’s hard to project an impact player in Alabama’s pass game because it’s so wide open. Either one of those three aforementioned sophomores could break out or another receiver like redshirt freshman Tyrell Shavers.
We’ll go with Smith, because he provides the most upside from the tight end position. Think of an O.J. Howard-type in the pass game. Ideally without Alabama forgetting he exists save for the times that he isn’t wide open behind the defense. Smith had 14 catches for 128 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. Doubling that production and becoming a reliable third-down threat would be a good development.
Game to watch: Nov. 3 at LSU
Another reason Alabama is the favorite in the SEC West is because the Tide’s schedule is extremely favorable. Games against Mississippi State and Auburn, the top two contenders to Alabama in the West, are both in Tuscaloosa. And Tennessee is in year one of the Jeremy Pruitt era (remember, Nick Saban doesn’t lose to former assistants) and Missouri is the Tide’s other SEC East opponent.
All of those games mean we’re choosing the annual first week of November matchup with the Tigers even though Alabama has beaten LSU by 10 or more points in each of the last three seasons.
This is pretty self-explanatory, right? Outside of an undefeated season and a national title, Alabama’s quarterback situation is settled throughout the entire season, someone seamlessly replaces Calvin Ridley, Harris and Harris combine for over 2,000 yards and the defense stays healthy.
Alabama’s run of defensive injuries continues and the team’s depth can’t keep up. But how many games would the Tide lose? Two? Three? It’s hard to see Alabama losing to more than Mississippi State or Auburn. Which means that Alabama could start the season 8-0 or 9-0 even with things going poorly.
The best-case scenario comes to fruition. Almost. A loss during the regular season isn’t out of the question, but why would you bet against Alabama for the national title at this point?
– – – – – – –
Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
More college football from Yahoo Sports: