Alabama Crimson Tide: CFN College Football Preview 2021

·14 min read

College Football News Preview 2021: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Alabama football season with what you need to know.

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– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Alabama Football Schedule Analysis
– Alabama Crimson Tide Previews
2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

2020 Record: 13-0 overall, 11-0 in SEC
Head Coach: Nick Saban, 15th year, 164-23 (255-65 overall)
2020 CFN Final Ranking: 1
2020 CFN Preview Ranking: 3
2019 CFN Final Ranking: 15

Alabama Crimson Tide College Football Preview 2021: Offense

No big whoop. Just replace the (likely) New England Patriot starting quarterback coming off one of the most efficient years in college football history (Mac Jones), a Heisman-winning wide receiver (DeVonta Smith), another wide receiver who’s probably even better (Jaylen Waddle), a running back who deserved the Heisman (Najee Harris), a first round offensive tackle (Alex Leatherwood), a second round center (Landon Dickerson), and another drafted guard (Deonte Brown).

Oh, and while you’re at it, replace the new head coach of the Texas Longhorns at offensive coordinator (Steve Sarkisian).

But it’s Alabama. That’s the cost of doing business for an offense that led the nation in passing efficiency, third down chances, and averaged 542 yards and 49 points per game against a schedule of all SEC teams, Notre Dame and Ohio State.

Again, it’s Alabama, so you go grab the (former) Houston Texans head coach to be your new offensive coordinator – Bill O’Brien is an incredible get, even for the Tide – and the machine is supposed to keep on rolling. However …

As good as new starting quarterback Bryce Young is supposed to be, he’s not going to be Mac Jones or Tua Tagovailoa throwing the ball right out of the gate. He’s a smallish 6-0, 194-pound former superstar recruit who’s going to add a more dynamic element to the offense.

Young will be great, but it’s asking too much to immediately match the greatest two-year run of wide receiver talent in college football history.

John Metchie, though, is next. Totally overshadowed by the Slim Reaper’s amazing year, Metchie finished second on the team with 55 catches for 916 yards and six scores, and averaged more yards per catch – 16.7 to 15.9 – than Smith.

Between inside target Slade Bolden and a whole lot of big-time talents ready to show what they can do – like sophomores Javon Baker and Traeshon Holden, and 6-3 freshman Agiye Hall – the passing game will be fine.

The tight end situation is just as promising. Jahleel Billingsley has NFL tools, and junior Cameron Latu is a terrific talent, too.

Najee Harris ran for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns and caught 43 passes for 425 yards and four scores as the glue to the unstoppable offense. Brian Robinson might not be the same talent, but he’s a future NFL back with 6-1, 228-pound size and a whole lot of experience in the rotation.

2020’s No. 3 back Jase McClellen is another excellent option, but the real riser is sophomore Roydell Williams – who ran for 71 yards in a limited role – coming off a strong offseason.

The line has three all-stars ready to work around with Evan Neal a franchise NFL tackle who’ll move from the right side to the left, and with guard Emil Ekiyor and center Chris Owens also future pro starters. There’s enough talented versatility to figure out the other two spots in fall camp without missing a beat.

– What You Need To Know: Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Alabama Football Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Alabama Crimson Tide College Football Preview 2021: Defense

Alabama Crimson Tide College Football Preview 2021: Defense

The personnel losses aren’t nearly as massive as they are on the offensive side, but there are just enough to be annoying. However, the Tide D is about to be phenomenal after allowing just 352 yards and 19 points per game. Everything’s going to start with …

The linebackers. Heart-and-soul leading tackler Dylan Moses is done, but the foursome is loaded around second-leading tackler and future NFL starter Christian Harris.

He’s a next-level prototype at one of the inside spots, Christopher Allen is a 6-4, 252-pound hybrid pass rusher on the outside, and Will Anderson is coming off a 52-tackle, seven-sack, 10.5 tackle for loss first year. Throw in Tennessee transfer Henry To’o To’o along with several other huge recruits who waited their turn, and the Tide have an almost unfairly good group.

Christian Barmore is gone from the defensive interior, but just about everyone else is back. DJ Dale is a reliable veteran on the nose, LaBryan Ray is a reliable veteran at one end, and Phidarian Mathis is a 312-pound reliable veteran whenever he lines up. 320-pound sophomore Tim Smith got in enough work to potentially be a huge factor in the rotation on one end – maybe over Mathis.

The secondary is fantastic even without Patrick Surtain. The other four starters are back around 44-tackle, three-pick safety Malachi Moore coming off an all-star season.

Josh Jobe is a big-time corner, Jordan Battle was third on the team with 55 tackles, DeMarcco Hellams was fourth with 62 stops, Daniel Wright was fifth with 60 tackles, and there’s a whole lot more talent ready to make a push.

– What You Need To Know: Offense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Alabama Football Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Alabama Crimson Tide College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Alabama Crimson Tide College Football Preview 2021: Top Players

Best Alabama Crimson Tide Offensive Player

OT Evan Neal, Jr.
It might not be all that exciting to pump up an offensive lineman with the skill position factory continuing to crank out stars, and this probably could and should be Bryce Young’s spot with a little time, but Neal is the standout NFL prospect on a team full of standout prospects.

The 6-7, 360-pounder is versatile enough to play almost anywhere on the line, and now he’ll move from right tackle to the left side where he’ll be a dominant force and a sure-thing all-star.

The Alabama left tackle gig is glamorous, too.

2. WR John Metchie, Jr.
3. QB Bryce Young, Soph.
4. OG Emil Ekiyor, Jr.
5. RB Brian Robinson, Sr.

Related

2021 Alabama Football Schedule: Analysis, Best and Worst Case Scenarios

Best Alabama Crimson Tide Defensive Player

LB Christian Harris, Jr.
The Alabama linebacking corps is unfairly good with future NFL starters at all four spots, lots of size, and a whole lot of experience after being thrown into the mix.

Harris should be the best of the best group of linebackers in college football.

The 6-2, 232-pounder has the speed and range to work on the anywhere needed after rocking on the weakside, finishing second on the team with 79 tackles with 4.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and two broken up passes. On this defense he doesn’t have to do it all, but he will.

2. LB Christopher Allen, Sr.
3. LB Will Anderson, Soph.
4. LB Henry To’o To’o, Jr.
5. CB Malachi Moore, Soph.

Top Incoming Alabama Crimson Tide Transfer

LB Henry To’o To’o, Jr.
Seriously? Alabama loses leading tackler Dylan Moses and just goes out and gets itself a new superstar linebacker who can fit right in.

There might be a whole slew of other good options at the position, but the former Tennessee Volunteer is special with 148 tackles and 15 tackles for loss over the last two seasons.

Snubbed by the All-SEC teams, the 6-2, 225-pounder has the range, resumé, leadership ability, and on this Bama defense, the spotlight. He was already fantastic, and now he’ll just do what he does for a team that might win the national title.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Keys To The Season
What Will Happen, Win Total Prediction
Alabama Football Schedule Analysis

NEXT: Alabama Crimson Tide College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

Alabama Crimson Tide College Football Preview 2021: Keys To The Season

Alabama Crimson Tide Biggest Key: Offense

Keep ending games right away. It’s not just that Alabama’s offense was unstoppable, it was unstoppable right away to end drives and games almost immediately.

153 to 44. That was the score after the first quarters.

229 to 92. That was the total second quarter scoring.

Bama didn’t let teams have a shot, doing the best job of crushing dreams and spirits by owning the early downs and not even letting it get to third down.

The passing game was beyond ridiculous on second down – hitting 82% with 14 touchdown passes and no picks. How good is that? Bama had a second down passer rating of 221.4, Ohio State was second with a rating of 197.8.

Others have come close – like Baker Mayfield’s 2017 Oklahoma and technically, Navy has made big plays happen on their few second down throws over the year – but the Tide passing game on second down might have been the best of all-time.

This year’s team has to come out clicking right away, too. There might be a whole slew of new parts replacing the historically great former guys. On the flip side …

Alabama Crimson Tide Biggest Key: Defense

Be better on third downs. There were times under Nick Saban when third down meant the opposing offense’s drive was over.

The 2011 D was a brick wall on third down, and the 2015 group was amazing, too.

Nitpicking time, but the 2020 Alabama D was Nick Saban’s worst over the last ten years on third downs – no other Tide defense came all that close to allowing opponents to get to 40%. Last year’s group allowed teams to convert on 42% of their chances.

Opponents had to take a whole lot of risks and shots to keep things going, and to be fair, a slew of the conversions came after the games were basically over. However, it’s a trend that can’t continue considering the Bama offense almost certainly won’t be quite as sharp.

Alabama Crimson Tide Key Player To A Successful Season

QB Bryce Young, Soph.
No pressure or anything, but if Alabama doesn’t win the national title, it’s not going to be because of the loaded defense, the solid kicking game, the coaching, the offensive line, or the running backs and receivers.

All Young has to do is 1) live up to the hype of being one of the nation’s top recruits of 2020, 2) replace Mac Jones – who’s coming off one of the greatest seasons of all-time – and 3) follow in the timeline with Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts, Jake Coker, Blake Sims, AJ McCarron, and Greg McElroy.

Six of the last seven Tide quarterbacks – yeah, let’s lump together Hurts and Tagovailoa – won a national title, and Sims got to the College Football Playoff.

That’s all, Bryce. All you have to do is be historically good.

Alabama Crimson Tide Key Game To The 2021 Season

at Texas A&M, Oct. 9
Johnny Manziel might have given the Tide fits in an Aggie win in 2012 and in a blast of a firefight in 2013, but that’s been about it. Outside of a decent game in 2017, A&M hasn’t brought much of a challenge to the series over the last six years.

This is when Jimbo Fisher and his program have to prove that the gap has closed.

Bama will already have played at Florida, and it’ll still have LSU and Auburn to go, but this might be for the SEC West title. A&M doesn’t have to play Florida or Georgia, and it should roll through the rest of the slate until the regular season finale at LSU.

It might sound strange to say, but the Tide probably can’t lose this and win the SEC West.

Alabama Football Schedule Breakdown & Analysis

2020 Alabama Crimson Tide Fun Stats

– 1st Half Scoring: Alabama 382 – Opponents 136
– Fumbles: Opponents 25 (lost 10) – Alabama 10 (lost 8)
– Average Yards Per Pass: Alabama 11 – Opponents 6.6

NEXT: Alabama Crimson Tide College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

Alabama Crimson Tide College Football Preview 2021: What Will Happen, Season Prediction

We have to stop treating the greatness of Alabama football under Nick Saban as a given.

Ask 2020 LSU how easy it is to keep the momentum going.

Ask Michigan, Texas, Florida State, Nebraska, Tennessee, Miami and USC how easy it is to revive a superpower.

Remember, Alabama was a program that lost head coach Dennis Franchione to the perceived better Texas A&M gig.

This was the program that rocked the Mikes before Saban took over – Mike DuBose, the never-got-going Mike Price regime, and the 26-23 Mike Shula run.

For Saban do this at Alabama starting in 2007 – when it was Florida’s SEC – required a whole lot of work, and to do that in 2020 required something just as impressive.

On the fly adaptability.

How many players from Saban’s first Alabama team in 2007 were taken in the 2008 NFL Draft? Zero.

Now, there were a whole lot of very good talents in place from the Shula era that formed the nucleus of the 2009 national championship team, but even then the consistent high-end success wasn’t a given after a 10-3 2010 season.

That 2009 team won on defense – allowing a ridiculous 164 points in 14 games. The 2011 defense was even better on the way to another national title.

Defense, running game, repeat – all at a special level.

Helped by Derrick Henry and an amazing defense that allowed more than 17 points just three times in 15 games, Saban won a national title in 2015 with Jake Coker as his quarterback over a Deshaun Watson-led Clemson team.

There was a passing attack, but what would happen if the program ever got a high-end superstar under center?

Enter Jalen Hurts, then Tua Tagovailoa, then Mac Jones, to go along with a few decent receivers – Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith. But even that wasn’t enough as college football pivoted into a more explosive game.

Saban quickly tried to keep tweaking the team with a more high-octane offensive style and less of an emphasis on his stifling D, but the meltdown against Clemson in Santa Clara and the rise of 2019 LSU made it seem like the Tide couldn’t keep up the pace at the highest of levels.

And then 2020 happened.

Set The Alabama Crimson Tide Regular Season Win Total At … 11

And now it’s an assumption that of course Alabama is going to be the No. 1 team in the country, and of course Saban is going to figure it all out again, and of course all the lost parts are going to instantly be replaced by guys just as good because, you know, The Process.

But really, this isn’t going to be easy.

The D is going to be devastating, and with Bryce Young under center, there might be a slight return to defense, running game, repeat after losing so much talent at receiver.

More than that, this is the year of the super-senior. Bama has a few of them, but everyone in the SEC appears to be getting just about everyone back.

Each and every week will be even more of a fight – now the Tide have to deal with team after team of grown-up men with everyone seemingly returning 20+ starters – and remember, until the College Football Playoff expands, it only takes two losses to screw it all up.

Bama will rip through most of its schedule without breathing hard, but at Florida, at Texas A&M, LSU, at Auburn. There could be a scare from Ole Miss here, a push from Arkansas there, and playing Miami won’t be without its charm, but whatever. Those other four games are the season until the SEC Championship.

It’s not a given that Alabama ends the regular season in Atlanta playing for a third conference title in four years, and it’s not a lock that it’s going to the College Football Playoff again.

And when it does both, appreciate that Saban had to make a bunch of key changes to get there.

– What You Need To Know: Offense | Defense
Top Players | Keys To The Season
Alabama Football Schedule Analysis

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