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2019 SEC Preview: Alabama Crimson Tide

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith breaks down everything you need to know about the 2019 Alabama Crimson Tide.

Head Coach: Nick Saban – 13th year at Alabama; 24th year overall (237-63-1 overall, 111-25 SEC)

Offensive Coordinator: Steve Sarkisian (first season)

Defensive Coordinator: Pete Golding (first season)

2018 Record: 14-1 (8-0 SEC); defeated Oklahoma in Orange Bowl; lost to Clemson in CFP Championship Game

Returning Starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)

2019 Schedule

Aug. 31 – vs. Duke (Atlanta) (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
Sept. 7 – NEW MEXICO STATE (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Sept. 14 – at South Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)
Sept. 21 – SOUTHERN MISS
Sept. 28 – OLE MISS

Oct. 12 – at Texas A&M
Oct. 19 – TENNESSEE
Oct. 26 – ARKANSAS

Nov. 9 – LSU
Nov. 16 – at Mississippi State
Nov. 23 – WESTERN CAROLINA
Nov. 30 – at Auburn

What We Know

-There is a historically great wide receiver room in Tuscaloosa. Yes, they looked like only the second-best group on the field after what Justyn Ross and the Clemson contingent did in the national title game, but I’m still taking Alabama’s top five wideouts over the Tigers’. The quartet of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith combined for 3,600 yards and 38 touchdowns last year, and all return. Early enrollee John Metchie had a tremendous spring and will fight for playing time as well. This group can reach 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2019.

-The backup quarterback battle might actually be interesting, but there are no concerns about Tua Tagovailoa. He was never 100 percent last season, but still probably should have won the Heisman Trophy. The junior didn’t throw an interception until November, but he does succumb at times to thinking he can make every throw on the field. If he finds himself once again dueling with Jake Fromm and Trevor Lawrence with championships on the line, it’s those devastating mistakes that are going to determine the outcome. Clean those up, and a season of runner-ups in 2018 will become a season of trophies in 2019.

-The coaching staff is much healthier than it was a year ago. Saban erred after Georgia finally passed the Crimson Tide in the national recruiting rankings in the 2018 class, loading up on some younger coaches. This transition caused a chemical eruption by the end of last season, as Alabama was woefully outcoached against Clemson. Bringing back Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator didn’t exactly lead to celebrations, but he’s a guy that Saban trusts. Pete Golding was ready to run a Power Five defense, so elevating him to replace Tosh Lupoi made sense. Only time will tell how much more effective this staff is than last year, but it’s certainly one with which the head coach is more comfortable.

What We Don’t Know

-How quickly will the secondary get back to form? 2018 was as poor of a unit as Saban has had at Alabama, as a midseason injury to cornerback Trevon Diggs added to the struggles of an already inexperienced unit. Getting Diggs back and Patrick Surtain having a year of experience should do wonders for the cornerback position. The arrow is certainly pointing up, but after Alabama allowed 102 points over its final three games, there is reason to wait before declaring this unit back to typical Crimson Tide form.

-The offensive line is getting a bit of a makeover. First-round NFL Draft pick Jonah Williams is gone, and the interior will have three new starters with Alex Leatherwood moving from guard to tackle to replace Williams, as he admirably did as a true freshman in the 2017 national title game when Williams left with an injury. This group also has a new position coach, as Saban added former Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood. It ended poorly for Flood with the Scarlet Knights, but he’s a respected offensive line coach.

-Is there an elite defensive lineman? The unit is still very good, but there doesn’t appear to be a Marcell Dareus, Jonathan Allen or Quinnen Williams in the bunch. Of course, Williams wasn’t even a certain starter at this point a year ago, so maybe a young player like Phidarian Mathis or Antonio Alfano emerges as that guy. Defensive end Raekwon Davis took a bit of a step back as a junior, almost forcing him to return to school for his senior season. His ceiling remains incredibly high as he transitions to the unquestioned leader of the defensive line
 
Ranking the Units

1. Receivers
2. Quarterbacks
3. Linebackers
4. Defensive Line
5. Running Backs
6. Defensive Backs
7. Offensive Line

Schedule Analysis

National Ranking: 56
SEC Ranking: 14
Swing Game: Nov. 9 vs. LSU
Trap Game: Sept. 14 at South Carolina

Alabama doesn’t have to play Alabama (or Georgia), so it’s almost always going to have one of the easier schedules on paper in the SEC. The weeks off before Texas A&M and LSU are perfectly timed (cue the conspiracy theorists), and there are no back-to-back road games. South Carolina replaces Missouri as the rotating game, which is mostly a wash. The Crimson Tide and Gamecocks haven’t met since 2010. Alabama has lost two of its last three trips to Auburn, but both of those games were for the SEC West title. If Auburn is in that same position this year on Thanksgiving weekend, it would be a major surprise

Season Prediction

The Crimson Tide are still a cut above everyone on their schedule. This offense could be even more electrifying than last year’s if the running game can be shored up, and the defense, despite some questions, still has an insanely high floor. Alabama will roll through the regular season unblemished for the third time in four years, but unlike 2016 and 2018, the SEC Championship Game will end in defeat, as Georgia finally finishes what it couldn’t in each of the teams’ past two meetings. Despite not winning the SEC, Alabama will find itself back in the College Football Playoff for a sixth straight year, quite possibly needing to avenge its two most recent losses to win its 18th national championship.

Overall Record: 12-1
SEC Record: 8-0
Final CFP Ranking: 4
Bowl: Peach Bowl (CFP semifinal) vs. Clemson

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.