Alas, the days of the BCS are over and America has the playoff system (or at least a version of it) that we’ve all been clamoring for. Since the good folks in Las Vegas are the closest thing we have to fortune tellers (all apologies to Nate Silver), we are going to explore the six teams with the best odds of winning the National Championship and look at the main concerns that can derail them.
Alabama Crimson Tide
Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide don’t seem to rebuild, they reload. And when you peruse the offensive and defensive lines, as well as the running backs and wide receivers, it’s not much of a surprise that the Tide are currently 6:1 favorites to get their curmudgeon-like, diminutive head coach doused with Gatorade at the first-ever National Championship game at AT&T Stadium.
Paired with their loaded roster, Alabama boasts one of the most, dare I say, manageable non-conference schedules of any team in the nation. Alabama opens with their toughest non-conference opponent in a semi-neutral site (Atlanta, GA) matchup against Dana Holgorsen’s West Virginia Mountaineers. These two squads have something more in common than fan bases that butcher the English language.
Both Alabama and West Virginia are led by quarterbacks that started out playing for Florida State behind Jameis Winston. While the Tide are likely rolling with Jacob Coker, who couldn’t beat out Jameis Winston in FSU’s spring and summer seafood broil, errr practice, Holgorsen is hanging his hairpiece on the under-nourished Clint Tricket.
Aside from the battle with the Mountaineers, a game in which Alabama is an early 23.5 point favorite, the Tide will get more competition from an intramural flag-football team scrimmage as they host the Florida Atlantic Owls (6-6 record a year ago in the ultra tough C-USA), fellow C-USA lightweight Southern Miss who won just one game a season ago and finally a late-season tilt against Western Carolina who won just two games in the SoCon.
So why won’t the Tide win the title?
In the immortal words of Cinderella, “you don’t know what you got until it’s gone.” Of course we’re talking about the boy next door, dripping with tattoos, intangibles and integrity alike, the ultimate game manager, A.J. McCarron. McCarron became a Heisman finalist based on a great backstory and a strong defense and running game. With that said, A.J. is gone and Coker will have to take over the reigns. Expectations of Coker best be tempered, there’s likely a learning curve when acclimating to SEC football.
Will Coker be able to hand his way off to a national title? With a backfield of T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, that’s entirely possible, but it’s more likely that Nick Saban and Alabama will suffer some sort of setback in the toughest conference in all the land, as South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier is always quick to point out about his colleague.
What is the second reason why Nick Saban’s polo will stay dry in January?
It’s all about the schedule. Sure, we’ve documented the absolute joke in Alabama’s non-conference slate, but when you get into the meat of their SEC schedule, every game is a battle, even for Nick Saban. Although the Tide will likely roll past the once-mighty Fighting Muschamps, they have a tough trip just seven days later to Oxford to take on the Fighting Nkemdiche’s. In October, Alabama will host Texas A&M before visiting Rocky Top to take on Butch Jones and the upstart Vols.
If the Crimson Tide navigate those landmines successfully the fun really begins in November with a trip to the Bayou, where the grass is tasty according to LSU coach Les Miles.. Finally, Alabama will try to exact some revenge against the Auburn Tigers who despite losing Tre Mason still have Nick Marshall. Not to mention, they still have the magician Gus Malzahn, the only arguable name to compete with Nick Saban.
I’m not saying Alabama isn’t a worthy national title contender, because they certainly are. The big buildings in Vegas weren’t built on getting it wrong. However, it’s very conceivable that the spread offense is a kryptonite to Nick Saban’s Supermen, and the air of invincibility that the Tide enjoyed may no longer be evident, it certainly wasn’t in last year’s Sugar Bowl.