August 10, 2011
Top 25 Team Previews
Alabama Crimson Tide
By Stewart Mandel
Linebacker Courtney Upshaw :: US PRESSWIRE
Team Vitals
Head Coach Nick Saban
Record at Alabama 43-11 (26-8 SEC)
Wins In Last 5 Seasons 6, 7, 12, 14, 10
Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain
Defensive Coordinator Kirby Smart
Returning Starters Offense 7, Defense 9
2010 Season 10-3 (5-3 SEC)
2010 Final AP Rank 10
2010 Rushing Offense 29 (5)
2010 Passing Offense 27 (3)
2010 Total Offense 22 (3)
2010 Rushing Defense 10 (2)
2010 Passing Defense 13 (3)
2010 Total Defense 5 (1)
2011 Schedule
Sept. 3 Kent State
Sept. 10 at Penn State
Sept. 17 North Texas
Sept. 24 Arkansas
Oct. 1 at Florida
Oct. 8 Vanderbilt
Oct. 15 at Mississippi
Oct. 22 Tennessee
Nov. 5 LSU
Nov. 12 at Mississippi
Nov. 19 Georgia Southern
Nov. 26 at Auburn
ANALYSIS: An early trip to Penn State could prove challenging, especially for a new QB. 'Bama must stay healthy for its tests at the start and end of November.
Depth Chart
QB A.J. McCarron Phillip Sims
RB Trent Richardson Eddie Lacy
WR Marquis Maze Kevin Norwood
WR Darius Hanks Deandrew White
WR Brad Smelley Chris Underwood
TE Michael Williams Harrison James
LT Alfred McCullough Arie Kouandjio
LG Chance Warmack John Michael Boswell
C William Vlachos Kellen Wiliams
RG Barrett Jones Anthony Steen
RT D.J. Fluker Austin Shepherd
DE Damion Square Quinton Dial
NT Josh Chapman Jesse Williams
DE Ed Stinson Brandon Lewis
LB Jerrell Harris Jonathan Atchison
LB Dont'a Hightower Chris Jordan
LB Courtney Upshaw Adrian Hubbard
LB C.J. Mosley Nico Johnson
CB Dre Kirkpatrick Phelon Jones
S Mark Barron Will Lowery
S Robert Lester Jarrick Williams
CB Dequan Menzie Demarcus Milliner
K Jeremy Shelley Cade Foster
P Cody Mandell Jay Williams
R Marquis Maze Trent Richardson
A year removed from winning the BCS Championship, Alabama ended last season with a 10-3 record that was considered a disappointment. The Crimson Tide began the year ranked No. 1, only to finish fourth in the SEC West, losing to South Carolina, LSU and, after a stunning second-half collapse, archrival Auburn. And yet the statistics suggest Nick Saban's team was still one of the strongest in the country, particularly on defense, where it finished third nationally in points allowed (13.5) and fifth in yards allowed (286.4).

"In the three games we lost, we gave up 35, 28 and 24 points," says Saban. "Our lack of maturity and knowledge contributed to last year's defense making the mental errors that led to a big play that let the other team back in the game."

Having endured those growing pains, Alabama's 2011 defense is now brimming with experience. The returning starters include four All-SEC honorees: safeties Mark Barron and Robert Lester, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and linebacker Dont'a Hightower. In addition, linebacker Courtney Upshaw emerged as a dominant pass rusher late last season and had two sacks and a forced fumble in the Tide's 49-7 demolition of Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl.

"That [2010] team tried to create an identity for itself in the bowl game," says Saban. "I see some of that same sense of purpose a little bit more in this team."

For Alabama's returning players that purpose is obvious: to wipe away the bitter memory of watching their cross-state nemesis win the SEC and BCS championships after the Tigers erased a 24-point deficit to win 28-27 in Tuscaloosa. "We're a very selfish team. We've got a lot of pride," says running back Trent Richardson. "To even watch the SEC championship game, it had me sick."

The Tide will lean heavily on the dynamic Richardson, a potential Heisman candidate, and a veteran offensive line while breaking in a new starting quarterback, either third-year sophomore A.J. McCarron or redshirt freshman Phillip Sims. Come SEC play, the revenge tour begins. "We're trying to get the wins back," says Upshaw, especially eyeing games with LSU and Auburn. "We've got to get them."

Can the experienced defense maintain its high level of play and avoid the lapses that led to last season's defeats?

6.0 -- Percentage of passes thrown against the Crimson Tide in 2010 that were picked off, the highest in the FBS.

Mark Barron, SS, Sr. -- A football writers' All-America honoree, the third-year starter passed on the NFL after a torn pectoral muscle sidelined him for the Capital One Bowl. He had three interceptions and a team-high 75 tackles last fall.

Dont'a Hightower, LB, Jr. -- Last year the 2009 Freshman All-America hadn't fully recovered from knee surgery that cost him most of the '09 season, yet he still made 69 tackles. Now playing at 100 percent, he'll anchor the Tide defense.

Courtney Upshaw, LB, Jr. -- An explosive playmaker when he is healthy, the 6-2, 265-pound hybrid pass rusher was a starter for the first time last season, and he proved a menace down the stretch, with 15 tackles, five sacks and three forced fumbles against Auburn and Michigan State.

Trent Richardson, RB, Jr. -- In the past two seasons as Mark Ingram's backup, Richardson rushed for 1,451 yards, had another 392 receiving yards and returned 25 kickoffs. Oh, and he can bench press 475 pounds.

Barrett Jones, RG, Jr. -- A freshman starter on Alabama's '09 national championship team and a two-time Academic All-America, the 6-5, 311-pound Jones is so dependable that coaches have toyed with using him to fill the Tide's vacated starting spot at left tackle.

DeQuan Menzie, CB, Sr. -- A decorated juco transfer when he came to the Tide, the Columbus, Ga., native was relegated to nickel duty in 2010 while learning the defense and recovering from hamstring and Achilles tendon injuries. Nick Saban was effusive over Menzie's play this spring, calling him the team's best cornerback in one scrimmage. The coaches will find ways to get him on the field often.

Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Fr. -- The nation's top-rated tackle pledged to Auburn in a nationally televised Signing Day announcement, but after several days of drama the Hyattsville, Md., native sent his letter of intent to Tuscaloosa, where he joins brother Arie, a redshirt freshman LT.

This team preview originally appeared in Sports Illustrated Presents' SEC Preview.

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