Seven months after the confetti fell on national champion Alabama, a new college football season is nearly here. As part of Sports Illustrated's 2021 preview content, we're rolling out scouting reports for all of SI's preseason top 25 teams, featuring all the names, storylines and big games you need to know. Starting with No. 25 Nevada and running through No. 1 Alabama, we'll be featuring five teams per day from Monday through Friday.
The Big Story: Alabama
Is it fair to expect another national title in Tuscaloosa? The Crimson Tide are firmly in the top tier of championship contenders in 2021, but this doesn’t project to be the same flawless roster we saw last season. Alabama has to replace two top-10 NFL picks at wide receiver, a first-round running back and a first-round quarterback, placing plenty of pressure on sophomore signal-caller Bryce Young. Don’t be shocked if we see Nick Saban & Co. in the College Football Playoff in January. But Saban’s eighth national title is no fait accompli in 2021.
Can’t Miss: John Metchie III
The Crimson Tide’s conveyor belt of NFL wide receivers isn’t slowing down anytime soon, and junior Metchie appears to be the next in line. Metchie hauled in 55 passes and six touchdowns in 2020, showcasing game-breaking speed alongside DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Perhaps Metchie won’t match Smith and take home the Heisman Trophy in 2021, but he should be the focal point of another high-octane attack in Tuscaloosa. Metchie is a likely All-SEC selection and a potential first-round selection in the 2022 NFL draft.
Key Question: Will all the roster changes catch up?
There’s legitimate concern whether the Crimson Tide can weather such significant offensive turnover after a dominant 2020 campaign. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is now the head coach at Texas, one of four offensive assistants to leave Tuscaloosa after last season. On the field, the Crimson Tide will have to replace their starting running back, starting tight end, two starting wide receivers and three starting offensive linemen, and we’ve yet to mention the change at quarterback. Mac Jones was as precise a passer as any in recent memory for Alabama in 2020. If Young can’t match that standard, we could see Georgia end the season as the SEC champion.
X-Factor: Bryce Young
Young remains the swing piece in Alabama’s season as he looks to follow in the footsteps of Jones and Tua Tagovailoa. And there is legitimate reason for optimism regarding the Mater Dei (Calif.) High School product. Young brings a dynamic dual-threat element to Alabama’s offense similar to Jalen Hurts, and he joined the Crimson Tide program as the No. 2 dual threat QB in the class of 2020, per the 247Sports composite ranking. Alabama is unlikely to sport the same decimating aerial attack it showcased last season. But with Young at the helm, we should still see a potent offense under new coordinator Bill O’Brien.
Date to Circle: Oct. 9 at Texas A&M
An early October trip to College Station remains the biggest landmine in Alabama’s quest for another SEC West crown. Texas A&M should sport one of the conference’s top defenses in 2021, led by potential All-America defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal. Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher is sure to have this one circled on his calendar, with a matchup against Alabama serving as another potential validator for Texas A&M’s standing in the SEC. We may see Alabama’s quest for an undefeated season end before Halloween.
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The Bottom Line
The safe bet is to still pencil in Alabama for the playoff, but that’s no guarantee as Saban deals with significant turnover on both the roster and coaching staff. This won’t be another record-setting offense, and given Young’s inexperience, some growing pains are to be expected. Alabama’s defense is likely going to have to lead the way for Saban to add another national title to his historic résumé.
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