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2021 Alabama Crimson Tide Football schedule

2021 Alabama Crimson Tide Football schedule

All Things CW: Top 5 Position Groups for 2021 Crimson Tide

A glance at how Alabama's team strengths are very different from the 2020 national champions, and why the Crimson Tide's schedule is a lot harder than it looks.

A year ago, if you had to rate Alabama's position groups, and which were thought to be the best on the Crimson Tide, wide receiver would not have been at the top of the list. 

It probably would have been something like: 1. Offensive line; 2. Linebackers; 3. Running backs, 4. Wide receivers, and 5. Special teams. 

Was there an obvious weakness on the team? No. The defensive line and secondary both had talent, but were a little short on experience. That and no one quite knew what to expect out of Mac Jones.

It's nothing new for Alabama under Nick Saban, as the position groups are like a see-saw when it comes to strengths and weaknesses (or in this case just non-strengths). Once the coach has an idea of an impending dip somewhere, that position becomes a high priority in recruiting.   

Moreover, some units develop and improve faster than others, and some don't quite live up to expectations. That's true of every football team every season. 

Alabama is again loaded in terms of talent, but that's about where the similarities end from the 2020 national champions. The offense has to be almost entirely revamped, while the defense is expected to step up in a big way. 

BamaCentral won't publish its position previews until after SEC media days (July 19-22), but here's a quick top five groups heading into fall camp: 

1. Linebackers: With Christopher Allen, Will Anderson Jr., and Christian Harris, Alabama might have the best group in the nation regardless of who wins the final starting job.  

2. Defensive backs: The Crimson Tide went from having only one returning starter in the secondary last year, to all but one starter returning for 2022. Among those competing to step into that opening is future star Kool-Aid McKinstry.  

3. Special teams: Kicker Will Reichard didn't miss and transfer Jack Martin will compete for the punting job. Not having Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith deep will hurt, but Alabama has a lot of young playmakers trying to get on the field. 

4. Defensive line: Alabama has talent, experience and a lot of depth up front. There's as many scholarship defensive linemen on the roster as defensive backs, plus they collectively had better ratings as recruits. That's extremely rare. 

5. Running backs: The Crimson Tide has so much talent in the backfield that hardly anyone seemed to notice that Camar Wheaton, one of the top prospects in the nation, arrived over the summer (and a couple of players on the depth chart left). Also, don't forget about Trey Sanders coming off a tore ACL.

Three position groups where Alabama could end up being very good if things play out well are quarterback, offensive line and wide receiver. It's just that they're more unproven heading into the season.  

Alabama's Schedule Deceptive

Every season college football schedules are rated for their difficulty and since Nick Saban arrived in 2007 Alabama regularly sees some of its opponents listed at the top. This year is no exception as Arkansas and Auburn are said to have brutal seasons ahead of them, while the Crimson Tide does not even though it scheduled Miami for its season opener. 

What no one ever seems to take into account is that the Crimson Tide can't schedule itself. Consequently, the Alabama vs. Arkansas game works in the Razorbacks' favor in this regard because while they're playing a team coming off a 13-0 campaign, the Crimson Tide is credited with a 3-7 opponent. 

Granted, Alabama is heading into the fall as a double-digit favorite in every game of the regular season, but a closer look shows something much different. 

While the Crimson Tide is reloading on offense, it'll open against a good Miami team that returns 19 starters. 

LSU returns 18 starters. 

Ole Miss has 17 back. 

Texas A&M has 15. 

Remember, Alabama faced four teams with new coaches who didn't have the opportunity to work with their new players last spring due to the shutdown from the coronavirus pandemic. 

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This year not only have those coaches worked extensively with their players, Alabama will return three offensive starters, with a new offensive coordinator working with a new starting quarterback.  

That's just the beginning. 

According to Bill Connelly of ESPN, when it comes to returning production the national average for a team from 2014-20 was 62.6 percent. However, this year its way above that at 76.7 percent. Only 14 teams are below the typical national average. 

Alabama is among them. The Crimson Tide returns only 56 percent of its production (mostly on defense). That ranks 123rd out of 127 teams. 

Even with a new coach, Auburn is returning 75 percent. Arkansas is at 76 percent. Mississippi State under Mike Leach has 77 percent back.

Miami has 91 percent. 

Factor in the whole target-on-the-back thing from being the reigning national champion and Alabama's season is looking to include a lot of tough sledding, especially early on while players are becoming familiar with one another and gaining valuable experience.  

Quick Fantasy Note

The Sports Illustrated fantasy crew posted their latest 12-team, 12-round PPR mock draft for the upcoming NFL season, and here's when the Crimson Tide players were selected: 

Round 1: Derrick Henry (6)

Round 2: Calvin Ridley (21), Najee Harris (22)

Round 4: Julio Jones (39), Josh Jacobs (43), Amari Cooper (45)

Round 7: Jerry Jeudy (73), Damien Harris (81)

Round 8: DeVonta Smith (85)

Round 9: Jaylen Waddle (104), Jalen Hurts (108)

Round 10: Henry Ruggs III (114), Kenyan Drake (119) 

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Christopher Walsh's notes column All Things CW appears Fridays on BamaCentral. 

A year ago, if you had to rate Alabama's position groups, and which were thought to be the best on the Crimson Tide, wide receiver would not have been at the top of the list. 

It probably would have been something like: 1. Offensive line; 2. Linebackers; 3. Running backs, 4. Wide receivers, and 5. Special teams. 

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