There are many factors that can help a team win a national championship. We’ve seen great defenses that have lead the way for some teams. We’ve seen great offensive lines power over people on their way to a championship. Star players can help will their team to a national title. We even saw a third-string quarterback lead a team to a playoff victory (don’t cry). However, there are a lot of good teams this season and just one of these aspects may not be enough for a title.
Alabama is once again in the mix for a national championship entering the 2015 season but there are still many doubts by experts and fans. Nick Saban and company will have much of their focus between the trenches. The Crimson Tide’s front seven is one of the nation’s best and Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake make a dynamic duo behind another solid offensive line. The running game, offensively and defensively, does not seem like it will be an issue. The passing game is what has people doubting. And if the Crimson Tide can find a solution fast, there may not be anyone that can stop them.
Everyone knows about the strong running games of the SEC but having a better passing game could make the difference in a lot of conference games. Alabama has to face many good passing attacks this season. They have to travel to Kyle Field to face off against the Aggies attack lead by Kyle Allen and Speedy Noil. A home meeting against Joshua Dobbs and his assortment of weapons that include Marquez North and Pig Howard will not be easy to deal with. Then there is the Iron Bowl, where the Crimson Tide will have to find a way to contain an experienced Jeremy Johnson and one of the nation’s top receivers Duke Williams. Alabama counters all of these with an inexperienced group of players, which is a reason for most doubters. However, the talent and depth in the passing game will help the Crimson Tide compete with everyone and could give them the edge in each game.
On the offensive side of the ball, the quarterback battle continues to be a mystery. Jacob Coker may still be the front runner for the job but you wouldn’t be able to tell with how the coaching staff talks. Coker has the experience and could step in and lead this offense back to the success of last year. Coker knows how to take care of the ball and showed he could make good decisions with the ball. What could become a problem is how quickly he can make those decisions and if he can be consistent through more than just 60 pass attempts. Coker has a lot to prove and he has other quarterbacks right next to him, specifically Alec Morris.
Morris has similar strengths of Coker but has seen the most improvement in the past year. Morris has had terrific spring games and has shown that he can find the holes in the defense if the offensive line can give him time. Saban said that Morris knows the routes and where every receiver should be. This will not only help for simple passing plays but it can also make a difference when defenses bring blitzes or when good coverage forces the quarterback out of the pocket. Whoever earns the starting job will have to make sure that they take care of the ball as turnovers can turn a tough game into a blowout loss.
As for the student-athletes catching the ball, the Crimson Tide are trying to fill big roles that were left by players now in the NFL. Ardarius Stewart, Robert Foster and Chris Black look to be the top receivers for the Alabama offense and could prove themselves quickly. Amari Cooper was the easy go-to guy for Lane Kiffin’s offense last season but now the targets could be spread out more evenly. Between those three receivers, O.J. Howard and the running backs, the passing game will have plenty of weapons to keep defenses guessing. When the running game opens up easy throws for the new quarterback, these are the guys that could make the plays that will lead to an Alabama championship.
On defense, the passing game has been the weakness for the last few years. In 2014, 65 percent of opponent’s first downs and 78 percent of touchdowns came through the air. The Crimson Tide will have to replace both starting safeties, Landon Collins and Nick Perry, and find a reliable number two cornerback. Cyrus Jones made first-team All SEC at Media Days but his consistency has given many fans frustration. Jones will be the new leader of the secondary and some of the SEC’s top receivers could give him some trouble in one-on-one situations.
The safeties will be replaced by two former cornerbacks in Eddie Jackson and Geno Smith. Both of these players have the skills to make big impacts in the game but the issue has been keeping eligibility and staying healthy. The safety position has very little experience behind these two players and could face tough tests if something happens to either of them. Smith and Jackson saw a lot of playing time last year and forced four turnovers and had seven pass deflections. The duo can be used in many ways and could confuse some offenses with different coverage and blitz looks. If Kirby Smart can consistently get their best performances, no one may be able to throw on them.
Cyrus Jones is coming off a terrific season in 2014, recording 13 pass deflections, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and a touchdown. However, the Tide may need an even better season if they want to stop some of the best offenses. Jones may not even be able to make a difference as several teams will throw to the opposite side of the field where the cornerback battle is still going. Sophomores Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey seem to be in the front of the battle but freshman Minkah Fitzpatrick has impressed a lot of people in camp. The good thing for the Crimson Tide is the amount of raw talent at the position. All of these players can make big plays but have yet proven themselves. If they can live up to their five-star potential, we could see two or three cornerbacks getting All-SEC honors at the end of the season.
This year, Alabama seems to be facing some of their biggest doubts since Nick Saban took over and for good reason. The Crimson Tide need to address a number of issues before the first game kicks off. However, a lot of it starts in the passing game. A fixed passing game will help Alabama go a long way and could lead them to a national championship in 2015.
Caleb Turrentine is a contributor at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter, @CalebTurrentine.