Sunday, February 7, 2016

2015 Look Back/2016 Look Ahead: Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama Crimson Tide
2015 Record: 14-1 (7-1 SEC West)
2015 Bowl: National Title Game, Defeated Clemson 45-40; Cotton Bowl, Defeated Michigan State 38-0

What Went Right: Alabama did what Alabama does in 2015. They reloaded and won another national championship under Nick Saban, the most dependable coach in college football. Saban is a coaching machine who gets the best out of every player on the roster, and recruits to win now and not later. That paid off yet again.
Jake Coker is never going to be the best player ever, but he learned and progressed under OC/QB Coach Lane Kiffin and passed for 3118 yards and 21 TDs, and learned to be an effective game manager that led the Tide to a title. Of course, he had help in Heisman winning RB Derrick Henry, who rushed for 2219 yards and 28 TDs on 5.62 yards per carry. Henry was used like a traditional workhorse back, and it paid off as he carried the ball just over 26 times per game, unlike other schools who buy into the silliness of a back by committee approach. Freshman WR Calvin Ridley also blew up, catching 89 passes for 1065 yards and seven TDs, while averaging 11.74 yards every time he touched the football. ArDarius Stewart also had a big sophomore season, catching 63 passes for 700 yards. TE OJ Howard compiled 38 grabs for 702 yards as well.
Defensively, the Tide only allowed 15.1 points per game, and was swarming as always. They allowed just 2.43 yards per rushing attempt, and picked off 19 passes while allowing just 17 TD passes. Teams managed just 4.3 yards per offensive play against the Tide. On their 19 picks, four of them went for scores. They allowed just 28.63% of 3rd down conversions last fall as well.
What Went Wrong: Not much went badly, but there were a few areas that could use some attention. The Tide, for being so adept at moving the football, only converted on 37.38% of 3rd down conversions. Things were not much better in the kicking game, as they converted on just 23/33 FGs for a success rate of just 69.7%.
Alabama also lost to Ole Miss for the second consecutive season, a trend that must not become a long term thing, but I am guessing that it won't be.
Stars: RB Derrick Henry, QB Jake Coker, WR Calvin Ridley, WR ArDarius Stewart, TE OJ Howard, DB/PR Cyrus Jones, RB/KR Kenyan Drake, P JK Scott, DB Eddie Jackson, LB Reggie Ragland, LB Reuben Foster, DB Geno Matias-Smith, DL Jonathon Allen, LB Tim Williams, LB Ryan Anderson, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB Marlon Murphy
Best Win: Michigan State 38-0
Worst Loss: Ole Miss 43-37
Look Ahead: Alabama starts out the 2016 season looking for a QB to replace Coker, but that should not be a problem. Cooper Bateman earned the number two job last fall, and should have an edge heading into spring ball. Derrick Henry has left early and Kenyon Drake has graduated. That leaves incoming sophomores Damian Harris and Bo Scarbrough as the most experienced backs returning in the fall. They could both see most of the carries in the spring, along with Derrick Gore. Ridley and Stewart both return at WR, and TE OJ Howard announced his intent to return for his senior season. Robert Foster and Cam Sims will likely add depth after the departure of Richard Mullaney.
On defense, Jonathon Allen has announced that he will return on the line this season, which is great news. A'Shawn Robinson will not, leaving a gap in the middle of the line. De'Shawn Hand will also be back as a junior, and Dalvin Tomlinson both return, but after that, the line largely needs rebuilding. Ragland is gone at LB, but Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson, and Reuben Foster all return to give the Tide one of the best units in the nation. Shaun Dion-Hamilton will be asked to step into Ragland's shoes this season. The secondaryis loaded with the return of Eddie Jackson, Marlon Humphery, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Ronnie Harrison. Tony Brown and Maurice Smith should provide some depth, and the rest will come from the talented recruiting class.
The non-con schedule isn't too grueling, with an opener against what should be a talented but somewhat rebuilding USC team in Arlington, Texas in the opener. That game is followed by all easily winnable games against Western Kentucky, Kent State, and a late November debacle against FCS member Chattanooga.
Projection: 12-1, SEC Title and Playoff Birth

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