This week served as an unofficial national holiday for college football fans, as camps opened across the country. But while it's a celebration from coast-to-coast, it also in years past, it has also served as something else: A coronation for Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama has won four national championships under Saban, and there are no signs of slowing down. Or are there? Because while the Crimson Tide are the defending national champions, and were ranked No. 1 in Thursday's first coaches poll, there are genuine signs for concern heading into 2016. First there was the Cam Robinson issue earlier this spring, a dust-up at SEC Media days, and the latest Maurice Smith fiasco. Not to mention real concerns on the field. So I'm going to go out on a limb and say something blasphemous about the single most dominant program in college football right now: Alabama should not be the favorites in the SEC this year. Here are five reasons why.
Getty ImagesDon Juan Moore
They're starting their fourth different quarterback in four years
When A.J. McCarron left Tuscaloosa in 2013 after three years as a starter (which included two national championships) no one could have expected that three years later the Tide still haven't come up with a logical successor. McCarron's departure gave way to Blake Sims, who then ushered in Jacob Coker last year, which led to ... wait, who is the Tide's starting QB this year? Even though the guys jockeying for the position — redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, redshirt sophomore David Cornwell, redshirt junior Cooper Bateman — all were five-star studs coming out of high school, it does raise a very interesting question: If any of them were that good to begin with, why haven't they won the job already? Heck, why didn't they win it last year? It's not like Coker blew the doors off Bryant-Denny Stadium to open last season, throwing just two touchdowns and one pick in the first two games before losing the job to Bateman in Week 3 and then earning it back for good the following week. At some point, all this turnover and attrition at the most important position on the field has to catch up with 'Bama, right? How many times can you break in a new quarterback, with a bunch of new receivers, in a place as grueling as the SEC West? Especially when you consider ...
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsMatthew Emmons
They're also breaking in a new center as well
And really, this is what makes things so different than in years past: Not only are the Crimson Tide breaking in a new quarterback, but the man snapping him will be new as well. After three years starting under center, Rimington Award winner Ryan Kelly is off to the NFL, where he's now a member of the Indianapolis Colts. The center is the anchor of the offensive line and generally the guy who helps audible blocking schemes, meaning his role is crucial to any team, especially one with a new QB. It's also why, on at least some level, even Saban seems concerned. Prior to his dust-up over Robinson, Saban spoke to the SEC Network on the importance of the position, saying: "The center is the most critical position on the front, regardless of who the QB is." Let's also keep in mind ...
There's no Derrick Henry to bail out the offense this year
To Alabama's credit, they've never had problems replacing running backs under Saban. Trent Richardson replaced Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy replaced Richardson and Henry replaced Lacy. In theory, there should be no reason to worry. Fans might not be familiar with Henry's replacements — Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris — but that doesn't mean they aren't talented. They are at Alabama after all, right? Well, yes, but they're both entirely unproven. Scarbrough tore his ACL last spring and was suspended for the first four games of the season, making his season essentially a wash. And Harris was a true freshman trying to adjust to the SEC. Under Saban, Alabama has usually implemented a two-running back platoon. Last year, Kenyan Drake helped spell Henry, but because of a lack of depth Henry still tallied an ungodly 395 carries, including a mind-boggling 90 in a two-game stretch. Alabama was hesitant to use either Scarbrough or Harris much last year. Are we sure both of those guys are now ready to be the featured backs?
Getty ImagesMike Stobe
Turnover on the defensive coaching staff
Say what you want about the role defensive coordinator Kirby Smart actually had in Alabama's defensive game-planning (and whether Smart's "role" was actually just dictating what Nick Saban wanted), but this is the first time since 2008 there will be a new voice in the Alabama defensive meeting room. It also raises the question: Despite the obvious talent that remains in Tuscaloosa, how will the Alabama defense adjust to life under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt? Pruitt comes from Georgia, where he served as the defensive coordinator the last two years. The year before that he was at Florida State, where he helped with a national championship, and before that he was actually at 'Bama as a DBs coach. But while his resume is sparkling, it is worth wondering how he will adjust to life as the head of the defense. We all know that Saban has (at best) a somewhat temperamental relationship with his coordinators, especially new ones (see "Kiffin, Lane") and it's not like Pruitt was familiar with most of his personnel prior to taking the job. Most of the players on 'Bama's two-deep were recruited long after he left Tuscaloosa the first time. It also doesn't help that Pruitt's defense will be on display for the first time in a brutal opener against a dangerous USC squad.
Their schedule is as challenging as ever
Even if 'Bama gets by that first game against USC (not a given, with all the talent the Trojans are returning) there are still tough games all over the schedule. Just two weeks after playing USC, there is an SEC opener at Ole Miss, a team that has beaten the Crimson Tide the last two years. Tennessee is as good as it's ever been since Saban got to Alabama, and that game is in Knoxville. The matchup with the Vols comes just one week after a visit to face the physical Arkansas Razorbacks. Then there's that annual first-weekend-of-November rite of passage against LSU. The Tigers will be as loaded as they've been in years and as tough a matchup for the Crimson Tide as they've been since the 2011 season where the two teams met in the BCS title game. These are all real causes for concern this year for Alabama and plenty of reason why the Crimson Tide should not be considered the favorites in the SEC.