Why Alabama can win the playoff: Bigger, more athletic than anyone, again
EDITOR’S NOTE: FOX Sports college football columnists Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman think a handful of teams have a legitimate shot at hoisting the College Football Playoff trophy this season. This week, they’ll make a case for each of those squads.
1. What we like: Nobody in college football has as many huge and athletic people as the Tide. They are ridiculously deep on the D-line and will be much improved on the O-line, led by Ryan Kelly and Cam Robinson. Nick Saban has (a slightly slimmed down) A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed (also a bit leaner than last year), and a bunch of dudes who come in waves. Keep an eye out for underclassmen Da’Shawn Hand, Josh Frazier and strongman Daron Payne. In Reggie Ragland they have a stud linebacker to lead the D, with some potential playmakers emerging in Rashaan Evans, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson, and they’ve added some big-time talent in the secondary in Minkah Fitzpatrick and big safety Ronnie Harrison. Their young CBs also should be much better after a year in Nick Saban’s system.
Derrick Henry is a punishing 242-pound back for Lane Kiffin’s offense to lean on as the Tide breaks in a new QB. Henry, for as big as he is, has enough speed (he clocked a 4.50 40 in spring testing) to be a take-it-to-the-house kind of threat, too. Rangy O.J. Howard is a gifted tight end who figures to be relied on more in this offense. Also, don’t underestimate Kenyan Drake, a dynamic talent out of the backfield. Kiffin proved in his days coaching Reggie Bush that he knows how to get guys like this the ball in a variety of ways.
2. What concerns us: Same as going into 2014: ‘Bama has a big question at QB. Unlike last year, though, the Tide don’t have go-to receiver Amari Cooper to bail out the new quarterback and take over games. The Tide’s schedule in the SEC also doesn’t set up so well, with games against Texas A&M, Georgia, Mississippi State and Auburn all on the road. Worse, Alabama gets a very fast A&M team when the Aggies are coming off a bye and the Tide just played Arkansas, the SEC’s other most physical team — and that is after going to Athens.
One other thing that doesn’t bode well: The last SEC team to repeat as conference champ was Tennessee, almost 20 years ago. In fact, it’s been six seasons since anyone repeated in the SEC West.
3. What would the committee think? Opening up against Wisconsin (which has won/shared three of the past five Big Ten titles) should look good in the eyes of the committee, as would the SEC gauntlet the Tide have.
Alabama plays in the deepest division in football — and gets the most talented team in the SEC East. If any team can lose twice and still make the playoff, the Tide probably have the best shot.