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Alabama football preview: Reloaded, Crimson Tide chasing repeat

By The Sports Xchange
Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban leads his team out to the field prior to game against the Clemson Tigers in the first quarter of the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on January 11, 2016. Photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI
1 of 2 | Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban leads his team out to the field prior to game against the Clemson Tigers in the first quarter of the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on January 11, 2016. Photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI | License Photo

Alabama has been in this position three times during Nick Saban's tenure.

Coming off a national championship, the Crimson Tide has had to face being the hunted and fight complacency. That didn't work out in 2010 coming off the first national title run under Saban. That team, which many believe to be the most talented of Saban's time in Tuscaloosa, lost three games.

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In 2012, Alabama avoided the letdown and was able to repeat coming off the 2011 title.

The 2013 team was not as fortunate in its pursuit of a three-peat. After starting the year 11-0, things collapsed on the final play at Auburn and carried over into the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma.

"I think the key thing is you have to stay focused on what you have to do technically with this particular team to make this team play as well as they're capable of playing," Saban said. "Lots of people have to have new roles on the team, whether it's leadership, new positions, whatever it might be.

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"There's obviously gonna be some guys that are gonna get wonderful opportunities to compete, which maybe they didn't have in the past. Bringing all these things together is the major challenge."

That's where Saban, Alabama's coaching staff and the players find themselves with fall camp around the corner. Alabama won't be able to play the "nobody respects us" card like they did coming off last year's Ole Miss loss. Alabama likely will be favored in every single game this season.

The Crimson Tide was picked by the media to win the SEC for the third straight season.

"I've seen a lot of hunger in this team," Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen said. "The biggest thing at Alabama is that if you don't have hunger then you're not going to start this year. Coach Saban is not going to do anything that is a detriment to the team so you have to come with intensity every day and prove why you deserve to play. So I really haven't seen any complacency so far this year."

Alabama tight end O.J. Howard has seen similar things. Howard is one of the offensive leaders this season. This year's group isn't resting on the reputation of last year's championship.

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"I think our team knows that's last year," Howard said. "This team hasn't done anything yet. We're a new team. We have to establish ourselves. Everyone is working hard and no one is complacent. New players have bought into 'The Process' already. The older guys are doing the right things. I think we'll be fine this season."

NOTES, QUOTES

SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: Two of Alabama's first three games of the season feature big-time matchups. The Crimson Tide open the season in Cowboy Stadium vs. Southern California. In terms of name recognition, it doesn't get better than that. In Week 3, Alabama travels to Ole Miss, which has beaten the Crimson Tide in back-to-back seasons.

KEYS TO SUCCESS: For the third straight season, Alabama has an open quarterback competition. The Crimson Tide's coaches must choose between Cooper Bateman, David Cornwell, Blake Barnett and freshman Jalen Hurts. Alabama's quarterback may be more important this year than in year's past because of the elite talent Alabama has at the skill positions with Calvin Ridley, O.J. Howard and others back. Finding a quarterback who can take care of the ball while also getting it to the playmakers is a top priority.

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AREAS OF CONCERN: Offensively, Alabama needs to figure out its running back depth. With Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake gone, Alabama is both thin and experienced at running back for the first time in Saban's tenure. Bo Scarbrough, a sophomore, projects to be the starter with fellow sophomore Damien Harris being the No. 2. True freshmen B.J. Emmons and Joshua Jacobs could see playing time as well. Defensively, Alabama's biggest issue is depth upfront. Alabama needs some of its young defensive linemen to develop fast and become a part of the rotation.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think everybody needs to buy into the things that are going to help them play the absolute best football on our team, to create an identity for this team, because what we've done in the past obviously is not going to help us." -- Alabama coach Nick Saban on fighting against complacency

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

HEAD COACH: Nick Saban, 10th year at Alabama, 100-18 record at Alabama

MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: RB Bo Scarbrough -- Scarbrough is in line to be the guy who replaces last year's Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry. Physically, Scarbrough is a Henry clone at 6-foot-2, 242 pounds. He is a big bruising back. He'll have to stay healthy if Alabama's offense is to reach its potential this season.

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BREAKOUT STAR: WR Robert Foster -- Foster was heading toward having a breakout year last season before a shoulder injury in Week 3 at Ole Miss sidelined him. Foster caught a touchdown pass in the two full games he played. Foster has great size and even better speed. If defense worry too much about Calvin Ridley or O.J. Howard, Foster could take advantage of some single coverages.

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: RB B.J. Emmons -- Alabama needs its young running backs to provide depth behind Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris. Emmons is the type of player who could do that. Emmons rushed for 2,417 yards and scored 41 total touchdowns as a senior at Freedom High School in North Carolina.

ROSTER REPORT:

--Starting RG Alphonse Taylor is still serving a suspension for his DUI arrest this summer. It's unclear whether or not Taylor will miss any game time.

--Reserve DB Maurice Smith opted to leave Alabama and transfer heading into his final year. Smith, who graduated this summer, was expected to start in Alabama's nickel defense.

--QB David Cornwell suffered a foot injury this summer that limited his reps on the field. Cornwell was expected to push for the starting job.

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