June is the toughest month of the off-season. We're about equidistant from Spring and Fall practices and the daily headlines are filled with controversy and scandal without a hint of actual, you know... football to sooth our weary souls. The only bright spot is the appearance of the season preview magazines on the newsstands.
Now, obviously, all of these were penned weeks ago and a heck of a lot has changed since then. Moreover, there really isn't going to be any better new data until practices begin again in August. But they remain a reasonable barometer of what expectations are going forward.
(Obviously, we think they all pale in comparison to the forthcoming, Yea Alabama, which we are putting the finishing touches on now. It should be available in a few weeks and we'll post information on how to get your copy as soon as we know ourselves.)
In that spirit, we've culled through the season preview titles that are now available, Athlon Sports, Lindy's Sports, The Sporting News and Phil Steele to give you the various assessments of the 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide. The best place to start is the overall team projections.
Athlon, Lindy's and Steele all project Alabama to play Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game in New Orleans on Jan. 9, 2012. The contrarian Sporting News - who predict LSU will win the title - does not list projected bowl matchups.
That's not the only point of agreement on the Crimson Tide. All of the magazines tap Alabama's 2011 recruiting class as the best in the nation, save Athlon who put it at No. 3 (behind Florida State and Texas). Trent Richardson makes every title's list of Heisman Trophy hopefuls. Lindy's and the Sporting News include the LSU game at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Nov. 5 as one of the most important contests of the season.
It will come as no surprise that the preview magazines are very high on Alabama's defense next season. The unit is singled out by every publication as one of, if not the, best in the nation. A gander at the individual unit breakdowns from each magazine bears out the assessment (Sporting News doesn't provide unit ratings):
Two players, defensive back Mark Barron and offensive lineman Barrett Jones, are on every magazine's All American first team. Running back Trent Richardson is the only other Tide player to make every magazine's All-American squads. Phil Steele is particularly impressed with Alabama's players as the Tide dominates his 2011 lists.
As you expect, most of the season preview mags take a pretty broad view of Alabama's prospects for 2011. The rationalizations are based on the general information about the players and the team you are forced to rely on post-spring. Still, each one has a unique take on the data. Here's the individual breakdown:
Lindy's cites Alabama's experienced and talented defense for it's bullish projection. It is also one of the few magazines to make a specific note of how the disappointment of last year's Iron Bowl could help Saban motivate the squad. More importantly, Lindy's notes that whatever shortcomings Alabama has on offense, they are offset by a stout offensive line and Heisman-candidate running back.
Quote: "You better bring an elephant gun if you plan to stop them and the best collection of defensive backs/linebackers in the country."
Interestingly, while Athlon joins the chorus of concerns about Alabama's quarterback situation, it cites the defensive line as the team's biggest question mark. Still, the magazine is optimistic about the Tide's chances due to the schedule; Alabama avoids the two expected east division powers (Georgia and South Carolina) while getting the two most challenging west division foes at home (Arkansas and LSU).
Quote: "There are issues to be addressed... but talent is never at a shortage in Tuscaloosa."
The Sporting News
The Sporting News takes the contrarian route and taps LSU as it's prospective national champion. The logic being the Tigers are a complete team while Alabama has questions at key positions on offense.The pick is odd since the magazine notes LSU's "brutal" schedule while noting that Alabama's defense is good enough all the offense has to do is avoid turnovers.
Quote: "College football is also about key players and key losses, and the Crimson Tide lost several big ones from last year's team."
Phil Steele is up on the Alabama defense. WAY up. He calls it the best in the nation and more than enough to override any questions on the other side of the ball. Steele is especially big on the secondary. He cites a much more favorable schedule than '10 - specifically noting the better bye situation - as a reason for his bullish projection. He also picks Trent Richardson as the winner of the Heisman Trophy
Quote: "Saban has stockpiled some great talent here. Defense wins championships."