No team performed better in the 2009 college football season than the Alabama Crimson Tide, who won the BCS National Championship with a 37-21 victory over the Texas Longhorns on January 7, 2010. A month before the championship game, Crimson Tide running back Mark Ingram had been named the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, so it is safe to say that 2009 was an astounding success for Alabama. The Tide went a perfect 12-0 in the regular season, then added a victory over Florida in the SEC Championship Game before taking care of the Longhorns in the Rose Bowl. Head Coach Nick Saban will enter his fourth year with the Tide in 2010, with a record of 33-8 since arriving prior to the 2007 season.
The Alabama offense will certainly be the strength of the team in 2010, with phrases like "best offense in Crimson Tide history" and "loaded with star-power" appearing regularly in discussions of this team. Quarterback Greg McElroy returns under center, and passed for 215 yards and one touchdown against Week One opponent San Jose State.
Reigning Heisman winner Mark Ingram has been hampered by a knee injury, and is likely out for the Penn State game. However, Trent Richardson, Ingram's primary backup, is more than adequate as a replacement. The two combined for more than 2400 yards in 2009 to go along with 28 touchdowns. Ingram has obviously proved his worth and will try to become only the second player in history to win two Heisman trophies, but many fans are excited to see Richardson take an increased role in the backfield. With the injury to Ingram, the fans will get their chance. The two running backs showed what they could accomplish in the BCS Championship game, where Ingram, named the game’s MVP, rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns, while Richardson ran for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
At wide receiver, junior Julio Jones returns, with his sights set on a big 2010. After a stellar freshman year in 2008, Jones’ production fell off slightly last year. However, with two talented quarterback options and two talented running backs to keep the defenses occupied, Jones and fellow Tide receivers Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks are expecting a big year in 2010. Michael Williams is set to take over the tight end duties from the departed Colin Peek, who caught 26 passes in 2009, including three touchdowns.
On the front line, the Crimson Tide will need to replace two starters, including All-American left guard Mike Johnson. Replacing right tackle Drew Davis will likely be easier for the Tide, as redshirt freshman D.J. Fluker, a five-star recruit in 2009, is expected to contribute right away. The rest of the line is steady, as seniors James Carpenter and William Vlachos return at left tackle and center, respectively. Sophomore right guard Barrett Jones is back after an impressive freshman season. Overall, Alabama returns a high powered offense that is both experienced and deep, and will give opposing defenses fits all year long.
The Alabama defense is a different story. While Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will certainly have the team as prepared as possible, they face the difficult task of replacing at least nine defensive starters. Six players from the 2009 Alabama defense were taken in the 2010 NFL draft, with two more signing undrafted free agent contracts following the draft. Filling the holes left by these talented players will not be easy, but with Alabama's recent recruiting successes, fans have reason to be confident.
All three defensive linemen in Saban’s 3-4 scheme will be replaced, including monster nose tackle Terrence Cody, now of the Baltimore Ravens. Similar to the Nittany Lions, however, the Crimson Tide employ a constantly rotating front, and many of the contributors from 2009 that were not officially starters will move into the spotlight roles in 2010. The most notable of these players is Marcell Dareus, whose presence in the championship game, including knocking Texas quarterback Colt McCoy out of the game, cannot be understated. Unfortunately for Tide fans, however, Dareus is out for the Penn State game due to his lingering legal status with AgentGate.
At linebacker, regular playmakers Rolando McClain, Eryk Anders, and Cory Reamer are no longer with the team, but, again, similar to Penn State, Alabama has depth at the position and will reload with superb playmakers. Dont’a Hightower returns and will be joined by Jerrell Harris, Chris Jordan, and Courtney Upshaw, all three highly-touted recruits from a star studded 2008 class.
In the secondary, however, the Crimson Tide find themselves in a bit of a bind. Four players from the 2009 secondary are gone due to graduation or the allure of the NFL, including Javier Arenas, whose five interceptions, five sacks, 71 tackles, and punt-returning abilities were vital to the Crimson Tide success. To make matters worse, Robby Green, a likely starter following a productive 2009, was ruled ineligible for the 2010 season, and junior college transfer Dequan Menzie, a coveted transfer, suffered a likely season-ending injury when he tore his Achilles tendon in March. While Alabama should be able to reload the talent it loses in the front seven, the secondary will be thin. The silver lining for Tide fans is that safety Mark Barron, whose seven interceptions led the team in 2009, will be back for his junior year. Saban is known for his defensive game, so any opponent that looks at Alabama’s attrition rate as a weakness will be mightily surprised. No matter what, this will be a solid defense.
The kicking game will also take a hit, with both placekicker Leigh Tiffin and punter P.J. Fitzgerald no longer available. Jeremy Shelley and freshman Cade Foster will battle for the placekicking duties, while freshman Jay Williams is the man to watch in the race to replace Fitzgerald.
Exceeding its 2009 accomplishments is nearly an impossible task for the 2010 Crimson Tide, but Alabama is ranked at the top by almost all of the preseason polls. Anything less than a BCS bowl game will be a disappointment to the Tide faithful, and Nittany Lion fans should expect a very hard-fought game on Saturday.