There aren’t many programs in college football that can finish the regular season with only one loss, win the conference, earn a berth in the College Football Playoff yet still have the season deemed a failure. The Crimson Tide never left the top ten last season and begin the 2015 season in the top ten of every poll but the 2015 Crimson Tide have some serious holes to fill if they plan on getting back to the College Football Playoff for a second straight season.
Offensively, the Tide only return three starters but they are important starters. Senior center Ryan Kelly and sophomore Cam Robinson return on the offensive line and will lead a fairly young but dynamic group of lineman who will pave the way for the Alabama offense. Sophomore right guard Bradley Bozeman is the biggest of the newcomers measuring in at 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds of road grading power. Robinson started 14 games as a true freshman last season and will protect the blind side of whoever wins the quarterback competition. The contestants this season are senior Jake Coker, redshirt freshman David Cornwell, junior Alex Morris and true freshman Blake Barnett who have all been given a chance to win the job but the outlook is as murky as ever. The Crimson Tide coaching staff has yet to tip their hand as to who will get the nod as the starter. Coker has the most playing experience which is still very little but he is the odd-on favorite to win the job although I wouldn’t rule out Cornwell or Morris at this point. Whoever the starting signal caller will be they will have a legitimate monster lining up in the backfield with them in junior running back Derrick Henry. Alabama has always had a running back-by-committee mindset but 2015 may be the exception. Henry shared carries in 2014 but still almost eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark and had 11 touchdowns. Freshman Damien Harris will be the backup until senior Kenyan Drake is completely healed from the broken leg he suffered in 2014. Alabama will really need the receivers to step up and fill the herculean void left by first round pick Amari Cooper who caught 84 more passes than they next receiver in 2014. Junior tight end OJ Howard returns with the most catches last season with only 17 so there is some serious pressure on sophomores Robert Foster, ArDarius Stewart and junior Chris Black will really need to step up and provide solid targets for the new quarterback.
It’s not as bleak on the defensive side of the ball with seven starters returning from a unit that did falter a little late in the season allowing over 400 yards in three of their final five contests. Up front the Tide return all three defensive lineman including terror in the backfield A’Shawn Robinson who had 6.5 tackles for loss last season and he’ll line up next to senior defensive end Jarran Reed who was just as active in the offensive backfield with 5.5 tackles for loss. On the back end, the Alabama secondary should be pretty good with two returning starters in corner back Cyrus Jones and junior Eddie Jackson. Jones broke up 13 passes and intercepted three more in 2014 while Jackson broke up 6 and intercepted one. Sophomore Tony Brown will be inserted in the other corner back spot and he is the prototypical Nick Saban corner back; 6-foot, 195 pounds, long and athletic. The other non-returning starter in the secondary is senior Geno Smith (he does not have a broken jaw) who accounted for 56 tackles last season as a backup which is good enough for second among returning players. The line backing group is where the success of the Alabama defense hinges with two returning starters and two players who played a lot as backups in 2014. Seniors Reggie Ragland and Denzel Devall return and had a combined 106 tackles last season while newcomers Dillon Lee and Reuben Foster accounted for 46 themselves. If this group is good, the Alabama defense will be good and hopefully for Alabama fans can get after the quarterback in the spread offenses that litter the Southeastern Conference.
There are no breaks for the Alabama Crimson Tide on the 2015 schedule. Ranked as the toughest schedule in the country by just about every sports news outlet, Bama will need to be very good and have some serious luck to navigate this schedule to an undefeated or one-loss season. The season begins in Arlington, Texas, against the Wisconsin Badgers who are still trying to find their aerial attack but will be able to run the ball on anyone in 2015. The Tide returns to Tuscaloosa to enjoy a three game home stand to finish out the month of September against Middle Tennessee, Ole Miss and UL-Monroe. The Blue Raiders have been bowl eligible the last three seasons but have only been to one bowl in that span so don’t be surprised of that bunch shows up in Tuscaloosa with a pretty big chip on their shoulder before the Rebels of Ole Miss try to make it two wins in a row against the Tide the following week. The final week of September welcomes the UL-Monroe Warhawks to Tucsaloosa who beat the Crimson Tide the last time they were in town 21-14 back in 2007. October begins with an interesting road trip to Athens to take on the Georgia Bulldogs who are also still searching for their quarterback. Alabama then turns around and welcomes an Arkansas Razorbacks team to Tuscaloosa who held Alabama to only 227 yards of offense in 2014. Alabama will hit the road the following week for the last time in 2014 when they travel to College Station, Texas, to play the Texas A&M Aggies who Alabama absolutely pasted last season 59-0. The final game of October is back at Bryant-Denny Stadium when the hated Tennessee Volunteers make the trip to down to Tuscaloosa. November begins as always with the hated LSU Tigers, this year in Tuscaloosa, who Alabama is looking to make it five straight against. The following week the Tide must make the short trek to Starkville to take on Mississippi State before the final breather against FCS opponent Charleston Southern. The final weekend of the regular season will be the Iron Bowl of course against the despised Auburn Tigers in Jordan-Hare Stadium where there are still some ghosts of 2013 lingering around.
The Alabama Crimson Tide have the talent all over the roster to go undefeated every year and 2015 is no different but it all comes down to how well the offense can be without all of the play makers that made the 2014 team so good. Questions at quarterback, questions at wide receiver, questions on whether the defense can contain some of the spread teams and how in the world they will get through that gauntlet of a schedule are some of the things that the Tide will have to address and address quickly in 2015.
2015 Alabama Crimson Tide Schedule
Sept 5th v. (20) Wisconsin (Arlington)
Sept 12th Middle Tennessee
Sept 19th (17) Ole Miss
Sept 26th UL-Monroe
Oct 3rd at (9) Georgia
Oct 10th (18) Arkansas
Oct 17th at Texas A&M
Oct 24th (25) Tennessee
Oct 31st BYE WEEK
Nov 7th (14) LSU
Nov 14th at Mississippi State
Nov 21st Charleston Southern
Nov 28th at (6) Auburn