I don’t know about projecting three seasons out, but it’s hard to see how 2013 won’t end in Alabama’s third national title in a row.
Look at Alabama’s recruiting, 2013 schedule and the rest of college football.
Yes, Alabama suffered key losses on defense and the offensive line, but we’ve all learned not to overrate player turnover where Nick Saban-led Alabama is concerned. The recruiting machine keeps churning, as the recent commitment of top quarterback prospect David Cornwell shows.
Saban hasn’t had a bad class since arriving at Alabama, so there’s always talent-in-waiting behind the talent lost.
That’s how the Crimson Tide has won three of the past four national championships.
That’s how Alabama has won 10 or more games five straight seasons and 12 or more in four of those.
But as talented as Alabama always will be under Saban, the Tide’s prospects for 2013 are less about the Tide and more about the rest.
Has Alabama ever had a more favorable schedule in the Saban era? He’s come a long way since 2010, when six opponents had open dates before playing the Tide.
Between Sept. 21 and Nov. 9, Alabama will play two three-game homestands. LSU looks to be the toughest opponent coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium, and Alabama gets an open date before playing the Tigers.
As for teams Alabama will play away from Bryant-Denny, season-opening opponent Virginia Tech did nothing in 2012 to make anyone think the Hokies are ready to challenge Alabama anywhere, let alone Atlanta.
Season-ending opponent Auburn is coming off its worst season in 60 years. Playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium and strong staff hires for new head coach Gus Malzahn hardly seem reasons to believe the Tigers will make up the gulf between them and Alabama in one year.
The scariest game away from home will come Sept. 14, against the one team that beat Alabama in 2012. Texas A&M will have Heisman Trophy quarterback Johnny Manziel back and the “12th Man.”
Just not departed tackle Luke Joeckel, who kept Manziel’s blind side clear for so many big plays in 2012, including that memorable blind-side escape and touchdown pass in Tuscaloosa.
Ryan Swope, the guy who caught that pass and so many others, is gone, too.
Alabama also will have an open date before that game. It won’t be like 2012, when A&M came a week after LSU and was the third ranked opponent in as many weeks, and Alabama still came two yards short of winning despite the Aggies’ 20-0 start.
Alabama should get through the regular season with no worse than one loss and play in the SEC Championship Game again. If the Tide survives that first Saturday in December, then that likely means another berth in the BCS final.
Who looks ready to challenge Alabama in Pasadena?
Notre Dame lost 42-14 to Alabama in this past season’s BCS final, and that was before losing linebacker Manti Te’o, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Theo Riddick to graduation and quarterback Everett Golson to suspension.
Ohio State will be eligible, and Urban Meyer delivered an unbeaten regular season under NCAA sanctions in 2012. He won two national titles at Florida, so he knows something about how the SEC has won seven in a row.
He also must replace seven defensive starters.
Oregon came closest to beating an SEC school in the BCS final during the SEC’s streak, losing 22-19 to Cam Newton-led Auburn in January of 2011, but the Ducks lost Coach Chip Kelly to the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. They also lost running back Kenjon Barner, four offensive linemen and their two top tacklers.
Alabama’s top challengers remain in the SEC, and the Tide gets two of them after open dates in 2013 and one at home.
Assuming Alabama again comes up with a big drive (LSU) or key defensive play (Georgia) when needed, it’s hard to see the immediate future turning out any differently for what ESPN calls college football’s top future power.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.