SportsRatings 2015 College Football Pre-season Top 128
|Alabama Crimson Tide (SEC #2; West #1)|
|AP #4 USA #4||Strength:#3 Success:#4 Overall:#4|
|Record: 12-2||Bowl: Lost to Ohio State 42-35 (Sugar)
|Picks: AP #3 | USA #3 | Lindy's #3 | Athlon #2 | Steele #3 | ESPN #2
|Record: 8-4||Bowl odds: 98% Playoff odds: 4%|
Could Alabama really lose 4 games for the first time since 2007? Even our projection isn't really sure, as it teeters between predicting 3 or 4 losses, and we favor the Tide in 11 of their 12 games.
2 ret. starters
|2014 Scoring Offense: #19 (raw) #8 (adjusted for opposition)|
|2015 Projected Scoring Offense: #45 (adjusted)
Basically, this is where we would rate Alabama's offense if they were dependent on returning players only. They get lots of consideration for recruiting, which is how they end up in the top ten overall. Still, it underscores how much talent the offense loses.
|2014 Passing Rank: #28 (raw) #18 (adjusted)||2014 Sacks Allowed (raw): #17|
|2015 Projected Passing Rank: #82 (adjusted)
||2015 Sacks Allowed (proj.): #22|
With Blake Sims (3,487 yards, 28 TDs, 10 interceptions) gone, the guy he beat for the job last year, Jake Coker (403 yards, 4 TDs, 0 int) takes the mantle. Last pre-season he struggled learning the offense, and unlike Sims he won't have WR Amari Cooper (124 receptions, 1,727 yards, 16 TDs) to make him look good. That's not a knock on Sims—Cooper would make any QB look good. He also won't have DeAndrew White (504 yards). TE OJ Howard (#4 with 260 yards) is the leading returnee. We show a passing game cratering that's not realistic, but reflects Cooper's insane importance to the offense: he had three times as many receptions as the #2 receiver, and over 7x as many as leading returnee Howard. One big positive here is Oregon State grad transfer Richard Mullaney, who had 788 yards in 2013.
|Rushing||2014 Rushing Rank: #37 (raw) #25 (adjusted)||2015 Projected Rushing Rank: #46 (adj.)
Derrick Henry (990 yards, 11 TDs) is back but TJ Yeldon (979 yards, 11 TDs) is not, and neither are the next 3 rushers including QB Blake Sims who had 350. Kenyan Drake had just 112 before breaking his leg, but he had 694 yards in 2013. The offensive line loses three starters, with Senior Ryan Kelly and sophomore Cam Robinson returning; three starters are sophomores or redshirt freshmen.
|2014 Adjusted Stats:||Rush Defense: #3 Pass Defense per-game: #27 Per-attempt: #8|
7 ret. starters
|'14 Scoring Defense: #7 (raw) #4 (adjusted)||'14 sacks: #59||'14 picks: #87|
|'15 Projected Scoring Defense: #3 (adjusted)
||'15 sacks: #44||'15 picks: #64|
All three starters return to Alabama's defensive line including Jonathan Allen (5.5 sacks) and we look for an improved pass rush despite the loss of "jack" linebacker Xzavier Dickson (9 sacks). Reggie Ragland (9 tackles for loss) is one of two returning linebackers. The secondary loses top tackler Landon Collins (103 tackles) but Cyrus Jones (13 pass breakups) is back. Alabama's defense is again a candidate for top scoring defense in the land, though we have them coming up just short.
- Kicking Game: JK Scott had an incredible 48.0 punting average as a freshman; he's back, but we're not sure how he's going to top that. Kicker Adam Griffith hit 12 of 19 field goal attempts and he's back as well.
- Return Game: Christion Jones was the team's #3 receiver and return ace; last year he averaged 8.0 and 23.0 on punts and kickoffs respectively, but he's gone.
- Turnovers projection: Things pretty much cancel each other out here.
Coaching Hot Seat Ranking: #117 (COLD)
Some people like to claim Nick Saban is always on the hot seat, since expectations are so high now. But whatever. When you have 7 double-digit winning seasons in a row, you will be given some leeway to rebuild if you stumble. He might be faster to fall onto the hot seat for a losing season, but he's as far away as possible right now.
Recruiting 2015 Recruiting Rank: #2 2014 Recruiting Rank: #2
Alabama perpetuates their dynasty through recruiting. Though we've ranked a team above them both of the last two years, they're the clear #1 over the past two seasons combined. This year's list of 5-star recruits is insane: On offense, QB Blake Barnett, RB Damien Harris, and WR Calvin Ridley. On defense, DT Daron Payne, CB Kendall Sheffield, and CB Minkah Fitzpatrick. We also count Bo Scarbrough in this class, as he greyshirted last year.
Alabama struggled with West Virginia (4-8 last year) in the opener, 33-23, and had a quarterback controversy early in the season, but recovered to beat FAU and Southern Miss by 93-12 combined. They sturggled a bit with Florida before winning 42-21, then lost at Mississippi 23-17. When they only beat Arkansas 14-13 there were many who were writing them off. Maybe they heard, since they responded with a 59-0 beatdown of Texas A&M. They needed overtime to beat LSU, but got past Mississippi State and Auburn and were back in the SEC title game, where they crushed Missouri 42-13. In the Sugar Bowl they ran into an Ohio State team playing their best and lost 42-35, which was a lot better than Oregon (and certainly Wisconsin) did.
Last year's prediction: Like everyone else we ranked Alabama #2 last year, projecting an 11-1 record. They actually ended up ranked #4 in the polls and #3 in our Strength rating, so by that we were off. And we didn't show Alabama as the underdog in any given game—though at 69%, Mississippi was their least likely win according to our numbers.
Alabama 2015 schedule & forecast
Straight up: 11-1 Cume: 8-4 Bowl eligible: 98%
The notion that Alabama will lose 4 games seems to be debunked by the very numbers that compute the cumulative projection. After all, the most common outcome isn't even 8-4, it's 9-3 (top chart). And Alabama is of course favored in 11 of 12 games.
The one game where they are not favored? Georgia in Athens. That's significant because if Alabama reaches the SEC title game—as they usually do—they might have to face Georgia in Atlanta, which is not much different.
So that's one loss, maybe. Looking at the chart, there are actually quite a few games where the winning percentage is not all that high. In fact, there are fully six wins in the high-50s to low 60s percentile: Mississippi, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn. Even though they're favored in each game, none are guaranteed wins. It's easy to see Alabama losing two of those.
That makes three possible losses. The rest of the schedule is not nearly as threatening. The opener vs. Wisconsin, you say? Wisconsin loses every bit as much as Alabama this year, and they lost to Ohio State 59-0 compared to 42-35. Maybe Arkansas? It was a 1-point game last year in Fayetteville, and while it still might be close in Tuscaloosa, that upset seems less likely. It won't be MTSU, ULM, or Charleston Southern.
So we're willing to believe 9-3, maybe—but not 8-4. Even so, that would be a poor season for the Tide relative to the last 7 years. But the problem isn't with Alabama—it's with their conference, and specifically the SEC West. When your entire division is in the top 26 of both pre-season polls, the odds of any given team having a great year are diminished.
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SportsRatings 2015 College Football Pre-season Top 128