We previewed Saturday’s game with Brent Taylor from Roll Bama Roll.
1) First, does this team have what it takes to repeat as national champions?
In the nine years that Nick Saban has been coach, I've learned that it's never wise to think that the Tide doesn't have what takes to win it all. Despite losing the starting quarterback and Heisman running back from last year, along with two 2nd-round picks at defensive tackle, Alabama looks to be in better shape at every single other position compared to the 2015 championship squad.
2) What’s the latest update with the quarterback situation?
The new quarterback is obviously the biggest question mark on the team. Redshirt Junior Cooper Bateman almost won the job last year, but was passed up instead by the since-departed Jake Coker. Due to his experience, he is the theoretical front-runner. Bateman is known as more of a pocket passer by nature, yet he is actually the fastest QB on the roster (he spent some time at wide receiver one year.)
His main competition is redshirt freshman Blake Barnett. The 6'5" Californian is a former 5-star prospect that won the Opening MVP and Elite 11 championship in high school. He has a huge arm, uncanny elusiveness, and surprising speed. Though extremely talented, he's apparently been plagued by inconsistency and turnovers all offseason... Traits that do not sit well with Nick Saban.
Right behind those two is true freshman Jalen Hurts. He has drawn rave reviews from media and teammates alike, as the true dual-threat QB is a natural playmaker with loads of talent. However, as a true freshman, he has the least experience and grasp of the depth chart.
Bateman will likely open the game, but will quickly be changed out with Barnett. Most likely, whoever gets in a rhythm first will end up playing the entire second half. But if neither take the reigns, don't be surprised to see the true freshman get inserted into the fire.
3) Alabama has a recent history of star running backs. With the loss of Henry to the NFL, who will be the next star?
Two sophomores, both former 5-star recruits, are vying to be the main replacement for Derrick Henry. The most hyped is Bo Scarbrough. If you haven't heard of him yet, the monstrous specimen is already listed on Vegas' Heisman watch odds, despite carrying the ball less than 20 times last season. He is of similar size to Henry, but with a little more wiggle and aggressiveness in his game. We know about as much about Scarbrough as you do, but his hype is already legendary. Look him up on Google Images and you'll think you are looking at an NFL defensive end. For a small sample of what has everyone so excited about him, go to YouTube and search: Bo Scarbrough vs. Michigan State.
However, the other sophomore, Damien Harris, just might end up being the main guy. A short, stocky back, Harris has really impressive short area quickness and can slip through small holes in a hurry. He was actually the third leading rusher for Alabama last year, behind the since-departed Henry and Kenyan Drake.
Harris and Scarbrough will probably split time fairly evenly. They are both unproven, but have ridiculous potential.
4) Calvin Ridley had a monster freshman year. What makes him so special and how can he be stopped?
Calvin Ridley is one of those players that just has a feel for the game. At 6'1" 188, he is a bit on the thin side, but has a great wingspan, speed, and suddenness. His hands are unproportionately massive, and he has a great feel for catching poorly thrown footballs around defenders, even while running at top speed. Last season, most of his success came on deep bombs and screen passes where he could use his speed to make plays. Over the offseason, Lane Kiffin has experimented with moving him to slot receiver in order to allow him to make more plays at intermediate ranges and create mismatches with linebackers and slot corners.
Oh, and did I mention he ran a 4.35 forty-yard dash?
5) Defensively, this team is nasty especially in the front seven. Who is the standout for the Tide?
Defensive end Jonathan Allen is possibly the best player on the team. The senior likely would have been a first round pick last year, but surprised the entire fanbase by deciding to come back for one more season. At around 285 pounds, he can play any position along the defensive line from edge rusher to defensive tackle, and is just as adept at pass rushing as he is at stopping the run (36 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 12 sacks, 3 passes deflected, 2 forced fumbles).
However, middle linebacker Reuben Foster and strong safety Eddie Jackson each will give him a run for his money. Like Allen, each decided to pass up a high draft pick to return for a senior season. Jackson, a converted cornerback, led the SEC with 6 interceptions last season, returning two for touchdowns. Foster was voted the team's hardest hitter by his teammates (look up Reuben Foster hits Leonard Fournette on YouTube), and is also an exceptional linebacker in pass coverage. He dropped 15 pounds over the offseason to get faster, and the senior has said that he feels like a Ferrari, whereas he was previously a Chevy Tahoe.
And that's not even mentioning Tim Williams, who many across the nation believe to be the best pure pass-rusher in college football.
6) What would your matchup to watch be?
The most exciting matchup is going to be the Tide receivers against USC's corners. Alabama fields the best receiving corps they've had since Nick Saban has been here, and its not even close. Calvin Ridley is a monster, ArDarius Stewart is an athletic freak that is adept at getting yards after catch, O.J. Howard is a 6'6" tight end with sub 4.6 speed (and everyone saw what he did to Clemson in the title game), Robert Foster (another former five star player) returns after breaking a collarbone at the beginning of last season, and graduate transfer Gehrig Dieter from Bowling Green was a 1000-yard receiver last year with two one-hand touchdown catches to his name.
At the same time, USC's corners, Adoree’ Jackson and Iman Marshall, have made waves all the way over here in the Southeast. Some of the nation's best receivers against some of the nation's best cornerbacks should be a legendary battle to watch unfurl.
7) X-factor and game prediction.
The X-factor, to me, is wide receiver Robert Foster. The former 5-star redshirt junior was actually Alabama's top receiver going into 2015, with Calvin Ridley as his primary back up. As mentioned above, however, he broke his collarbone at the beginning of the season.
Foster is a rangy player a 6'2" with tremendous route-running ability and consistent hands. Oh and by the way, he's also the fastest player on the team (4.34s forty yard dash... just a shade ahead of Ridley). While Adoree Jackson and Iman Marshall are covering Ridley and Stewart-- Alabama's returning receivers-- Foster will be third receiver for the USC defensive backfield to worry about.
When both teams are breaking in a new QB, it's hard to make any prediction. Football teams live or die by the quarterback, so if Max Browne turns out to be a star while Bateman/Barnett flop, USC should take the win, and vice versa. If I remove that factor and assume that both teams get equal play out of their new signal callers, then I am hard pressed to see the Tide losing with the defense that they return.
Thanks to Brent again for answering the questions for us.