VolQuest - SCOUTING THE OPPONENT: Alabama
{{ timeAgo('2020-06-16 12:18:49 -0500') }} football Edit

SCOUTING THE OPPONENT: Alabama

It’s been a particularly unusual college football offseason, but with the recent news that Tennessee players will return to campus this month and start voluntary workouts on June 8, there’s real optimism that a season will still happen despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

As we do each year, here’s a brief snapshot of Tennessee’s 12 opponents for the fall. We continue the preseason preview series with a look at the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Alabama — Oct. 24

2019 Record: 11-2

Head Coach: Nick Saban

2020 OUTLOOK

Once again, Alabama is expected to be among the crown jewels of the college football world in 2020. Despite a “disappointing 11-2” season, the Tide return a loaded roster with several upperclassmen who turned down the NFL for their senior seasons (Dylan Moses, Najee Harris, Alex Leatherwood, DeVonta Smith), another top recruiting class and a young defense that should be better after taking some lumps last fall.

As is the case with Nick Saban’s teams every year, the expectation is pretty much championship or bust.

Sure, trigger-man Tua Tavovailoa is gone, as are star wideouts Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, but Mac Jones was pretty darn good in relief last season (69% completion with 14 touchdowns to three picks) and 5-star Bryce Young is also waiting in the wings.

The receivers shouldn’t miss much of a beat either as Jaylen Waddle might be the best of the bunch anyways and Smith actually led the team in yards (1,256) and touchdowns (14) a year ago. Meanwhile, Harris is another former 5-star recruit who is on the shortlist of many Heisman Trophy favorites after an All-SEC first-team season with more than 1,500 all-purpose yards and 20 touchdowns. Fellow former 5-star back Trey Sanders also returns after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Oh, and Alabama returns four starting offensive linemen, including future pros Leatherwood, Landon Dickerson and Evan Neal.

Moses could be the most essential player in college football who opted to turn down the pros for another season. A legitimate dude at linebacker, Moses was billed as a Top 10 pick before suffering a knee injury last season. Most still had him as a first-rounder in the 2020 NFL Draft, but Moses opted to play another year in Tuscaloosa. In 2018, the 6-3, 235-pound missile led Alabama with 86 tackes, adding 3.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. The senior shores up a linebacking unit that was forced to start a trio of true freshman in 2019 (namely Shane Lee and Christian Harris, who combined for 14 TFLs and 4.5 sacks), but now has Moses and Joshua McMillion, who was granted a sixth-year of eligibility, back. The Tide lose a pair of productive pass rushers (Anfernee Jennings and Terrell Lewis combined for 14 sacks) but LaBryan Ray is finally healthy and UA loaded up on blue-chip outside linebackers in the 2020 class (see: Will Anderson, Drew Sanders and Chris Branswell). Anderson in particularly is a guy who could see the field on Day 1.

The secondary is easily the biggest question mark for Pete Golding’s defense this fall. Patrick Surtain II is an eventual Day 1 draft pick, but Xavier McKinney, Trevon Diggs, Jared Mayden and Shyheim Carter are all off to the NFL already. Saban has a track record of recruiting and developing DBs, so that “question mark” will likely be mitigated by some underclassmen (Josh Jobe? Jordan Battle? Brian Branch?) emerging by midseason.

2020 SCHEDULE
SEPT. 5 SOUTHERN CAL (DALLAS)

SEPT. 12

GEORGIA STATE

SEPT. 19

GEORGIA

SEPT. 26

KENT STATE

OCT. 3

@ OLE MISS

OCT. 10

@ ARKANSAS

OCT. 17

MISSISSIPPI STATE

OCT. 24

@ TENNESSEE

OCT. 31

OPEN

NOV. 7

@ LSU

NOV. 14

UT MARTIN

NOV. 21

TEXAS A&M

NOV. 28

AUBURN

NOTABLE NEW ADDITIONS 

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1. Saban is notorious for his coaching turnover, especially losing coordinators to head coaching jobs (Kirby Smart, Jeremy Pruitt, Lane Kiffin, Mike Locksley), but for the first time since 2015, Alabama returns its same offensive (Steve Sarkisian) and defensive (Golding) coordinators.

2. Many have tabbed Young as Tagovailoa’s heir apparent, as the former USC commit and California native spurned the Trojans and signed with the Tide. But while Young could be the future in Alabama, Jones isn’t going to just hand over his job in the present. Jones didn’t see the field well when initially replacing Tagovailoa against Tennessee, but after that game, he mostly balled. Although he threw a bad pick-six against Auburn, he also had four touchdowns and nearly 350 yards in the Iron Bowl. In the Citrus Bowl win over Michigan, he lit up the Wolverines with 327 yards and three scores.

3. In recent years, the Tide have certainly snake-bitten by injuries, especially in 2017 and 2019. Three years ago it ultimately didn’t matter, as they still won the national championship over Georgia. But last season, it was too much to overcome. Starters Moses, McMillion and Ray all missed more than 10 games. Same for Sanders, who was set to be Harris’ backup. They also obviously lost Tagovailoa and several others missed key games. When Scott Cochran left the Tide this offseason for a on-field role at UGA, Saban seemed to pivot his S&C strategy. Instead of trying to simply be the biggest and fastest team in the country, Alabama has shifted its approach with the hiring of Indiana’s David Ballou and Matt Rhea.

4. The Tide signed the nation’s No. 3 class in 2020, with four five stars in the group including Young, the No. 2 overall prospect in the class. Of the 25 signees, 21 were ranked at least 4-stars and 10 were slotted inside the Rivals100.

5. Alabama’s win total is set at 10.5 this season, with all the vig on the over. The Tide (presumably) open the season against Southern Cal in Jerry World and also play four other Top 15 teams (Georgia, at LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn). Many see a road tilt at Tennessee in late October as a tricky trap game, too. And yet, the Tide are still the favorite (2-1) to win the SEC Western Division. They’re also the heavy favorites (-140) to win the conference and make the College Football Playoff. On early lines released, Alabama is only less than a two-touchdown favorite against LSU (-2) and UGA (-7).

ESPN's FPI gives Alabama nearly a 60% chance to make the CFP and 41% chance of winning the SEC.