Will the Crimson Tide Roll back to the College Football Playoff in 2020?
The 2019 season was one to forget for the Alabama Crimson Tide and Head Coach Nick Saban. Even though the Tide still went 11-2 they lost to two of their tops rivals in Auburn and LSU and failed to win at least a share of the SEC West title for the first time since 2011. In a season with preseason Heisman frontrunner Tua Tagovailoa leading the way at quarterback, the expectations were national championship or bust. Thing's didn't go as planned as the Crimson Tide finished their season earlier than expected on January 1st with a 35-16 win over the Michigan Wolverines in the Citrus Bowl.
Flipping the script to the 2020 season, the Crimson Tide is in great shape to return to their normal SEC and national dominance. Running back Najee Harris and his 1,224 rushing yards are back leading the Tide's traditionally dominant backfield. Wide receiver's DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle return to Steve Sarkisian's offense making them the best receiving duo in the country. They will look to add to last season's historic offense which averaged 511 yards per game and 47 points per game.
The main question mark for the Crimson Tide's offense heading into the season is who will play quarterback? Mac Jones is the likely frontrunner for the starting job leading up to their opening matchup vs Missouri on September 26th. Jones earned some much-needed experience last season playing in the absence of Tua Tagovailoa. He completed 68.8 percent of this pass attempts while throwing for 1,503 yards with 14 touchdowns. True freshman quarterback Bryce Young will make a strong push to earn some playing time as well. Young was the number two overall recruit in the 2020 recruiting class and the highest-ranked quarterback. Whoever is under center for the Tide will have plenty of weapons to work with.
The defensive side of the ball is where the Tide struggled the most in 2019. Defensive Coordinator Pete Golding's defense finished 20th in the nation in total defense and often was unable to come up with stops leading to the Tide's two losses against LSU and Auburn. Even though the defense saw five players get drafted in last year's NFL draft, help is on the way. Injuries were devastating to the Crimson Tide defense in 2019, but this year 2018 leading tackler Dylan Moses returns to handle the middle linebacker duties. Combining Moses with freshman standout Shane Lee and Christian Harris, give the Crimson Tide one of the best linebacker cores in the entire country. Junior cornerback Patrick Surtain will look to lead the Tide secondary and lock himself into a first-round draft pick in next spring's NFL Draft.
The schedule is not easy for Alabama this year as they have to go up against the likes of Georgia, LSU, and Auburn which is a daunting task for any program. Luckily two of those games are in Tuscaloosa and all three of those teams will most likely take steps back in 2020. Georgia lost quarterback Jake Fromm to the NFL draft and is forced to start USC transfer, JT Daniels. Following last season's historic run that ended with a national championship, LSU saw 14 players get drafted including the number one overall pick, quarterback Joe Burrow. Star receiver Ja'Marr Chase also opted out of the season due to coronavirus concerns and to prepare for next year's NFL draft. Auburn does have sophomore quarterback Bo Nix returning, but at this point, he poses little threat to an improved Tide defense especially in Tuscaloosa, where the Tigers have only beaten Nick Saban once and that was with Cam Newton under center.
With the elite weapons returning on offense and an improved healthier defense, look for Nick Saban to lead the Crimson Tide back into the playoffs in 2020.
Follow BTB site contributor Ryan Liedel at @RyanLiedel