Shane: Race for the National Crown

By Shane from Centerpoint

If the recent trend in college football continues into the 2009 campaign, there is no doubt in my mind that the Southeastern Conference has three teams who have an excellent shot at winning the crown. With the Florida Gators being the national pick as the pre-season leader, Urban Meyer has a shot at his third trophy. LSU’s Les Miles has the talent to go all the way as well and he has quality depth at all positions. However, the team with everything in place resides in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Head Coach Nick Saban has his Crimson Tide ready to make a run and I’m about to make a case explaining why.

The first place one should look for evidence is in Alabama’s defensive front seven. Saban has quietly stockpiled “blue-chip” depth, with fourteen players in the two-deep rotation that could start for any team in the nation. Opponents will be hard–pressed to run the ball on this defense, and most will be rendered one-dimensional. Also, Saban personally trains the defensive backfield, which is loaded with three experienced upper-classmen. Consider the addition of the number-one cornerback prospect in the country, Dre Kirkpatrick, and couple that with the front seven, you’ll quickly surmise that Alabama’s defense is going to be a force. Defense wins championships and this year’s version is championship–caliber.

The second biggest factor in Bama’s rise to the top has to be the improved play of the special teams. The Tide’s secret weapon, Javier Arenas, is one of the top kick–return specialists in the nation. His uncanny ability and elusive style can change field position in a heartbeat, creating a short field for the offense or – at any time – Arenas might take it to the house. He is a proven weapon that teams prepare for, but rarely stop.

Third in line stands the key to Alabama’s season. His name is Greg McElroy. Recently, at the Manning Passing Academy, Alabama’s 2009 signal–caller finished dusting-off Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, and Ole Miss’ Jevan Sneed (among others) – during the final quarterback passing competition – to finish second. By the way, Texas A&M’s Jerrod Johnson won. As I’ve said before, G-mac will be much better than many expect. I personally think he will be Bama’s best since Stabler.

The next area where I think Alabama will be better than its competition is in the receiving corps. Everyone knows about Julio Jones. He is going to get his catches and yards, no matter how many defenders are covering him. The big question has been concerned with who might be the go-to-guy on the opposite side. Marquis Maze is the answer. He is ready to step up and prove his worth. Maze clocked “forties” in high-school down in the 4.18 range. Speed kills and he has it. Marquis also has the hands and moves to compliment that speed. This position is very deep in talent.

The tight ends will also play a large role in the passing game. Colin Peek and Brad Smelly are going to give McElroy a great third–alternative target, and each has the ability to run well with the ball after the catch.

Finally, running-back Mark Ingram, who took the SEC by storm last year, is due for a breakout year. He has all the tools of a “super” back. The Crimson Tide will also be introducing one of the best true-freshman ball-carriers to wear the crimson jersey in many years – perhaps ever. His name is Trent Richardson. This stud, who shunned six hours of Urban Meyer’s pleadings to come and play for Nick Saban, could be the next Bo Jackson or Herschel Walker.

In essence – although most of the experts and pundits predicted from the day he was hired that Nick Saban would win a national championship in his fourth season – I am pulling the trigger and saying that this (his third) is the year. Knowing that Florida and LSU stand in the way doesn’t change my opinion one bit.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. See you in September.
—Shane writes a weekly column for the Call News and the Capstone Report.