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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

Need to Know

Alabama’s Upcoming Roster Overhaul

L.S.U. and Alabama met three times over a 461-day span: Nov. 6, 2010; Nov. 5, 2011; and Jan. 9, 2012. Even after last night’s disappointing loss, the Tigers took the three-game series. Each of those two victories were by a field goal, unlike Alabama’s 21-0 win in New Orleans, and the first, back in 2010, came in Baton Rouge. So does familiarity breed contempt? Not exactly. In the case of Alabama and L.S.U., close quarters — three marquee pairings in a year and two months — have only added another layer of respect to this long and meaningful SEC rivalry.

And are you ready for another? The two will meet again on Nov. 3, again in Baton Rouge, so prepare for another duel fraught with national meaning. L.S.U. may be undefeated; so may Alabama.

But it won’t be the same, so relax. Well, it will be the same in one regard: it’ll still be Alabama and Saban against L.S.U. and Miles. But the names on one side will change; while L.S.U. has the weapons to reload for another title run, Alabama’s roster is going to undergo a substantial overhaul.

Twenty seniors have played their last game. Another handful of would-be seniors — current third-year juniors, or fourth-year juniors — are poised to forego their final season of eligibility and enter the N.F.L. Draft. Take a look at the departed seniors:

C William Vlachos Second-team all-American, one of the best.
RG Alfred McCullough Starter, valuable swing lineman.
TE Brad Smelley Led Alabama in touchdown receptions.
WR Marquis Maze Leading receiver, multiple-year contributor.
WR Darius Hanks Nine-game starter as a senior.
NG Josh Chapman Second-team all-SEC as a senior.
NG Nick Gentry Excellent reserve; 20 tackles, 3.5 sacks in 2011.
SLB Jerrell Harris Two-year starter on the strong side.
JLB Courtney Upshaw First-team all-American.
CB DeQuan Menzie Underrated, also an all-American.
FS Mark Barron One of the best in the country.

These are just the seniors. And yes, this is par for the course for F.B.S. program, big or small, and comes with the territory. But consider that Alabama will also need to replace Trent Richardson, who is more than ready for the next level.

Nor would it be surprising to see middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower forego his final season of eligibility; like Richardson, I’m not sure what else he has to prove in the SEC. And cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, should he declare, would be no worse than the third cornerback to come off the board.

Now consider those losses, and think about the roles each departure held in Alabama’s win over L.S.U., if not for the Crimson Tide all season. What’s the point? When held against the Tigers’ returning talent, Alabama has a significant number of holes to fill in order to make another run towards a B.C.S. national title.

L.S.U.’s questions are aimed inside, not out. The roster will suffer a few losses: interior of the offensive line, defensive end, secondary. And there’s little doubt that cornerback Morris Claiborne is gone, seeing that he’d be a top pick in April. But L.S.U. has no worries about the roster; even at quarterback, where they lose two seniors, the Tigers are looking at an upgrade.

Do Alabama’s losses detract from what should be another game with national title implications? Not in the least. Saban will have his team ready to go, and even if the Tide stumble in advance of their trip to Baton Rouge there’s little doubt that the November meeting will again have SEC and national championship implications.

But here’s betting the two don’t meet twice in the next 12 months; it’ll be once in Baton Rouge and that’s it, and there’ll be no B.C.S. National Championship Game rematch come next January.

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  1. DMK says:

    Bama has mega-talent everywhere and are not going away. Still, they might just have fewer returning starters than any of next year’s preseason top-25. That’s tricky.

    But the 2012 national champion will be (by definition) LSU, Bama, Georgia, or USCe (Sorry Arky).

    That’s a 25% chance. Not bad.

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