Coach Nick Saban has built a dynasty at the University of Alabama, to the point that he could actually surpass the popularity of the legendary Bear Bryant. The Crimson Tide have won four of the past seven football national titles and they are +556 favourites on Sports Interaction NCAA football odds to repeat in 2016. Yet, I’m not sure that the Tide are the team to beat.
Crimson Tide Have Holes To Fill
Alabama returns only 11 starters off last year’s team that beat top-ranked and unbeaten Clemson in the College Football Playoff national championship game. The two biggest questions entering fall camp are at quarterback and running back. Jake Coker was under center last year and threw for 3,110 yards and 21 touchdowns. He was terrific against Clemson with 335 yards passing and two scores. Coker is now trying to stick in the NFL. His replacement most likely will be Cooper Bateman, who is the only Alabama quarterback who has thrown a pass in a game. He played in six of them last season and started vs. Ole Miss. But Bateman didn’t win the job this spring and still has to beat out David Cornwell and Blake Barnett.
In addition, the Tide lost Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry, who had an SEC-record 2,061 yards and 25 touchdowns on 359 rushing attempts last year. But oddsmakers clearly have learned not to bet against Saban as he simply plugs in new five-star recruits.
The Crimson Tide have a very tough schedule this season. They open against a good USC team on Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas, and have to travel to Ole Miss (has beaten Alabama two years in a row), Arkansas, Tennessee and a loaded LSU team in SEC play.
Odds for Ohio State, Michigan and Clemson
Ohio State and Clemson are each +800 to win this year’s national title. The Buckeyes didn’t even win the Big Ten East Division in 2015 and they bring back the fewest starters in the country with six. One of them, at least, is dual-threat star quarterback J.T. Barrett. And like Saban, Urban Meyer has a roster of five-star recruits at every position. Ohio State’s 50 wins in four seasons under Meyer are tied for the most in any four-year span by a major-conference team since 1900. OSU has potential regular-season losses at Oklahoma, at Wisconsin, at Penn State, at Michigan State and home to Michigan.
Clemson, the only team to be unbeaten last regular season, brings back 12 starters, led by top Heisman Trophy candidate and quarterback Deshaun Watson. He finished third in last year’s voting. Watson closed the season throwing for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns and rushing for 1,105 yards and 12 scores. He shredded Alabama in the national title game for 405 yards passing and four TDs and 73 yards rushing, but the Tigers defense couldn’t stop the Tide’s offense in a 45-40 loss.
Michigan is +900 on college football odds in Coach Jim Harbaugh’s second season. The Wolverines should again have one of the nation’s top defenses, but they also have to decide on a quarterback. Michigan lost at home to both Michigan State and Ohio State last year and has to visit those two powerhouses in 2016.
2016-17 National Championship Game Prediction
This year’s semifinals are again on New Year’s Eve but at the Peach Bowl (Atlanta) and Fiesta Bowl (Phoenix). The title game is Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla. And my early prediction for that game is LSU (+1100 to win it all) against Florida State (+1200).
The Tigers are tied for the national lead with 18 returning starters, including Heisman Trophy betting favourite and running back Leonard Fournette. LSU gets its game against Alabama in Baton Rouge this year and avoids Tennessee and Georgia from the SEC East Division in the regular season.
Florida State brings back literally every single offensive starter from last year’s team, led by running back and Heisman candidate Dalvin Cook. FSU should be favored in every game during the regular season as it hosts Clemson on Oct. 29 in the ACC Game of the Year.