The college football season is upon us and so is our annual Top 25. This year Yahoo Sports revealed the teams from No. 11 to 25 at once before we publish each of our top 10 in separate posts in the days leading up to Week 1. The countdown concludes with No. 1 Alabama.
No. 1 Alabama
2021 record: 13-2 (7-1 SEC)
National title odds: +190
SEC title odds: -140
Another season, another Alabama College Football Playoff appearance?
The Crimson Tide have made seven of the eight College Football Playoffs since the four-team format was introduced in 2013. And Alabama hasn’t lost in the semifinals of a College Football Playoff since it fell to Ohio State in the first year of the format in 2014. Yes, the Crimson Tide have made the title game in each of the last six playoffs its qualified for. Only the 2019 season — a year where Alabama destroyed Michigan in the Citrus Bowl — has seen a title game without the Crimson Tide since 2015.
At No. 1 in our preseason poll, we’re betting on Alabama making the national title game once again. The Crimson Tide have every piece in place to play for both the SEC and national titles in 2022. A national title would be the team’s seventh under Nick Saban and bring the team’s record to 4-3 in College Football Playoff title games.
Two of the best players in college football
Having the best offensive player and best defensive player is typically a great recipe for success at any level of football. And it’s a claim that Alabama can make entering the season.
Reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young enters 2022 aiming to be the first repeat Heisman winner in nearly 50 years. While Young isn’t the betting favorite for the award — that honor goes to Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud — he has a phenomenal shot to at least be a finalist for the trophy once again.
Young should be even better in his second season as Alabama’s starting quarterback and will also be more familiar with the offense as coordinator Bill O’Brien enters his second season with the Tide. Just how good Alabama’s passing game will be, however, will hinge on a cast of new faces at wide receiver.
Jameson Williams and John Metchie III were the only players with more than 50 catches in 2021. They’re now both in the NFL. Tight end Cameron Latu is the team’s leading returning receiver and the team also has to replace slot receiver Slade Bolden.
JoJo Earle was in line to take over one of the outside receiver spots at the beginning of the season but a foot injury suffered in fall camp will knock him out for the first month or so. But there’s still plenty of depth at wideout, either through recruiting or the transfer portal. Alabama added Jermaine Burton (Georgia) and Tyler Harrell (Louisville) as transfers and former highly touted recruits Ja’Corey Brooks and Traeshon Holden are in line to receive significant playing time as well.
The defense is led by edge-rushing terror Will Anderson. A Heisman finalist snub in 2021, Anderson had 17.5 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss in 2021. Those eye-popping numbers came despite constant double-teams and offensive scheme focus. Anderson is in line for yet another stellar season and it’s possible that he and Young could be the first teammates drafted with the top two picks in the NFL draft since 2000.
Lots of returning talent on defense
Alabama’s defense, crazily enough, has some room for improvement in 2022. The Tide allowed more than 20 points per game last season for the first time since Saban’s first season at the school in 2007.
The 2021 season featured eight returning starters from a very young defense that helped the Tide win the national title in 2020. And seven starters are back in 2022, including the team’s top four leading tacklers from 2021.
Tennessee transfer Henry To’oTo’o stepped in seamlessly at linebacker a season ago and was the team’s leading tackler. He’s back for another run with the Tide and should captain the middle of the defense again. DeMarcco Hellams and Jordan Battle form one of the best safety tandems in college football after combining for 171 tackles a season ago. There’s a lot of youth at cornerback, but Kool-Aid McKinstry and LSU transfer Eli Ricks were both prized recruits.
There’s also more to the pass rush than just Anderson. Alabama had 57 sacks in 2021 and Dallas Turner contributed 8.5 of them as a true freshman. Offenses will be unable to ignore him, and linemen DJ Dale and Byron Young will clog up the interior.
Biggest game: Oct. 8 vs. Texas A&M
The Tide could get an early season test from Texas in Week 2 but should take care of business in Austin. Texas A&M seem poised to be Alabama’s biggest threat in the SEC West and the Aggies visit to Tuscaloosa comes in the midst of a four-game stretch for the Tide that includes road games at Arkansas and Tennessee and another home game with Mississippi State.
Jimbo Fisher became the first former Nick Saban assistant to beat a Saban-coached Alabama team when the Aggies took down the Tide in 2021. Given what went on between the two over the offseason, we’re not expecting Alabama to let off the gas at all if it gets up early on the Aggies.
Impact player: WR Tyler Harrell
Harrell averaged nearly 30 yards per catch in 2021 at Louisville. He had just 18 catches but turned those into 523 yards and six touchdowns. While he’s likely not going to keep up a 30-yards per catch pace in 2022, he can team with Georgia transfer Jermaine Burton (19.1 yards per catch) to form a dynamic deep-threat duo for Young. Alabama needs a receiver (or two) to replace the production that Jameson Williams supplied a season ago. And Harrell and Burton should force defenses to keep their safeties high up the field.
Pick: Over 11.5 (+110)
It’s very possible that Alabama will slip up at some point in the regular season and lose a game. But we’re not going to bank on it, especially at plus odds for a 12-0 season. Alabama drew the best SEC East schedule possible with Vanderbilt as its rotational opponent and the A&M and Auburn games are at home.