How did Alabama get here and what does it mean moving forward? As we enter another long offseason, that’s the question we’re left to ponder.
A fourth national championship in seven years is remarkable, but now we must ask ourselves how coach Nick Saban will do it again.
With that in mind, here’s a look at three reasons why the Crimson Tide conquered the College Football Playoff and why they could win it all again next season:
1. A powerful running game
2015 formula: There wasn’t anything fancy about Alabama’s running game this past season. It was all Derrick Henry all the time. And it wasn’t because he was particularly adept at breaking off long, jaw-dropping runs. That wasn’t his game. Rather, it was a culmination of 7- and 8-yard pickups. He kept coming like a hammer, eventually breaking through, winning the Heisman Trophy thanks to 395 carries for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns.
2016 outlook: For as good as Henry was, the offense could have used a change of pace at times. Well, with the tandem of Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough ready to take over, Alabama could have that threat next season. Scarbrough, at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, is a similar-style runner to Henry, albeit with hints of more explosiveness. Harris, meanwhile, could serve as the change-up. At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, Harris is more the scat-back type of runner Alabama hasn’t had before under Saban.
2. A dominant front seven
2015 formula: You’re not likely to see another front seven like we saw from Alabama in 2015 -- at least not any time soon. When it’s all said and done, we could look back and see more than seven high NFL draft picks from the Tide's two-deep depth chart at linebacker and defensive line last season. They stuffed the run with big bodies like A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed in the middle. They rushed the passer, leading the country in sacks thanks to Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson. And with Reggie Ragland emerging as arguably the best middle linebacker in the country, there wasn’t a weak link. One week, they held then-Heisman Trophy frontrunner and LSU running back Leonard Fournette to less than 40 yards rushing. The very next week, they harassed Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, who finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting a year earlier, to the tune of nine sacks. And really, what more can you say than that?
2016 outlook: Yes, there will be some questions about how Alabama’s defense will stop the run now that Ragland, Robinson and Reed are gone. That’s an awful lot of size and talent to replace. But in today’s game, it has to be asked how much that matters. After all, outside of LSU and Arkansas, how many teams will Alabama face that use an I-formation and run between the tackles? Rather, it’s the defense’s speed that should have Tide fans excited for the coming season. The return of edge-rushers Williams and Anderson was huge, along with the unexpected decision of Allen to bypass the draft. If Rashaan Evans shows more of what he did against Clemson, when he picked up a pair of sacks, you could be looking at quite the group of pass-rushers.
3. Options at receiver
2015 formula: Let it be said first and foremost that Richard Mullaney was a revelation at receiver. The former Oregon State transfer was a valuable target for quarterback Jake Coker in the slot. But his 38 catches and five touchdowns were ultimately overshadowed because of Calvin Ridley. Ridley, a true freshman, lived up to his billing as ESPN’s No. 1-rated receiver recruit last season. The native of South Florida looked like a clone of former Alabama great Amari Cooper from Day 1. Ridley had that same build, that same speed and that same uncanny ability to use his footwork to create separation from defensive backs. He quickly became the go-to target for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, catching a team-high 89 passes for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns.
2016 outlook: It’s hard to imagine Ridley getting any better, but with experience should come improvement. But what’s most promising for Kiffin is the talent assembled around his top receiver. The fact that ArDarius Stewart isn’t a sure thing as the No. 2 receiver shows just how deep Alabama is at the position. Stewart caught 63 passes for 700 yards and four touchdowns last season, but the return of Robert Foster could spell less playing time for Stewart. After all, it was Foster’s injury last season that opened a spot in the starting lineup for Ridley to step into. Aside from Stewart and Foster, there’s a slew of former top recruits in Cam Sims, Daylon Charlot and Derek Kief. That’s not to mention tight end O.J. Howard, who technically isn’t a receiver but could post receiver-like numbers if he can do even half of what he did in the title game against Clemson, when he caught five passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns.