Now that spring practice has officially started in the SEC, we figured we would take a page out of the Big Ten blog's book and look at each SEC program to determine the exact state of each by using recent performance, win-loss trends, coaching, and current and future personnel as indicators.
Next up: Alabama
2015 record: 14-1 (7-1 SEC)
Three-year record: 37-5
Coaching situation: With Nick Saban continuing to bolster the argument that he’s the best coach of his generation, the here and now isn’t the issue. Yes, the change at defensive coordinator from Kirby Smart to Jeremy Pruitt is interesting, and it will be worth watching how Brent Key does as offensive line coach. But the real question is how much longer Saban sticks around. At 64 years old, how much gas does he have left in the tank? If and when he decides to retire, who will his successor be? Smart just left for Georgia, and former offensive coordinator Jim McElwain is only entering Year 2 at Florida. Would that leave Lane Kiffin as the one to inherit the keys to the kingdom in Tuscaloosa? Given his past head coaching experience, that might be a hard sell. Athletic director Bill Battle doesn’t have to make any decisions now, but it’s something that has to be in the back of his mind.
Roster situation: When you’ve had nothing but top-three recruiting classes since 2008, you’re in good shape. Even after an offseason like this one, when the starting quarterback, running back, center, middle linebacker, cornerback and two defensive linemen head to the NFL, there’s a sense Alabama won’t fall off. You lose Derrick Henry and replace him with Bo Scarbrough, who is nearly as big and possibly more explosive. You lose Jake Coker and you let three former top-10 prospects compete to see who starts at quarterback: Cooper Bateman, Blake Barnett and David Cornwell. You lose two potential first-round draft picks on the defensive line (A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed) yet welcome back your two top pass-rushers in Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams, and get to watch standout freshman Daron Payne develop. With wideout Calvin Ridley and safety Eddie Jackson also back on campus, Alabama has star power returning despite all the players that left.
Recruiting situation: Forget the wins and losses. Forget the conference and national championships. When examining the career of Saban, you have to acknowledge his work on the recruiting trail, where he’s essentially set the standard when it comes to player evaluation. Throw away his first year at Alabama and you’re looking at nothing but top-three classes, including an unprecedented run of four consecutive No. 1-ranked classes. That constant influx of talent is because of Saban as much as the coaches he surrounds himself with. Mario Cristobal and Billy Napier are two of the best recruiting assistants in the country. When Saban lost Smart to Georgia, he added three more top recruiters in Pruitt, Key and Derrick Ansley. Looking ahead to 2017, it’s no wonder Alabama already has commitments from four ESPN Jr. 300 prospects, including No. 1-ranked running back Najee Harris.
Trajectory: Holding steady -- because, frankly, there’s no room to move up from a national championship. With four titles in the past seven years, Alabama is the gold standard in college football. And while some programs might be wary of living up to that standard, the job Saban has done recruiting and developing talent has the Crimson Tide in position to compete for a national championship every year. If and when Saban walks away, that could change. But until then, looking at how the table is set today, it’s hard to see Alabama not continuing to be the force in college football it’s been for eight years now.