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SCHOOL DELAYS

College Football Countdown: No. 4 Alabama

The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 4: Alabama

Coach: Nick Saban (50-12, sixth season; 146-54-1 overall)

2011 record: 12-1 (8-1 in Southeastern Conference, second in SEC West)

Look back: Alabama opened the season with eight straight wins setting up what some billed as the “Game of the Century” against SEC West rival LSU on Nov. 5. It was a match-up of the No. 1 Tigers and No. 2 Tide and LSU won the defensive battle, 9-6 in overtime. Alabama finished the season with four straight wins and earned a rematch with LSU in the BCS National Championship in New Orleans on Jan. 9.  This time around, Alabama put together one of its best defensive efforts and shut down the Tigers, 21-0 to win the school’s 14th national championship. It was the second title in the past three years for the Tide.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 5-6

Defensive starters lost/returning: 6-5

Key losses: RB Trent Richardson, WR Marquis Maze, S Mark Barron, LB Dont’a Hightower, CB Dre Kirkpatrick

Top returnees: QB AJ McCarron, C Barrett Jones, DE Damion Square, LB Nico Johnson, TE Michael Williams

Strengths: Offensive coordinator Jim McElwain departed for the head coaching job at Colorado State in the offseason and Nick Saban hired former Washington coordinator Doug Nussmeier to run the offense. Quarterback AJ McCarron  will start his second season as the Tide’s starting quarterback. The junior will look to surpass his accomplishments of last season when he completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns and was named the offensive MVP of the 2012 BCS National Championship Game. … Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson bolted for the NFL leaving his backup Eddie Lacy as the main weapon in the backfield this season. Lacy rushed for 674 yards and seven touchdowns last season but spent most of the spring on the sidelines with an injury. Joining the junior in the backfield will be junior Jalston Fowler and freshmen Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon. … The offensive line returns four starters from a group that helped Alabama become the top rushing team in the SEC last season. All-American Barrett Jones will anchor the group again.

Weaknesses: Alabama had the best defense in the country last season but took a major hit in the offseason losing several key components including its top three tacklers in LB Dont’a Hightower, S Mark Barron and DT Courtney Upshaw. That’s 205 total tackles and 14.5 sacks of production that the coaching staff will need to replace. The defensive line will need to count on seniors Damion Square and Jesse Williams to make big plays up front. Senior linebacker Nico Johnson will step into the role as the vocal leader in the middle of the field. Safety Robert Lester is the only returning starter in the secondary.

Outlook: Normally, when a team loses as much talent as Alabama has, you would figure a rebuilding year would be order. However, this is Alabama and Nick Saban and his staff always find a way of restocking the roster. AJ McCarron took a huge step forward with his play in the BCS Championship Game and if he continues his maturity, the quarterback position is in good hands. The line is solid as is the talent level at running back. The defense maybe inexperienced but it’s loaded with plenty of young talent. Expect the Tide to be competing for another SEC and BCS title this season.

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 vs. Michigan

Sept. 8 Western Kentucky

Sept. 15 at Arkansas

Sept. 22 Florida Atlantic

Sept. 29 Ole Miss

Oct. 13 at Missouri

Oct. 20 at Tennessee

Oct. 27 Mississippi State

Nov. 3 at LSU

Nov. 10 Texas A&M

Nov. 17 Western Carolina

Nov. 24 Auburn

Rest of the countdown:
No. 5 Oklahoma
No. 6 Georgia
No. 7 Florida State
No. 8 Michigan
href=”http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/sports_college/2012/08/college-football-countdown-no-9-south-carolina.html”>No. 9 South Carolina
No. 10 Ohio State
No. 11 Kansas State
No. 12 Michigan State
No. 13 Arkansas
No. 14 Nebraska
No. 15 Clemson
No. 16 Auburn
No. 17 Virginia Tech
No. 18 West Virginia
No. 19 Texas
No. 20 TCU
No. 21 Wisconsin
No. 22 Texas A&M
No. 23 Oklahoma State
No. 24 Washington
No. 25 Baylor
No. 26 Florida
No. 27 N.C. State
No. 28 Stanford
No. 29 Notre Dame
No. 30 Louisville 
No. 31 Missouri
No. 32 Iowa
No. 33 Cincinnati
No. 34 Utah
No. 35 Penn State
No. 36 Rutgers
No. 37 Boise State
No. 38 Mississippi State
No. 39 Georgia Tech
No. 40 SMU
No. 41 Wake Forest
No. 42 Houston
No. 43 Virginia 
No. 44 Northwestern
No. 45 Miami
No. 46 Southern Miss
No. 47 USF 
No. 48 North Carolina
No. 49 Illinois
No. 50 Tulsa
No. 51 California
No. 52 UCF
No. 53 Pittsburgh
No. 54 Arizona
No. 55 BYU 
No. 56 Ohio

No. 57 Temple

No. 58 Purdue

No. 59 Arkansas State

No. 60 Vanderbilt

No. 61 Connecticut

No. 62 Arizona State

No. 63 Wyoming

No. 64 Northern Illinois

No. 65 Utah State

No. 66 Louisiana-Lafayette

No. 67 Marshall

No. 68 Western Michigan

No. 69 Louisiana Tech

No. 70 Kentucky

No. 71 Air Force

No. 72 Western Kentucky

No. 73 UCLA

No. 74 Toledo

No. 75 FIU

No. 76 San Jose State

No. 77 North Texas

No. 78 Iowa State

No. 79 Nevada

No. 80 Eastern Michigan

No. 81 Hawai’i

No. 82 East Carolina

No. 83 Texas Tech

No. 84 Washington State

No. 85 San Diego State

No. 86 Ball State

No. 87 Navy

No. 88 Tennessee

No. 89 Kent State

No. 90 Louisiana-Monroe

No. 91 Bowling Green

No. 92 Syracuse

No. 93 Minnesota

No. 94 Boston College

No. 95 Kansas

No. 96 Oregon State

No. 97 Rice

No. 98 Ole Miss

No. 99 Colorado

No. 100 New Mexico State

No. 101 Duke

No. 102 Idaho

No. 103 Army

No. 104 Maryland

No. 105 Colorado State

No. 106 Miami (Ohio)

No. 107 UTEP

No. 108 Troy

No. 109 Fresno State

No. 110 Central Michigan

No. 111 Indiana

No. 112 Memphis

No. 113 Middle Tennessee

No. 114 UAB

No. 115 Buffalo

No. 116 Tulane

No. 117: FAU

No. 118: UNLV

No. 119: Akron

No. 120: New Mexico

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