Dr. Saturday’s Way Too Early Top 10: No. 3 Alabama

Graham Watson

The 2014 season might be eight months away, but it's never too early to start thinking about the teams that could challenge for the new College Football Playoff. This week, we'll count down Dr. Saturday's Top 10 teams for 2014. Past entries: No. 10: LSU, No. 9 Stanford, No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 7 UCLA, No. 6 Michigan State, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 4 Auburn

Alabama Crimson Tide
2013 record:
11-2, 7-1 SEC
Final AP ranking: 7

Bowl result: L. 45-31 Oklahoma, Sugar Bowl

Top returners: WR Amari Cooper, WR Christion Jones, RB Derrick Henry

Top losses: QB AJ McCarron, LB C.J. Mosley, WR Kenny Bell, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, OG Anthony Steen

Overview: It seems like every year we chronicle the major personnel losses Alabama endures in the offseason and every year they come back just as strong as they were the year before. That’s because Alabama consistently boasts the nation’s top recruiting classes and several of those young players earn significant playing time even if they aren’t starters. So, when it’s their time to slip into the starting role, it’s often a seamless transition.

Still, the Crimson Tide will have some major holes to fill if it wants to get back to the top of the college football heap. The biggest challenge will be replacing quarterback AJ McCarron, who has been the team’s starter since 2010. Enter redshirt senior Blake Sims, the only quarterback on the roster with actual collegiate experience. He will be the frontrunner in the spring and gives the Alabama offense a true dual-threat quarterback for the first time in coach Nick Saban’s tenure.

That will be a added weapon for a rushing offense that saw Derrick Herny emerge in the Sugar Bowl and returns T.J. Yeldon. The Tide also return receivers Amari Cooper and Christion Jones as well as tight end O.J. Howard. And don’t discount the effect Lane Kiffin’s offensive mind will have on this offense. Saban understood times are changing in the SEC and his offense needed fresh look. Say what you want about Kiffin, there’s no denying he is a great offensive mind and will be a great boost for the Tide.

Defensively, linebacker CJ Mosely leaves a big hole in the middle of the defense, but Trey DePriest should be able to fill that role. The secondary also will be a big concern with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Vinny Sunseri, Deion Belue and John Fulton all gone. But several young players received starts in the secondary last year and let’s not forget the impact of Landon Collins, who could emerge as one of the nation’s top safeties.

Alabama didn’t end the season on the best note. Consecutive losses to Auburn and Oklahoma were uncharacteristic of this team and will certainly be a point of emphasis during the offseason. There’s no doubt this program is chocked full of talent, putting it all together will determine whether it can rise back to prominence.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter!