2019 Preview: Alabama Has Unfinished Business After Title Game Loss

The SI Staff

Our college football 2019 season preview issue is here, which means we're checking in with all 25 teams from SI's official preseason Top 25 ranking. What do you need to know about each of this year's top contenders, from top-ranked Alabama down to Stanford? We'll be rolling out scouting reports for each team over the next two weeks, all of which are collected here. Last up, it's No. 1 Alabama.

THE BIG STORY

The Crimson Tide made their fifth consecutive playoff last season, and yet they begin this campaign with something to prove after a 44–16 loss to Clemson in the title game. The defeat led to changes in Tuscaloosa: Coach Nick Saban overhauled his staff, bringing in seven new coaches. One thing that hasn't changed: QB Tua Tagovailoa is still under center. The Heisman finalist shredded the Crimson Tide record book last season, and with a trio of all-conference receivers returning, Tagovailoa is poised to put up even bigger numbers than he did in 2018.

CAN'T MISS

One reason Tagovailoa won't see a drop-off in performance: 6'1", 190-pound wideout Jerry Jeudy returns. The junior is a speedy, tightrope-walking, glue-handed freak. Jeudy caught a touchdown on every fifth reception last season and averaged nearly 20 yards per catch. There may not be a more dynamic playmaker in the country.

KEY QUESTION

The Tide has lost a whopping 12 starters to the NFL over the last two seasons. With all those losses, can the Tide defense continue its dominance? For this inexperienced unit it all begins with senior end Raekwon Davis—'Bama needs a big season from the future first-rounder.

X-FACTOR

The Alabama offensive line that was dominated by Clemson in the national championship game will have a much different look to start 2019: Three starters are in the NFL, and junior guard Deonte Brown, who was suspended during the playoff, will sit out the season's first four games. Alex Leatherwood moves from guard to left tackle but the key contributor could turn out be Evan Neal, a 6'7", 360-pound five-star recruit from the '19 class who's versatility has impressed: The behemoth could be a factor at guard or fill in at tackle. Neal's emergence will bolster the Tide's ground game, led by junior running back Najee Harris who had 783 yards and four TDs last year.

OVER OR UNDER?

Over 11.5 wins. The last time Alabama won fewer than 12 games? Back in 2013. The Tide should be double-digit favorites in every game this season, even against LSU at home.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Clemson may stake a claim as the top program in the country today, but only one team has made the CFP in all five years since its inception: Alabama. The Tide are still the standard.