Five questions facing Alabama this season

Practice starts this Friday for the Crimson Tide, which means the season is finally within reach. But before Alabama kicks off fall camp, here are five questions facing the team in 2012.

1. Can Alabama avoid a national championship hangover a la 2010?

The Crimson Tide has been consistently whacked over the head with this question and words like "complacency" ever since a couple days after beating LSU for the Coaches Trophy in January, but it'll be a topic of conversation until it isn't. And that day won't come until probably the end of the season.

After winning the national championship in 2009, Bama lost to South Carolina, LSU and Auburn in '10. And any year Alabama loses to Auburn is not a good year.

This season is not even really a question of, ‘Can the Tide defend their title?' but more a ‘Can they play their guts out all year without any drop-off?'

LSU is coming back for blood this season and their team is stacked. Even if the Tigers beat the Tide—and that is the only loss Alabama sees all year—some (not all, but some) might call Alabama's season a success.

"This team seems to be less affected by the previous year," head coach Nick Saban said at SEC Media Days a couple weeks ago. "They're not really the 2010 team, they're not really the 2011 team. There's a lot of players on this team that this is the opportunity for them and their season.

"I think this 2012 team will be defined by what they do, not by what they've done. We're looking forward to the challenges of the season."

2. Can Eddie Lacy take on the role that Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson had before him? And who will back him up?

Nick Saban is a run-first kind of guy. But when you have running backs like Ingram and Richardson, there's no question the ball should be in their protective hands.

This year's top back is expected to be Lacy—a junior who has been waiting his turn behind the aforementioned talent. In his first two years as a backup, Lacy rushed for 1,080 yards on 151 carries, averaging 7.15 yards per carry and scored 13 touchdowns.

Turf toe kept Lacy out of spring drills and allowed coaches to get better looks at their stable of tailbacks, which includes junior Jalston Fowler, sophomore Blake Sims, redshirt freshman Dee Hart and true freshman T.J. Yeldon.

Yeldon has been singled out by Saban on a few occasions this off-season as a key newcomer. An early enrollee, Yeldon played in the A-Day game where he led the team with 16 rushes for 88 yards and caught five passes for 91 yards and a touchdown. He's built like Adrian Peterson and may earn a starting job at some point this season.

3. Can A.J. McCarron step up his game?

Saban has said in recent weeks he plans to air it out more. But is McCarron ready to take on that kind of role in the SEC?

"I think any time you have an experienced quarterback, there's a comfort level," Saban said. "Because of knowledge and experience, because there's so many intangibles that go with being a good quarterback, like judgment, accuracy, timing, leadership to affect other people on the offensive team to execute with a little more consistency. The experience you have at that position always makes you feel a little better about all that."

Last season in his first as a starter, McCarron threw for 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns, only had five interceptions and was named MVP of the national championship game.

His 2011 efforts have earned him nominations for the Maxwell, Manning, Davey O'Brien and Walter Camp awards for the upcoming season.

It will be interesting to see the chemistry brew between McCarron and his receivers, guys like Kenny Bell, Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood Chris Black and Christion Jones, especially if Saban plans on giving McCarron more responsibility to enhance the passing attack.

4. Can the defense still be the best in the nation?

The defense Alabama had last year was one of those special groups that only come around every so often. They led the country in every major statistical category and in the national title game, prevented LSU from crossing the 50-yard line for three full quarters.

This year's crew will be good, but different. Gone is the backbone that consisted of Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick and Mark Barron.

But the Tide has reinforcements. Think Damion Square, Quinton Dial and Jesse Williams, who just bench-pressed 600 pounds last week during summer workouts (No. Big. Deal.), in the trenches, guys like Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard in that second layer, and Robert Lester, Vinnie Sunseri, Deion Belue and Dee Milliner with tons of depth in the back.

It will be interesting to get a taste of what this group is capable of when it sees Michigan's offense, led by Denard Robinson, in Week 1.

5. Can the Tide make it to Nov. 3 unscathed?

Alabama has a tough schedule, especially on the road. The Tide opens the season against Michigan in Dallas, goes to Arkansas in Week 3, and has back-to-back roadies against Missouri and Tennessee mid-season before that much anticipated trip to Baton Rouge for the national championship rematch versus LSU on Nov. 3.

There's a solid chance the Tide could be undefeated heading into that game, but there's also a possibility that they aren't.

Lots of intrigue surrounding Bama's season in its hunt for No. 15.

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