Analyzing the Opponent: Alabama

When the 2010 season came to an end, all eyes in Tuscaloosa turned to the quarterback position. Since then, there haven't been many answers. The competition between AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims will continue through fall camp, but Alabama returns plenty of talent on both sides of the ball to make it easier on whoever wins the job.

WHAT THEY RETURN: The back eight of the Alabama defense shows plenty of talent and experience. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower elected to return for his redshirt junior season, and he has established himself as the leader of a defense that returns the top seven tacklers from last season. Jerrell Harris, Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Courtney Upshaw all return to add depth to the Alabama 3-4 defense.

The secondary is just as loaded. Mark Barron returns for his senior season after leading the Crimson Tide with 75 tackles. Robert Lester returns after leading Alabama with eight interceptions last season. Dre Kirkpatrick returns at cornerback after intercepting three passes and recording 53 tackles last season. Demarcus Milliner should be the other starting cornerback after having 55 tackles and one interception during his freshman year.

On offense, the strength will be the offensive line. The Crimson Tide return four offensive linemen, but the one loss is a big one. All-SEC left tackle James Carpenter moved on to the next level, but the offensive line will be anchor by center Williams Vlachos and right guard Barrett Jones. There is some consideration in moving Jones to left tackle if another tackle doesn't step up.

Marquis Maze will anchor the wide receiver position while Trent Richardson will have the running back position all to himself in 2011.

WHAT THEY LOST: The biggest hit to Alabama came to their offensive playmakers. 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram left early and was a first round draft pick. Wide receiver Julio Jones was also a first round draft pick after leaving at the end of his junior year. Senior quarterback Greg McElroy didn't light up the stat sheet, but he managed the Alabama offense perfectly during his career.

The biggest hit to the defense was defensive lineman Marcell Dareus, who had 11 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and ten quarterbacks hurries in 2010.

BREAKOUT PLAYER: Trent Richardson is already a household name in college football, and that happened as he split time in the backfield with a Heisman Trophy winner over the last two seasons. Richardson rushed for 700 yards and six touchdowns on 112 carries last season. He also caught 23 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns.

Without Ingram to lean on, Richardson needs to prove he can handle the workload of the running back position. With a new quarterback, the junior needs to establish the running game and help the new signal caller settle in. If history is any indicator, Richardson shouldn't have a problem doing that.

PLAYER/POSITION THAT NEEDS TO STEP UP: With a productive season at quarterback, the Crimson Tide will be tough to beat this season. A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims will battle for the position after McCarron served as the main backup last season for McElroy.

The quarterback doesn't need to light up the box score. With an experienced offensive line and steady running back in Richardson, the winner of the quarterback battle will just be expected to manage the offense.

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