Guerry Clegg commentary: No doubt Alabama should be ranked No. 1

sports@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 17, 2013 

The Associated Press released its 2013 preseason football poll Saturday and -- are you ready for this? -- Alabama is No. 1 in the country. Yes, really.

In other breaking news, Alex Rodriguez might have used performance enhancing drugs.

If there's any surprise at all in the preseason poll, it was that the Crimson Tide took "only" 58 of the 60 first-place votes. The other two votes went to Ohio State and Georgia.

But there will always be a contrarian or two on matters of opinion. Often times, those contrarians are just determined to be different. Sometimes, they are right. Remember Corky Simpson, the now-retired Tucson Citizen sports columnist? He was the only AP voter to rank the Crimson Tide number one on his ballot throughout the 1992 season. When Bama thumped Miami in the Sugar Bowl to win the national championship, Simpson looked like a football genius.

There are a couple of reasons why someone would not vote Alabama tops on their ballot.

• Not since Army in 1944, '45 and '46 has any team won the national championship three consecutive years.

• The Tide is replacing three starters on their offensive line -- three NFL draft choices -- and six defensive starter.

I don't have a vote, but if I did it would take a lot more than that to convince me to rank someone ahead of Alabama.

First of all, history means nothing. The preseason rankings are not a predicted order of finish. They are an assessment of the teams. Alabama was 26-2 over the last season seasons. The only losses came inside the SEC -- to LSU in overtime in 2011 and to Texas A&M last year, a game saved by Deshazor Everett's interception of AJ McCarron at the goalline with 1:36 left to play.

Yeah, the losses on the offensive line are significant. Last year's unit was one of the best offensive lines in college football history. Two players -- Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker -- were taken in the first 11 picks of the draft. Center Barrett Jones, a fourth-round pick, was a three-time All-America. The dominance of the line in the second half against Georgia is the only reason Bama was able to avoid the upset.

Replacing that kind of production won't be easy regardless of the rising young talent. It's not as simple as just plugging in new players and rolling right along.

Then again, the offensive line doesn't have to be as dominant as it was last year. Alabama's collection of offensive skill players is second to no one's, including Georgia. In McCarron, they have the most efficient quarterback in college football. Tailback T.J. Yeldon is explosive. Wide receiver Amari Cooper is freakishly talent. Tight end Brian Vogler of Brookstone is an underrated athlete. There is plenty of depth at all of those positions, with the possible exception of quarterback.

No school has stockpiled as much talent over the last four year as Alabama.

The defense is loaded again.

Again, being anointed the best team in the country, especially before the teams have played a single game, doesn't mean the Crimson Tide will win it all again. Strange things happen in college football, especially in the SEC. Texas A&M, Ole Miss and LSU seem like the only legitimate threats on the schedule. But they could trip up again some team like Mississippi State or Tennessee. Then there's the SEC championship game, presumably against Georgia, South Carolina or Florida.

If Georgia and Bama both go undefeated in the regular season, a showdown in the SEC championship game just might be the most anticipated college football game ever.

And even if Bama gets through all of that and is back in the national championship game, the Tide almost certainly will face a stiffer test than Notre Dame was last season.

But all of that will come in due time. As of this moment, there can be little dispute when it comes to assessing the teams:

There's Alabama, and then there's everybody else.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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