The one thing that will go wrong for Alabama in 2017

Alabama enters the 2017 as the preseason favorite to win another national title. Nick Saban’s team tops my preseason college football rankings with a rating of 22.7 points better than the average FBS team.

However, no college team does not have their problems in August. Let’s speculate at what could go wrong for Alabama in 2017.

How about an exodus of talent to the NFL? The first round of the NFL draft scooped up these players from last year’s Crimson Tide:

  • Cornerback Marlon Humphrey at 16th
  • Defensive end Jonathan Allen at 17th, who actually dropped significantly from the top 5 projection by experts
  • Tight end O.J. Howard at 19th
  • Linebacker Reuben Foster at 31st

Another 6 players went by the middle of the 4th round.

However, Alabama always loses NFL talent but reloads for the next season.

Let’s try again. Perhaps the offense stagnates under new coordinator Brian Daboll. This guy didn’t exactly light it up as an NFL coordinator, as these NFL rankings out of 32 teams show.

  • 2009, Browns, 32nd in yards per play
  • 2010, Browns, 27th in yards per play
  • 2011, Dolphins, 22nd in yards per play
  • 2012, Chiefs, 28th in yards per play

Since this meager run as coordinator, he’s been working under Josh McDaniels on the Patriots staff.

Daboll’s track record should concern Alabama fans for the upcoming season. But there’s another, much worse factor lurking in the background.

The one thing that will go wrong for Alabama in 2017 is that they won’t score 15 touchdowns on defense and special teams like they did in 2016. Fifteen!! That’s an insane number of touchdowns.

I broke Alabama’s non-offensive touchdowns into four categories based on this video.

  • 3 punt returns
  • 6 interceptions thrown right to Alabama defenders, often without much pressure on the QB
  • 3 fumbles scooped up off the ground by Alabama defenders
  • 3 deflections that landed in the hands of Alabama (interception, fumble, blocked punt)

You might want to give them credit for the punt returns. Fine, let’s do that.

The Alabama defenders barely had to move for those 6 interceptions, with the exception of Minkah Fitzpatrick’s pick that he ran back over 100 yards for a touchdown. Can they get opposing QB to be this generous again in 2017?

As for the 3 fumble recoveries, analytics has found almost complete randomness in fumble recoveries. Alabama had good fortune in recovering those last 3 fumbles, and even more luck when those players stayed on their feet to run back for the touchdown.

And the 3 deflections are dumb luck.

Should Alabama be the top ranked team? Of course. Will they win the national title? The markets give Alabama about a 28% chance.

But will Alabama score 15 non-offensive touchdowns in 2017? No.

Alabama projects to win 10.1 games by my preseason numbers. You can get all 130 win totals in The 2017 College Football Win Totals Report.

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  1. […] preseason, I wrote about how this scoring production from defense and special teams was irreproducible. In 2017, Alabama had 2 non-offensive touchdowns, and one came on an interception against […]

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