<
>

Season recap: Alabama

ALABAMA

Record: 11-1, 7-1 SEC

There’s nothing like second chances. Just ask Nick Saban and Alabama.

The BCS system worked in the Crimson Tide’s favor this season, and for the first time ever, we have two teams from the same conference playing in the BCS National Championship Game. Not only that, but we have our first rematch.

Alabama gets a chance to avenge its only loss this season when it faces LSU on Jan. 9 in New Orleans in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game.

There’s sure to be plenty of debate leading up to that game about whether Alabama should be there. But other than the overtime loss to LSU, the Crimson Tide were pretty close to perfect this season.

In their 11 wins, nobody came any closer than 16 points, and they have a chance to become the first team since Oklahoma in 1986 to finish the season ranked No. 1 nationally in all four of the major statistical categories on defense -- total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense.

Alabama’s defense went the entire season without giving up more than 14 points in a game. Georgia Southern scored 21, but one of its touchdowns came on a kickoff return.

The Crimson Tide led the league in total offense, leaning on an offensive line anchored by All-America candidates Barrett Jones at left tackle and William Vlachos at center.

Really, the only rub was on special teams, where Alabama was 11th in the league in kickoff coverage and ninth in net punting.

But where the Crimson Tide really struggled in the kicking game was kicking field goals. They missed four in the loss to LSU and were 18-of-29 on the season.

Offensive MVP: Running back Trent Richardson. Even in the shadow of Mark Ingram, everybody knew what a special talent Richardson was. But this season, he got his chance to be the Tide’s go-to back and responded with 1,583 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. A Heisman Trophy finalist, Richardson was at his best in the biggest games and ended the regular season with a career-best 203-yard rushing performance against Auburn.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Courtney Upshaw. The truth is that you could pick three or four defensive MVPs on this team. Safety Mark Barron, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and cornerback DeQuan Menzie all had big seasons. But Upshaw was the big-play artist for Alabama’s No. 1-ranked defense with 17 tackles for loss, which ranks second in the SEC, and 8.5 sacks, which is tied for fourth in the league.

Turning point: There wasn’t really one defining moment, but the 38-14 rout of Arkansas the fourth week of the season answered a lot of questions about what kind of team Alabama had. The Crimson Tide hadn’t been overly impressive on offense until that game, but put together a complete game with touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams.

What’s next: Thanks to a No. 2 finish in the final BCS standings, Alabama will get a shot at its second national championship in the last three years. It’s also a second shot at LSU, which won 9-6 in overtime on Nov. 5 in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide will also have to fight to keep their staff intact. Offensive coordinator Jim McElwain is a head coaching candidate at Memphis and Fresno State, and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has also been mentioned in connection with several head coaching vacancies.