2016 Conference Preview: SEC

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Despite just returning 11 starters from last season, the two-time defending SEC champions and reigning national champions will undoubtedly be on a short list of national contenders in 2016.

Roster turnover is nothing new for Saban and beginning the spring looking for a new quarterback is almost the norm in Tuscaloosa. The odds on favorite to win the starting job is junior Cooper Bateman, who competed with Jake Coker for the first few weeks of last season before a start against Ole Miss in week 3 derailed Bateman’s hopes of winning the job.

Another off-season learning the offense should give Bateman the confidence to seize the job this season, although the Tide have other talented passers in Blake Barnett, David Cornwell, and Jalen Hurts that could push Bateman this summer.

Gone is 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry as well as speed demon Kenyon Drake. Both were taken in the NFL Draft (Henry to Tennessee, Drake to Miami). A new dynamic duo has emerged as fellow sophomores Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough are expected to carry the load this season for Alabama.

Harris ran for 157 yards and a touchdown in a limited role, but the 5-star recruit was ranked by many as the top HB in the class of 2015. Crimson Tide fans will likely notice the similarities between Henry and Scarbrough as the sophomore stands at 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds. With inexperience in the backfield, a offensive line that returns 3 of 5 starters will be relied upon heavily to help out the young backs.

Throughout Saban’s tenure at Alabama, he has sent many defenders to the NFL and last season was no different, four starters heard their names called during the draft. Star linebacker Reggie Ragland was taken in round 2 by Buffalo. However, their biggest loss could be that of defensive coordinator Kirby Smart who left to take the head coaching job at his alma mater and conference rival Georgia Bulldogs. Former secondary coach Jeremy Pruitt returns to take over the defense after stints at Florida State and Georgia. Pruitt should have plenty of talent to work with despite inexperience in the front 7.

The Crimson Tide won’t have to wait long to avenge their only loss last season as they head to Oxford to face Ole Miss in Week 3. Follow that up with road games against Arkansas, Tennessee, and LSU and the road to a third straight SEC title will not be easy. Alabama is aiming to become the first team to win three straight SEC Championships since Florida won four consecutive from 1993-96.