Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 4/5/12

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 02: Kick returner Javier Arenas #28 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates with head coach Nick Saban after Arenas scored on a 73-yard punt return in the second quarter against the Utah Utes during the 75th Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 2, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)


Tough to believe, but we're going on nearly 20 years since college football has seen a program capture back-to-back, outright national championships. Nick Saban will be working on adding that notch to his size 32 belt in the fall following Alabama's 2011 title.

What is the biggest obstacle facing the Crimson Tide in their quest to repeat as national champs?

Tom Perry: The pressure. The expectations. The talent in the SEC.

There are many reasons why Alabama won't win it again, but one of them is not Nick Saban. He will be focused and he will do his best to get his team ready, but the distractions are just too much.

But the biggest obstacle is going to be LSU.

Aaron Torres: To me, what it always comes down to for any team in the SEC is the schedule. With the right breaks, it can be a two- or three-game difference in the win total. With the wrong breaks, it can take the most talented team in the country and turn it into a nine-win outfit. You know, like the 2010 Alabama Crimson Tide, for example.

And with that, Alabama is on the wrong end of the coin this year. It's no secret that in the two years the Tide have won their titles, they've had the benefit of playing Arkansas and LSU at home (not that it mattered against the Bayou Bengals last year, of course). Well this year, Alabama obviously has to face both on the road in a season where they'll both likely be top five teams. They also get an improved Michigan in the opener at JerryWorld and have to travel to Tennessee (should be significantly improved) in a rivalry game that could end up making or breaking Derek Dooley's entire tenure at the school. I'm not saying that three or four losses immediately jump out on that schedule. At the same time, did anyone see three coming at this in 2010 either?

And, really, this group does remind me a lot like of the 2010 Tide: Plenty talented on offense, a young but talented defense and a tough schedule. Because of it, I expect similar results to 2010 as well.

Allen Kenney: Aaron, you're absolutely right about the schedule. With games at LSU and Arkansas, it's a tall order to ask the Crimson Tide to knock both of those out.

But what would most likely be their downfall should they lose one or both of those, or any other on the schedule for that matter? I look at the D and see a lot of new names on the depth chart. Honestly, though, I have greater concerns about how 'Bama will move the ball.

A.J. McCarron aside, the Tide are basically starting over from scratch at the skill positions. 'Bama lost 161 catches out of 237 receptions from a year ago, including the team's four leading receivers.

More importantly, Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson declared early for the NFL, leaving a huge, gigantic, cavernous hole at running back. On average, Richardson touched the ball on more than a third of the Tide's plays in every game. He also scored 24 of the squad's 50 touchdowns. Eddie Lacy is a nice back and all, but can he do that?

When you factor in that Nick Saban had to bring in new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier in January from Washington to replace Jim McElwain, I expect to see at least one or two games where the O has trouble getting going.

Michael Felder: Obviously we all understand that the issue is not "can" the way it has been for so many of our more recent champions. The issue for the Tide, as it was in 2010, is will they. So many variables, including injury and outright oddity, make it an unlikely thing. That said I'm rolling the dice on the yes. All of the points about LSU and Arkansas are valid, but I'm going to take the Tide in those road games. I'm also going to say the Tide avoid games like South Carolina in 2010. Auburn will need an amazing game to beat 'Bama this go 'round, and I don't think the Tigers get it with entirely new systems on offense and defense.

The boys in Tuscaloosa are ready, and if we're making very early predictions, I say why not go with Bama and USC in the title game that will captivate the nation. I think Bama wears them down and gets a win.

Allen Kenney: Somebody is going to repeat eventually, Mike, but this 'Bama team? Really?

The Tide will be talented, as always, but this team just has too many holes to fill to be a repeat kind of squad. If 'Bama does win again, Saban should retire to his West Virginia vacation home and kick it, because that will be an all-time coaching feat.

Aaron Torres: I agree with Allen's sentiment and will take it one step further. If an offense that featured Julio Jones, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson playing with a similarly young defense could only get nine wins, what makes anyone think that an offense without all that firepower can surpass those nine wins, let alone match them?

I can buy a win against Michigan, and maybe even at Arkansas. But I need to see A LOT before I start even putting them in the title discussion.

Michael Felder: Too many holes where? The receiver hole isn't much worse than what they had a year ago. They have running backs that are dying to finally get touches. The offensive line is the nation's best. The quarterback is a year older and proved he could sling it around a little bit against one of the nation's best defenses.

On defense Barron is the big loss. Outside of him, what's the actual problem? There is talent – and, more importantly, talent that's played quality minutes – all over that defense. All three levels have guys who have already showed they can get it done; by doing it. I really don't see all the holes for this team. No, they don't have a Mark Barron, but as a whole, this team is pretty close to being ready. That's the beauty of rotating players in all season in real game situations.

Aaron Torres: Yes, Mike, this roster goes into the spring with too many holes. Not more than most teams, maybe not even more than the 2011 Crimson Tide. But holes nonetheless.

Starting with the wide receivers, yes, I understand there are guys like Kenny Bell chomping at the bit to get touches. At the same time, I don't really understand how you can say that things aren't "much worse" than last year. Marquis Maze, Darius Hanks, Trent Richardson and Brad Smelley weren't über-talented, can't-miss guys. At the same time, they accounted for 145 total catches and 61 percent of Alabama's offense.

As for the defense, I'll give you that more overall talent returns than in 2011 and more guys with serious playing experience, too. But I need to see these guys perform in their new roles before I'm confident that there'll be little drop off. Remember what happened in 2011? Dont'a Hightower and Dre' Kirkpatrick were as talented (if not more so) than the guys they replaced. At the same time, Hightower couldn't fully fill the leadership void left by Rolando McClain (an ironic thing to say in hindsight) and Kirkpatrick never fully adjusted to being the No. 1 corner on the depth chart. I believe that the Tide still finished No. 2 in the country in total defense, but they didn't necessarily play like it in key spots. And they had a luxury of a much better offense playing alongside them.

Which is why it all goes back to the schedule for me. Yes, I think the Tide are an absolute, stone-cold lock in the top 10. The talent is there. But I need to see the talent perform under the most adverse conditions before I buy that the Tider are anything close to a title contender. It's easy to say that the offense will be fine without Trent Richardson; let's see if Eddie Lacy can pick up big yards when they need them in Baton Rouge in November. It's easy to say that there's talent on the defense; let's see who's ready to step up in late September when Tyler Wilson is slinging the ball over the field.

I like this team, and if I've learned one thing, it's to never doubt Saban. They've got a lot to show me before I believe they're title contenders, however.

Allen Kenney: And don't underestimate the loss of McElwain. I'd contend he was the difference between 'Bama and LSU in the title game.

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