University of Alabama players reported for the start of preseason camp Thursday morning, and what greeted them that afternoon was the first major college football poll of the season. The Crimson Tide, fresh off beating LSU in New Orleans for the BCS National Championship, came in second in the USA TODAY Sports Coaches poll.
Alabama finished just four points behind the No. 1 team in the country, LSU. Seven SEC schools, including Georgia (6), South Carolina (9), Arkansas (10) Florida (23) and Auburn (25), made the top 25.
The Crimson Tide have a lot of work to do if they're to finish the season third or better. Coach Nick Saban must overhaul three-quarters of the defense, replacing five first- or second-round NFL draft picks: linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, defensive backs Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick, and running back and former Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson.
On offense, Alabama will rely on a stable of running backs headed by junior Eddie Lacy, as well as a revamped wide receiver corps. AJ McCarron returns for his junior season after throwing for more than 2,600 yards and 16 touchdowns in his first season starting under center. A total of six starters return on offense, most notably on the offensive line where defending Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones slides over to play center.
On defensive side of the ball, Alabama must incorporate a number of inexperienced players on the second level of the defense. Safety Robert Lester and linebackers Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley saw the most action on defense last season and figure to play more integral roles with so many starters now suited up for NFL teams.
Alabama will open the season against the eighth-ranked Michigan Wolverines in Arlington, Texas, at Cowboys Stadium. Michigan could open the season without running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who was arrested for a DUI, and defensive end Frank Clark, who was charged with second-degree home invasion.