The Alabama Crimson Tide, who produced eight of the top 38 selections in the 2021 NFL Draft, will be out to prove that talent remains on campus when they play the Miami Hurricanes at a neutral site on Saturday in Atlanta.
It’s the season opener for both teams, which means there could be uncertainty.
But not for the pollsters, who have made Alabama the No. 1 team in the nation — and not for oddsmakers, who have installed the Crimson Tide as 18 1/2-point favorites.
The Hurricanes, ranked 14th, aren’t given much of a shot against the mighty Tide, who have been No. 1 at some point in every season since 2008, one season after coach Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.
Saban has named Bryce Young as the quarterback to replace Mac Jones, drafted in the first round by the New England Patriots.
“I’ve been pleased with Bryce,” Saban said of Young, a second-year sophomore who has never started a college game. “We just have to get the people around him to play better.”
On offense, Alabama has to replace wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith as well as offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and running back Najee Harris — all first-round picks. Center Landon Dickerson (second-round pick) and guard Deonte Brown (sixth-rounder) also bolted for the NFL.
Senior Brian Robinson Jr., who ran for 483 yards and a 5.3 average, is likely the go-to playmaker heading into the season. John Metchie III is the top receiver, and tight end Jahleel Billingsley could be dangerous.
But while the Tide’s offense may be down from their great 2020 unit — with just three starters back — the defense could be Alabama’s best in years.
There are seven starters back on defense, led by linebackers Will Anderson Jr. and Christian Harris and cornerback Josh Jobe, who is from Miami.
Other Tide defenders to watch are safety Jordan Battle, who is also from South Florida, and nose tackle DJ Dale.
Meanwhile, Miami’s offense returns every starter except for tight end Brevin Jordan, the Houston Texans’ fifth-round pick.
The Hurricanes have a ready-made replacement for Jordan in Will Mallory, a 6-foot-5 target who caught four TD passes last season.
Miami finished 8-3 last season, including a 37-34 bowl-game loss to Oklahoma State. But Miami’s record seemed worse than what it was due to blowout losses to ACC rivals Clemson and North Carolina by a combined 61 points.
Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King, who suffered a torn ACL in the bowl game, has made a quick recovery and will lead the attack.
King, who completed 64.1 percent of his passes last year, has scored 32 rushing touchdowns in his college career.
His main targets, in addition to Mallory, are receivers Mike Harley (57 catches, 799 yards and 7 TDs last year) and Charleston Rambo, an Oklahoma transfer.
The Canes also have a veteran offensive line and three terrific running backs in Cam’Ron Harris, Donald Chaney Jr. and Jaylan Knighton.
But the Hurricanes, who have been defeated in four straight bowl games, lost their two starting defensive ends from last year: Jaelan Phillips (first round, Miami Dolphins) and Quincy Roche (sixth round, Pittsburgh Steelers).
Those two players combined for 30 tackles for loss, and coach Manny Diaz — who will also call the defensive signals this year — will be challenged to replace them.
“It’s fun to talk about play-calling,” Diaz said. “But great defense is about the connection between the players.”
Miami’s top defenders include safety Bubba Bolden; cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, who is a Georgia transfer; defensive tackle Nesta Silvera; and defensive ends Deandre Johnson, Jahfari Harvey and Zach McCloud.
–Field Level Media