By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - 2011 SEASON IN REVIEW: The 2011 season for the Alabama Crimson Tide was a spectacular one, as it finished 11-1 in the regular season - its only loss coming to LSU in a 9-6 duel in a battle of the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams.
The loss to the Tigers caused the Tide to lose out on a chance to win the SEC Championship, but the team still finished the season No. 2 in the BCS poll, earning it a spot in the National Championship Game and a chance at redemption against the Tigers. The rematch fell in Alabama's favor, as it shut out LSU 21-0.
It was Alabama's second national championship in three seasons and its ninth overall, passing Notre Dame for sole possession of first place in FBS history since polls were introduced back in 1936. Nick Saban became the first coach to win three BCS national crowns (he also won one with LSU in 2003).
The Tide was dominant during its run to the championship, winning all of its games by at least 16 points, scoring 34 points or more nine times, and posting shutouts against North Texas (41-0), Vanderbilt (34-0), and LSU in the title game.
OFFENSE: Of all of Alabama's departures in the offseason, few absences will be felt as much as Trent Richardson's. The Heisman Trophy-finalist rushed for a school-record 1,679 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2011, and with him gone there is a gaping hole in the backfield.
Luckily for the Tide, they have a proven backup attempting to make his impact felt in the feature role. Eddie Lacy was effective in limited playing time in 2011, rushing for 694 yards and seven touchdowns, and he actually averaged more yards per carry than did Richardson (7.1 to 5.9).
Lacy is coming off foot surgery, but Saban is optimistic he will be ready to contribute at 100 percent come the season opener.
"Eddie Lacy has done extremely well over the summer," Saban said, although he wouldn't rule out some competition at the running back position. "I do think that we have a couple running backs that will probably create some competition. But we've always played more than one running back. We had Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson sharing time as players. Hopefully we'll be able to find somebody as productive as those two guys have been to share that role again sometime in the future."
One position Alabama shouldn't have to worry about is quarterback, as A.J. McCarron returns for his junior season. McCarron was rock solid in '11, completing 66.8 percent of his passes for 2,634 yards while throwing 16 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions.
Last season, 'Bama spread the ball around to its receivers as 10 different players recorded at least 100 receiving yards. Although top pass catchers Marquis Maze, Brad Smelley, and Darius Hanks have all moved on, wideout Kenny Bell (255 yards, 2 TDs) and tight end Michael Williams (191 yards, 2 TDs) expect to be a larger part of the offense this year.
DEFENSE: The story for Alabama in 2011 was without question its incredible defense, which ranked first in the FBS in total defense (183.6 ypg), scoring defense (8.1 ppg), rushing defense (72.1 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (83.7).
The squad lost a number of high-impact players in the offseason, including Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower - all of whom went in the first 35 picks of the 2012 NFL Draft. Losing that many spectacular defensive players would hurt any squad, but the Tide still have plenty of talent on that side of the ball to rely upon.
Linebacker Nico Johnson finished fourth on the team in 2011 with 47 tackles and also added 6.5 tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery. Robert Lester plans to lead the secondary and hopes to improve upon his 39- tackle, two-interception from a season ago.
Damion Square, who recorded 7 tackles for loss in '11, knows that even with departing players, Alabama has the type of program that knows how to move on from year-to-year.
"There's a reason we have guys that go in the first round because we recruit nationally, and we have new talent coming in to fill those gaps," Square said. "Every year, everybody's going to have a year where they fill in spots, so we just have to give those (new) guys time to learn what they need to do so that we can compete in this league."
SPECIAL TEAMS: Returning as the team's placekicker is Jeremy Shelley, who converted 21-of-27 field goal attempts a year ago and went 52-of-54 on extra points. Cade Foster has a stronger leg than Shelley and was used on longer field goal tries in 2011, although he went just 2-of-9. Cody Mandell returns as the team's punter, but he averaged just 39.3 yards per kick last year.
OUTLOOK: Without question, Alabama has the pieces in place - starting with its leader Saban - to make yet another run at the SEC West Division crown.
However, with so many star players and leaders from a year ago no longer on the team, it is going to be very difficult for the Tide to repeat as national champs, especially considering the brutal schedule, which includes a neutral- site opener against Michigan, and two very difficult road games against LSU and Arkansas.
Alabama has proven that the SEC is so difficult that you don't need to win the conference in order to earn a spot in the national championship game. If the Tide can steal at least one of those tough road bout against the Tigers or Razorbacks, they should finish the regular season in position to reach a BCS game at the very least.
08/24 11:42:49 ET