Last season: 12-2 (7-1 SEC)
Opener: Sept. 5 vs. Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas (8 p.m. on ABC)
Fun fact: The Crimson Tide have been favored in 68 consecutive games.
As the unquestioned leader of this year's Alabama defense, senior linebacker Reggie Ragland does not lack in ability or in former players who can give him advice.
"I'm going to approach this season the way all the great ones here have approached it," Ragland said this past week at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "I've talked to C.J. Mosley over the summer. I've talked to Dont'a Hightower, and I've talked to Rolando McClain. I've tried picking their brains to find out what they did when they were here and had the same accolades.
"I've wanted to know what to do and what not to do, and they've told me to just take my time, play football and do what you've been doing since you were little."
Mosley, Hightower and McClain were productive linebackers for recent Alabama national championship teams, and each wound up being a first-round selection in the NFL draft. The 6-foot-2, 252-pound Ragland could certainly be a first-round pick in 2016, but that's not his focus right now.
Alabama hasn't always looked like Alabama the past couple of years, allowing 79 points in the final two games of the 2013 season and 97 points in the final three contests last season, and Ragland wants to fix that.
"We need to get back to the basics, and I think we've done that this summer," he said. "The leadership is the best it has been in a while, and it feels like everybody is more together."
Jonathan Allen, A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed headline a deep and talented Crimson Tide defensive front that could be the best in the country. Denzel Devall provides returning experience at linebacker in addition to Ragland, and Cyrus Jones and Eddie Jackson return in a secondary that is the projected weak link of the unit.
Even coach Nick Saban, who is not one to bestow much praise in July, readily admits that the front two levels of Alabama's defense should be stout.
"We have a lot more experience and a lot more veteran returning players," Saban said. "We're going to have a very, very good front seven, and I think it's very important that the secondary does not give up the kind of explosive plays we gave up at the end of the season last year."
Alabama's quarterback race containing Jake Coker, David Cornwell, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman and early enrollee Blake Barnett is sure to be the most prominent topic once preseason camp starts in Tuscaloosa. Saban said this past week that nobody has come to the forefront and that he would not force the issue.
Blake Sims, who had a stellar fifth-year senior season a year ago under new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, didn't cement the starting quarterback job until the opening game against West Virginia.
Determining the quarterback of the defense is no issue whatsoever, with Ragland having amassed 95 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, 1.5 sacks and an interception last season. Rated the No. 1 middle linebacker prospect by Scout.com in the 2012 signing class out of Bob Jones High in Madison, Ala., Ragland played in 24 games during the 2012 and '13 seasons but did not start until last year.
"I'm really a testament to Coach Saban's process," Ragland said. "I played special teams my first couple of years, and I had to wait behind a great linebacker in C.J. Mosely. I watched and studied him, and there were times I got frustrated, but Coach Saban would preach the process about being ready when it was your turn on the field."
Ragland made at least seven tackles in eight of his last 11 games a year ago, when he was named All-SEC and as a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. He is taking over the defensive leadership role from the graduated Trey DePriest, though Ragland had that responsibility in last year's opener when DePriest served a single-game suspension.
Alabama has a taxing schedule that includes Wisconsin and Ole Miss in September before a stacked October containing Georgia, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Tennessee. The Crimson Tide will face LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn in November, but the game Ragland believes can wait is the home finale against Charleston Southern.
"When my time is up at Bryant-Denny, that's going to be a sad moment for me," he said.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
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