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College Football Analysis: What Sort of Year Will Alabama Have in 2012?

5Dimes has regular season college football win totals for Alabama listed at over 10.5 (+140) and under 10.5 (-180).  They also have the Tide at +600 (6-to-1) to repeat as National Champions,  behind only LSU (+425) and USC (+450).

From a handicapping perspective I highly doubt that Alabama will repeat as National Champions and there is even less chance that their college football win totals exceed 10 regular season wins.

Let’s take a look at some reasons for this pessimism.

Heavy NFL Caliber Losses

The first thing I do when analyzing college football win totals is to research each team individually. Who did they lose, who’s coming back, who’s replacing the lost starters, what positions got hit hardest, etc.

In Alabama’s case the talent they lost was ridiculous. Alabama tied a school record with 4-first round draft choices and also tied a modern day school record of 8 players taken overall, matching the same number it had in the 1987 draft, which featured 12 rounds and 82 more picks than the current edition (Source: Compare this to the 2009 National Championship team that lost 2 NFL 1st round selections and 7 players overall.

In addition to losing 8 NFL draft choices, more than any other school in the country, 7 other Alabama players signed NFL Free Agent contracts. That is a total of 15 players that will be in NFL camps this fall instead of Tuscaloosa.

The Losses Were Even Heavier on Defense

The losses were even more significant on the defensive side of the ball. Three of Alabama’s four 1st round draft picks were defenders and 6 of the 8 overall draft selections were defenders. Alabama also lost 3 more defensive players who signed NFL Free Agent contracts.

That is 9 players missing from the number # 1 defense in the nation and one of the top overall defenses in modern day college football history.

I understand that Alabama has recruited well over the past several years and Saban continues to bring in and develop elite talent in Tuscaloosa, which will ensure this team won’t slip too far. Talent is great, but talent + experience and leadership is even better. And as talented as these replacements may be, they are still first year starters and it is going take a year (or two) for the replacements to gel and fully restock the defense.

More Difficult Schedule

Alabama trades their 2011 cream puff schedule for a significantly more difficult one in 2012. Other than a neutral site game to open the season against an improving Michigan team, the non-conference schedule is the usual SEC joke.

However, this year instead of getting the majority of their tougher games in Tuscaloosa like they did last season, the Tide have to actually take to the road this year and play several teams with a pulse.

The two most significant being likely top 10 teams Arkansas and LSU, along with the fore mentioned Michigan. Trips to Missouri and an improving Tennessee won’t be a walk in the park either.

Setting college football win totals: Alabama

Bookmakers set college football win totals by weighing a team’s overall strengths, weaknesses and talent level. Coaching and the schedule also play a significant part of the process.

Last week I explained to you how I came up with a season win total for Oregon. This past week I read a very interesting article on season win totals written by Beyond The Bets. They add another element to the percentage method by using what they call “win value.” Using these processes let’s analyze Alabama’s schedule and see what number we come up with.

The first thing I do is calculate the probability of Alabama winning each game. I have placed this number, in bold, to the right of each opponent.

I then assign the “win value” to the right of this number. This requires going through the schedule and figuring out if each game will be a “W″ (likely win), a “T″ (toss up) or a “L″ (loss).

Below is Alabama’s 2012 football schedule.

Sat, Sep 01          vs Michigan (Arlington, TX) (70%) ……. W

Sat, Sep 08          Western Kentucky (100%) …….. W

Sat, Sep 15          @ Arkansas (60%) ……… T

Sat, Sep 22          FAU  (100%) ……… W

Sat, Sep 29          Ole Miss  (100%) ……. W

Sat, Oct 13          @ Missouri  (75%) …….. W

Thu, Oct 20          @ Tennessee  (75%) …….. W

Sat, Oct 27           Mississippi State  (90%) ……. W

Sat, Nov 03          @ LSU  (45%) …….. L

Sat, Nov 10          Texas A & M  (90%) …… W

Sat, Nov 17          Western Carolina  (100%) …….. W

Sat, Nov 24          Auburn  (70%) ……….. W

The total number I came up with for Alabama is 975, or 9.75 wins for the 2012 season based on the win probability numbers. Based on the win value numbers, only one game appears to be a likely loss on Alabama’s schedule — a road game at LSU. There are ten likely wins and only one toss-up (Arkansas). However my guess is Alabama’s inexperienced team will likely find themselves in a few closer games this season then they expect.

Alabama’s BEST CASE scenario: 10 wins

I know Crimson Tide fans would like to see 11 or 12 wins and a repeat of the 2011 National Championship, but I really doubt it is going to happen. The odds are not in Alabama’s favor this season.

They have too many personnel losses, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  Alabama has a ton of good, young talent, but the lack of experience will catch up to them at some point throughout the season.

Their schedule is significantly more difficult this year then it was in 2011. Last year in the regular season Alabama played two teams with a pulse, Arkansas and LSU, and both games were at home. They went 1-1.

This year they trade an offensively challenged Penn State for a Michigan team that returns as many as 7 starters on defense and a dynamic playmaker at QB. They have to play their two most difficult opponents in Fayetteville and Baton Rouge. And games against Missouri, Tennessee and Auburn will be significantly more difficult this time around.

It’s all about question marks, and Alabama has far more of them this season than they did last year. I suspect that the 2012 season will be closer to the 2010 season and the Tide will win 10 games. I believe the odds posted at 5Dimes also reflects this assessment considering the heavy juice on the under 10.5 wins.

What do you think Alabama’s chances are of going over or under the college football win totals that 5Dimes has set for them? What are your reasons why you believe Alabama can repeat as National Champs. Leave me your comments below. Thanks – Pez.

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