Predicting the 2010 contenders

Alabama finished this past season ranked No. 1 and likely will start next season atop the polls.

With Heisman-winning running back Mark Ingram, dangerous receiver Julio Jones and quarterback Greg McElroy returning, the Crimson Tide will be a strong contender to win the SEC championship. And as the past four years have shown, the SEC champion equals national champion.

But no team has won back-to-back BCS national titles. Alabama could be the first if it fills some significant voids, as we see in this week’s mailbag.

Looking ahead
Based on how teams finished the season and what we know about who is returning and who is leaving early, which teams do you anticipate being the front-runners for the national crown next year?
Colbert, Ga.

We all know there is no sure-fire formula to determine legitimate national championship contenders. But when considering teams that project to have a strong chance, I look for those coming off a successful season, with a returning starter at quarterback and at least six full-time starters back from a defense that ranked among the nation’s top 40 in points allowed.

Yet, that doesn’t assure anything. For example, this past season, Alabama was coming off an 11-win showing in ’08 and had nine starters returning from a stingy defense. But the Crimson Tide had a first-time starter in quarterback Greg McElroy. Of course, Alabama won the national championship because of its great defense, excellent special teams and a powerful running game.

The Tide figures to be the consensus preseason No. 1 team in 2010, but don’t be surprised if the Tide ebbs. Alabama will have significant losses on defense, with only three starters returning from that unit. Can Alabama really expect to be as good defensively without, among others, Terrence Cody, Rolando McClain, Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson? That’s doubtful.