Alabama, picked to win SEC, faces personnel questions

Alabama head coach Nick Saban addresses the media during SEC Media Days in Atlanta.Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Beyond QB battle, defense has many holes to fill.

It's no surprise that Alabama was selected to win the SEC at the end of this week's SEC Media Days, but the defending national champion does have questions heading into 2018.

As for the vote of the media, the Crimson Tide received 193 votes to be the winner of the league title game, to be held December 1 in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Georgia, predicted to be the SEC East champ, was second with 69 votes.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, going for what would be a record seventh national championship, has to replace his entire secondary, deal with a thin linebacker corps and navigate a quarterback competition between two-year starter Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, who came off the bench in the second half to lead Alabama to an overtime win in the 2017 national title game against Georgia.

It's that battle between Hurts, a junior, and Tagovailoa, a sophomore, that likely will dominate Alabama's camp storylines.

"I'm not making any predetermined decisions about that," Saban said of the competition. "So, they need to continue to compete, like every other person at every other position on our team is competing.

"And I love both guys. They're both really good competitors. They are really good people. They are good leaders. They both make great contribution to our team. They are very well liked. So somebody's got to win the team."

The linebacker unit, which dealt with multiple serious injuries last season, could be a strength, led by inside linebackers Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses, paired with outside linebackers Christian Miller and Anfernee Jennings, coming off a torn ACL suffered in the 2017 postseason.

But depth is an issue, with projected backups/rotational players Terrell Lewis and Keith Holcombe no longer available. Lewis, a junior, suffered a torn ACL in the offseason; Holcombe, a senior, left the team to pursue baseball.

"He's been a great contributor in the program, not only on the field but a great human being, outstanding student, been a really, really good leader for us, and I would love to have him come back and be a part of our team," Saban said of Holcombe.

"But I understand that he wanted to play baseball. He's always wanted to play baseball."

Alabama is also replacing its entire starting secondary (including the nickel back) and will be looking for leadership after the departure of two-time All-American Minkah Fitzpatrick.

"We have a lot of young players who have the opportunity to step up," Saban said.

"Some of them very talented. But how well we do that, how the older players on the team assume their new role of leadership, all of these things will determine how fast we get to where we need to be and where we can be as a team."

Here is the voting from the SEC media poll:

EAST DIVISION

Georgia (271 first-place votes, 1,977 points)

South Carolina (8, 1,535)

Florida (4, 1,441)

Missouri (1,057)

Kentucky (1,874)

Tennessee (1,704)

Vanderbilt (392)

WEST DIVISION

Alabama (263, 1,971)

Auburn (19, 1,664)

Mississippi State (2, 1,239)

Texas A&M (1,091)

LSU (1,025)

Ole Miss (578)

Arkansas (412)

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