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Why Alabama could open the 2019 football season as the nation's top-ranked football team

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 1/8/2019 George Schroeder

a football player throwing a baseball: Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be a Heisman Trophy favorite next season. © Provided by USA Today Sports Media Group LLC Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be a Heisman Trophy favorite next season. SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Nick Saban will disagree, but Alabama’s football program has reached the point where annual roster turnover is like replacing shark’s teeth.

Each year, stars leave – and others pop into place, then begin tearing opponents apart.

It’s why, even as the Crimson Tide heads into the 2019 season with the necessity of replacing several important players, it’s easy to project ‘Bama remaining atop college football. Oh, and having quarterback Tua Tagovailoa back doesn’t hurt, either.

Alabama must replace six senior starters for 2019. But as usual, that doesn’t tell the entire tale of attrition; several others are expected leave early for the NFL Draft. But that typically means the replacements will become stars.

“Got to pass the torch to somebody,” senior running back Damien Harris says.

And those who take the torch have an immediate goal: bounce back from Monday's 44-16 loss to Clemson in the national championship game.

But as Saban said shortly afterward, one game does not define a team, and the Tide did win 14 games, along with the Southeastern Conference championship.

"Good is not good enough," said Tagovailoa, a mantra the Tide surely will carry into next season.

During this dynastic run, Alabama has always had new standard bearers ready. But the Tide’s outlook for 2019 begins with Tagovailoa, the Heisman runner-up who should enter next season as a heavy favorite to win. In his first season as a starter, the sophomore transformed Alabama’s offense into something previously unseen during Saban’s tenure: dynamic firepower and potency, and a complete departure in style.

“He’s one of the best players in college football,” Saban says. “Hopefully the players around him will help him continue to do that.”

Tagovailoa’s passing should again feature Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy, who’ll be a junior. But Jeudy is only one of several talented playmakers in what might be the nation’s best collection of wide receivers; the top four were either freshmen or sophomores this season.

“They’re all dynamic with the ball in their hands,” says offensive coordinator Mike Locksley. "They all have the ability to make explosive plays once they touch the ball. They have really opened up things for us on the offensive side of the ball.”

Alabama also returns several running backs, including Najee Harris, its No. 2-leading rusher.

The Tide will replace several defensive starters, including nose guard Quinnen Williams, a third-year sophomore who won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman. Another potential departure is backup quarterback Jalen Hurts, who graduated last month and could be immediately eligible next season at another school.

Locksley is leaving, too; he was named Maryland’s head coach last month, meaning in 2019 Alabama will have its fifth offensive coordinator in the last four seasons. But staff turnover is likely to be less than the six coaches Saban replaced after the 2017 season – and the Tide did not seem to skip a beat.

The key, according to sophomore linebacker Dylan Moses, is not just the talent crowding the roster, but the mentality of the players. Many appear to have bought into the notion of competing for playing time while remaining patient.

“Whenever you’re a top recruit coming in,” Moses says. “you’re going to have to be able to humble yourself to know it’s going to be hard. … Once you get to the point where it’s your time, you know it’s your time.”

It all combines to make Alabama’s outlook sunny, as usual. Much will change in 2019, and yet much will remain the same. The Crimson Tide should enter next season as one of the favorites – probably again the favorite – to win another national championship.

“Everything about our offense has improved, I feel like every year I’ve been here,” Damien Harris says. “We’ve had a lot of success at different positions, having different coordinators, things like that. So everything is different. … We’ve done a lot of great things. So hopefully that tradition will carry on long after we’re all gone.”

Recent history suggests it will, on both sides of the ball. And that as Harris and others depart, new stars will emerge. By now, Alabama’s program has progressed far beyond self-sustaining. The Tide is constantly regenerating.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why Alabama could open the 2019 football season at the nation's top-ranked football team

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