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Alabama is still the team to beat after star departures

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At this time last year, a narrative formed that the Alabama dynasty could be ending. The Crimson Tide had failed to reach the College Football Playoff for the first time and were set to lose several key players to the NFL. 

A year later, following a 13-0 national championship-winning season, Alabama will again lose a ton of players to the next level. But there should be no doubt: As long as Nick Saban is staying on the sideline — and he doesn’t seem ready to leave at the age of 69 — and his staff is compiling top-rated recruiting classes, the Crimson Tide aren’t going anywhere. 

Yes, they will lose a ridiculous amount of talent. Heisman Trophy winner Devonta Smith is off to the NFL. Quarterback Mac Jones will likely follow. Running back Najee Harris, receiver Jaylen Waddle, offensive linemen Alex Leatherwood and Landon Dickerson, and lockdown cornerback Patrick Surtain II have all played their last college game. 

But, Alabama lost just as much, if not more, last year and that didn’t slow Saban down. It’s easy to see receiver John Metchie III blossoming into a true No. 1 target after he caught 55 passes for 916 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore. Bryce Young entered college as the nation’s second-overall prospect and spent the year watching and learning from Jones. He will provide a new dimension as a running quarterback. The Crimson Tide have raved about tight end Jahleel Billingsley’s potential. Outside linebacker Will Anderson Jr. produced seven sacks as a freshman and should be a linchpin of next year’s unit along with fellow linebacker Christian Harris and defensive backs Malachi Moore and Jordan Battle. 

Then, there are the five-star prospects who have waited their turn, players who will undoubtedly become contributors if not difference-makers. 

Alabama should start next year No. 1. That’s where Saban’s program stands in The Post’s way-too-early top 10 for next season. 

Below is a look at the rest of our top 10: 

2. Oklahoma 

Quarterback Spencer Rattler is a Heisman Trophy contender and he should have running back Kennedy Brooks to lean on following the two-time 1,000-yard rusher’s decision to opt out this past season due to the virus. 

3. Clemson 

A seventh straight ACC title seems inevitable despite the Tigers losing Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and Amari Rodgers. True freshman DJ Uiagalelei looked like the next great Clemson quarterback in the two games he played in Lawrence’s place and the young defense should improve. 

4. Georgia 

The Bulldogs offense has the potential to be one of the most explosive in the country now that they found their quarterback in USC transfer JT Daniels. A season-opening showdown against Clemson will be an early test. 

Georgia quarterback JT Daniels
Georgia quarterback JT Daniels
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

5. Ohio State 

Wide receiver Garrett Wilson has star potential, running back Marcus Teague III will be the guy in the backfield and the defense has some quality young pieces. Figuring out the quarterback position — coach Ryan Day has promising options in top recruits such as Jack Miller III and CJ Stroud — and remaking the offensive line are key areas to watch in the spring. 

6. Iowa State 

After Iowa State won its first ever Big 12 regular-season crown, contending for the playoff is the next step now that quarterback Brock Purdy, running back Breece Hall and the entire starting offensive line opted to come back. 

7. North Carolina 

The Tar Heels have made progress in each of coach Mack Brown’s first two seasons, reaching a bowl game in his first year and finishing with a top-25 ranking this year. Now it’s time for Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Sam Howell and Co. to challenge Clemson atop the ACC. 

8. Indiana 

As long as dynamic quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s torn ACL allows him to return to form, the Hoosiers are a legitimate Big Ten title contender. Not only are they projected to return 19 starters, but will also add two key transfers in defensive end Ryder Anderson (Ole Miss) and wide receiver D.J. Matthews (Florida State). 

9. Texas A&M 

The quarterback position is an uncertainty, but top rusher Isaiah Spiller and top pass-catchers Ainias Smith and Jalen Wydermyer will be back as the Aggies look to build off this breakthrough season that saw them nearly reach the playoff. 

10. Cincinnati 

The return of 16 starters highlighted by dual-threat quarterback Desmond Ridder and a quality schedule that includes Indiana and Notre Dame should give the Bearcats a puncher’s chance of at least being part of the playoff discussion. 

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