As always, there's only one best-case scenario at Alabama -- win it all. The Crimson Tide has done just that two of the past three seasons and enters this season ranked No. 1 by Sports Illustrated, No. 2 by just about everyone else. Alabama caught a break when LSU dismissed Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu, though the Honey Badger didn't make an impact in the SEC West rivals' two meetings last year.
Tide coach Nick Saban has to replace 11 starters, seven on defense. He told reporters to do the impossible: just let the games play out.
“You guys are going to have all these comparison questions, and where you're ranked, and how many games you're going to win, and what's going to happen to this player, which guy is going make the biggest impact on the team," Saban said. "All these predictions that you all make, they hijack the game."
Sorry, coach. Here are opposing Alabama scenarios that could play out in 2012.
Best-case scenario: It's unclear whether Michigan RB Fitz Toussaint (DUI arrest) will play in the Sept. 1 opener at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex. Won't matter either way. Alabama's O-line, featuring three All-Americans, bulldozes the Wolverines' inexperienced D-line. The young defense gains confidence before the Sept. 15 visit to Fayetteville, where Saban outcoaches John L. Smith in a narrow win. Blowouts ensue until the Nov. 3 visit to Death Valley. In front of 92,000-plus, junior QB AJ McCarron avoids mistakes while LSU first-year starter Zach Mettenberger gets picked by Dee Milliner. The Tide pulls off the minor upset en route to its third national championship in four years.
Worst-case scenario: Michigan QB Denard Robinson flashes his speed on the fast turf in Arlington, and the Wolverines (33.3 ppg last year) show everyone it's hard to replace four defenders who went early in the NFL draft. The 1-1 Tide stumble into Fayetteville, where Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis bolster their Heisman campaigns. Alabama regroups to go 6-2 heading to Death Valley. But the Tigers exact revenge for the BCS title game, stuffing Eddie Lacy the way they couldn't Trent Richardson. The Tide finishes 9-3, third in the SEC West.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from SEC bloggers Daniel Lewis and Larry Hartstein, follow @CBSSportsSEC.