Why the Alabama Crimson Tide Will Be the SEC Favorite in 2013

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterDecember 17, 2012

There are still bowl games to be played and a seventh straight crystal football that could be hoisted by an SEC team; but it's never too early to start looking ahead to 2013.

With six teams finishing in the Top 10 of the final BCS standings, there are plenty of options to choose from when discussing which team will enter the 2013 season as the favorite.

Sure, Alabama is on the brink of a dynasty, but with as much talent that's on the roster, the Crimson Tide could suffer from attrition due to the lure of the NFL more than other teams in the SEC. Reports have already surfaced that running back Eddie Lacy and offensive tackle D.J. Fluker are going to enter the 2013 draft, and several other key underclassmen could follow.

But despite the potential loss of three-fifths of the offensive line, a star running back and several key defenders, the Crimson Tide should enter the 2013 season as the favorite.

Quarterback AJ McCarron announced last week that he is returning for his senior season in Tuscaloosa. Say what you will about McCarron, but you don't accidentally lead the nation in passing efficiency, no matter what offense you run.

You just don't.

T.J. Yeldon—a 1,000-yard rusher as a true freshman—will be returning, along with running backs Dee Hart, Jalston Fowler, Kenyan Drake and perhaps signees Derrick Henry and Altee Tenpenny.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper, who emerged as a threat as the season progressed, will be back. along with Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones and the ultra-talented Chris Black.

Defensively, Alabama may get a boost from linebacker C.J. Mosley, who suggested on Twitter that he may return for his senior season over the weekend:

Never said I was leaving

— CJ Mosley (@TreyDeuce32RTR) December 15, 2012

Consensus All-American cornerback Dee Milliner may decide to make the jump, along with seniors Jesse Williams, Damion Square and Nico Johnson. But even if he does, there's still a lot of talent coming back to Tuscaloosa on a defense that finished as the nation's best.

Plus, there's the schedule.

Alabama gets, in theory anyway, a tough out-of-conference opener when it plays Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Aug. 31. But the 6-6 Hokies aren't exactly going to cause head coach Nick Saban to shake in his boots.

The Crimson Tide will then have two weeks to prepare for Texas A&M, during which time I'm sure the 2012 loss in Bryant-Denny Stadium will be mentioned a time or two.

Alabama also has two weeks to prepare for LSU, plus it draws Tennessee and Kentucky out of the East—which finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in the division this season.

Of course, all of this is subject to change.

Aside from players jumping to the NFL early, there are countless other things that could happen between now and Aug. 31 to shift the power within the SEC. But until some of those dominos start falling away from Alabama or in the direction of other contenders, it's Alabama's conference to lose.

But the journey should be interesting, especially if Alabama wins its third national title on four years on Jan. 7.