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No change: Alabama still holds national title as its standard after 2 straight bowl losses

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TUSCALOOSA, Alabama — Two years without a national title, or even a bowl win, have Alabama fans getting restless.

And it's not just an unabashedly greedy fan base that basked in Nick Saban's dynastic run to three national championships in four seasons. Players and coaches are getting a little antsy, too.

"You either live up to it or you just crumble underneath it," Tide center Ryan Kelly said. "I think one of the biggest things we've been able to do here is play to a standard. We set the bar for ourselves, so it's not so much the fans putting pressure on us. It's putting pressure on ourselves.

"From 2009 to 2012 we had three out of four national championships and the last two years we haven't finished. That being said, that bar's been set before any of us even got here."

In truth, 'Bama hasn't had a huge drop-off, spending most of the past two seasons in contention and expecting more of the same in 2015.

Alabama did win the Southeastern Conference title last season before losing to Ohio State in the semifinals.

Still regarded as a strong national contender, Alabama must replace nine offensive starters and approaches a second straight season with an open quarterback competition. Jake Coker and redshirt freshman David Cornwell are among five quarterbacks battling for the job.

PHOTO: Alabama quarterback David Cornwell (12) throws in passing drills during football practice, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, at the Thomas-Drew Practice Fields in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP) MAGS OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Alabama quarterback David Cornwell (12) throws in passing drills during football practice, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, at the Thomas-Drew Practice Fields in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (Vasha Hunt/AL.com via AP) MAGS OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

Saban is hoping one of them will "take the bull by the horns."

'I don't think that we need to have a quarterback that has to win the game," he said, saying the winner needs to make good decisions and avoid costly errors.

"'With the rest of the players that we have I think we'd have a good chance.


Some things to watch for in Alabama's 2015 season:

DEFENSIVE REDEMPTION: Alabama's normally stingy defense gave up 86 combined points and 1,167 yards in two of its final three games, a 55-44 win over Auburn and the 42-35 loss to Ohio State. "It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, knowing that you had the talent to accomplish something great and you didn't do it," linebacker Ryan Anderson said. "There's definitely a little chip on your shoulder."

REPLACING COOPER: Receiver Amari Cooper was the centerpiece of last season's offense and a Heisman Trophy finalist. Now, the Tide has to rely on unproven blue-chip recruits like ArDarius Stewart, Robert Foster and freshman Calvin Ridley. Ridley and Foster were each rated by at least one major recruiting service as the nation's top receiver prospect out of high school. Foster and Stewart both had huge spring games, and Kiffin says the latter might be Alabama's most talented receiver. Junior Chris Black is hoping for a breakthrough year. Tight end O.J. Howard figures to be targeted more frequently as well.

HENRY'S TURN: Derrick Henry seems poised to become Alabama's latest star tailback, a chain that has gone from 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram to T.J. Yeldon. Henry, not Yeldon, was the Tide's leading rusher in a more pass-oriented attack last season. The 6-foot-3, 242 -pounder is averaging 6.6 yards per carry over his first two seasons with 1,372 yards and 14 touchdowns.

SECONDARY CONCERNS: Alabama can send waves of big, athletic linemen and linebackers at opposing offenses, but the secondary remains a work in progress. The Tide must replace safeties Landon Collins and Nick Perry. Converted cornerback Eddie Jackson and Geno Matias-Smith, who has played in 39 games, are among the candidates. At cornerback, Cyrus Jones seems entrenched as a starter, Bradley Sylve has played in 34 games and Tony Brown had considerable playing time as a freshman. Marlon Humphrey and some talented freshmen are also trying to carve significant roles.

ROAD TRIPPIN': Alabama will have to navigate some tough road games to make it back to Atlanta. After opening with Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas, the Tide visits Georgia, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn.

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