- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The University of Alabama will start the season No. 2 in two major college football polls, but is it only a matter of weeks before the Crimson Tide are No. 1?
Alabama, which came in at No. 2 in The Associated Press and USA Today coaches' preseason polls, will put its ranking to the test in Week 1 against No. 8 Michigan. A strong showing against the Wolverines could be enough to unseat No. 1 USC.
The Trojans received eight more first-place votes than the Tide, and are separated by just 34 points. USC opens the season against unranked Hawaii. The difference in strength of schedule could be enough to sway voters after just one weekend of play.
Whether it's Week 1 or Week 12, Alabama will have its shot at rising up the rankings. Three preseason top-10 teams are on the Crimson Tide's schedule -- No. 3 LSU, No. 10 Arkansas, and Michigan.
The rankings in the USA Today poll differ, with LSU voted No. 1 prior to the news that Tyrann Mathieu had been dismissed from the team. Auburn, which was ranked No. 25 in the coaches' poll but did not appear in the AP poll, also was dealt a blow this week when running back Jovon Robinson was ruled ineligible because of falsified high school transcripts.
The No. 2 ranking for Alabama is a sign of high expectations for a team in transition. Alabama lost three-quarters of its starters on defense, as well as the top four pass-catchers on offense, including Heisman Trophy finalist Trent Richardson.
There is reason for the optimism, however. Quarterback AJ McCarron returns for his second season as the starter, and his weapons at receiver appear more talented and numerous than a season ago. The offensive line, with four returning starters and defending Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones, could be among the best in the country. Eddie Lacy, who finished in the top 15 nationally in yards per carry last season, returns as the feature running back.
On defense, the picture is less rosy. Alabama lost six eventual NFL draft picks, three taken in the first round. A bevy of four- and five-star athletes are poised to step in, though. Vinnie Sunseri and Ha'Sean Clint0n-Dix will fill in for Mark Barron at safety, and junior Dee Milliner and transfer Deion Belue step in at cornerback for Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie. Junior cornerback John Fulton fits into that equation as well. Adrian Hubbard, Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley, Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson are among the top candidates at linebacker.
One thing is certain: Talent is not the question concerning the Crimson Tide. How it translates to quality players and wins is. Week 1 against Michigan, the world will find out whether Alabama is worthy of being the No. 2 team in the country -- or possibly No. 1.