Nick Saban. Nick Saban. Nick Saban.

He is the best coach in college football.

He knows how to maneuver his way into what he wants. He knows how to lead, motivate and coach. This is very dangerous, and it was proven so last season when Alabama earned its first National Championship under Saban’s third season with the program.

The Alabama Crimson Tide are the top-ranked team in the nation.

“We appreciate it,” Saban tells YahooSports about the preseason ranking. “But at the same time I think preseason polls are based mainly on what you did last year. There’s new leadership, new personalities and a lot of new opportunities for the younger players.”

On top of being on a title defense, they are also on another title run led by Saban and their top threat in junior running back Mark Ingram and backup Trent Richardson, who rushed for 751 yards in 145 attempts to go along with eight touchdowns last season (his freshman year!).

“He [Richardson] makes me better. I make him better,” Ingram tells YahooSports. “It’s just nothing but an advantage to our team just to have a 1-2 punch like that.”

Richardson is an evident threat because defenses now have to worry about defending two star tailbacks, not just one.

“I think he should be preseason All-SEC, All-American, All-Everything on every award, because he’s a great player,” Ingram tells The Birmingham News of Richardson. “He’s explosive. He’s dynamic. He’s getting smarter as a student of the game every day … He’s getting better and he’s improving every single day,” Ingram continues. “It’ll be scary to see when he reaches his full potential, what he’ll be capable of doing.”

Ingram shined in 2009 when he surpassed critics en route to a Heisman Trophy-winning season. Ingram rushed for a whopping 1,658 yards on 271 carries with 17 touchdowns. He was integral to Alabama’s undefeated mark of 14-0, including the National Championship Bowl Game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. He totaled 116 rushing yards on 22 carries and scored two touchdowns, including one near the two-minute mark that secured the victory over then No. 2-ranked Texas by a score of 37-21.

There are many things to point out about Alabama.

First, they might possess the best coaching staff in the SEC, and perhaps the nation for that matter. Behind Saban, offensive coordinator Jim McElwain and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart are studs at what they do.

The Crimson Tide carry the best offense in their conference; arguably, they have the best offensive weapons in the nation as well. Led by Ingram, the offense features the returns of quarterback Greg McElroy (a solid athlete) and wide receiver Julio Jones, who is very talented. In his first full year of starting, McElroy threw for 2,508 yards in 2009, and that could significantly improve.

These assets make Alabama prominent, and the team to beat in their conference and to knock down for the National Championship as well.

On top of this, Alabama hosts the game of the year in all of college football when they entertain No. 3-ranked Florida in an early matchup on Oct. 2 in Tuscaloosa. For the past two seasons, both teams have met in the SEC Championship game, so the winner of this grudge match could very well be en route to an undefeated year and the national title run.

Three teams could present dilemmas for the Tide. Florida is one of them, but the other two are No. 2-ranked Ohio State and No. 4-ranked Texas. Nevertheless, the schedule of these other three title contenders does not favor them, and Alabama has an edge because they host their toughest game at home. Alabama has three intriguing road games, however, starting at South Carolina on Oct. 9, followed by a trip to Tennessee two weeks later and ending with a visit to Louisiana to face LSU on Nov. 6.

Alabama’s concerns are with neither their offense nor their schedule though. Their issues are on the defensive side because they lost many key players in the offseason. The Tide does have junior defensive end Marcell Dareus, junior linebacker Dont’a Hightower and strong safety Mark Barron to lean on despite the departure of nine full-time starters. Kicker standout Leigh Tiffin and special teams returner Javier Arenas are no longer with Alabama, either.  

Dareus may not play, however, due to a potential NCAA rule violation involving him and some NFL agents.

“We won’t know anything about Marcell until the NCAA makes a decision, whether he violated rules, whether he took something from somebody, whether he needs to pay it back and whether it’s going to cost him any games,” Saban tells the Mobile Press-Register. “I don’t know any of that. And there will be no update. It will be a (NCAA) decision.”

In the end, Alabama will probably go undefeated and win another title. Saban does not like that Alabama has been labeled as a squad to defend their title though.

“Last year is basically over,” Saban tells YahooSports. “You know, we’re not really defending a championship. I’m sure somebody is going to ask me, ‘How are you going to defend this championship?’ The championship is a part of history, and we’re not going to defend anything … I think we’re not into repeating.”

Saban might say he does not like the preseason ranking. Saban might also indicate that they are not on a title defense. Both statements are true though, and this only illustrates the respect Alabama has attained through the last three years, especially in becoming the dominant force in the always-challenging SEC (perhaps the best college football conference).

The coaching staff is there. The experienced offense is there. Two colossally talented running backs are there. A great receiver is present. A favorable, but formidable schedule is there. Their most challenging affair is at home. Nonetheless, the defense has the question marks, but this will be a litmus test for Saban.