The defending national champions have recently wrapped up spring practice and are looking forward to the regular season. Alabama returns majority of its starters, but does have a few holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Regardless, this is a team that will remain a favorite to not only win the SEC, but compete for another national championship.
Although before we can pencil this team in the big game once again, it must go through another typical SEC schedule. With games against teams like Michigan, Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn, it's not going to be an easy ride to defend that title.
With the season quickly approaching, it's time to begin focusing on Alabama's opponents.
Key: Control Denard Robinson.
Denard Robinson will once again enter this season as a Heisman candidate, and he will once again have to carry this offense for the Wolverines to be successful. That's why it's important for this Alabama defense to contain him and make him throw the ball more often than he would like.
Last season against Michigan State (a top-10 defense last season), Robinson was sacked seven times and couldn't get much going as the Wolverines lost 28-14.
In the last two seasons Robinson has been the full-time starter, he's lost a total of nine games. In those nine games, the Wolverines are 2-7 when he fails to top either 100 rushing yards or 100 passing yards.
Robinson has to be effective with his feet for the passing game to open up; if he's not, he really struggles, and more times than not Michigan ends up losing the game. With Alabama so deep on the defensive side of the ball, it's going to be interesting to see how the senior quarterback will be able to handle the constant pressure.
Key: Stay healthy.
There is really no game plan needed for this game, as a team from the Sun Belt Conference isn't going to knock off Alabama anytime soon. That includes a Western Kentucky team that's won 11 games in the last four years combined. Sure, it returns nine starters on the offensive side of the ball, but that's an offense that was ranked 89th in the country a season ago and that only scored three points against Kentucky.
This is a game that should be over by halftime.
The only way the Crimson Tide can lose this game is if a key player suffers an injury. No, Alabama would still end up winning the game, but it would not be good with a road trip to Arkansas the very next week.
Key: Contain Knile Davis.
The Crimson Tide have already shown what they can do to quarterback Tyler Wilson when they generate pressure and give him little time to throw the football. Sure, he completed 62 percent of his passes, but only threw for 185 yards (which was by far his lowest for the year) and an interception.
However, now the Razorbacks will have a new weapon back on the field this season in running back Knile Davis. He's a back who rushed for more than 1,300 yards and scored 14 total touchdowns before injuring his ankle in 2010. With him back on the field, it gives this already-explosive offense a much-needed running game.
Last season Arkansas had one of the top passing games in the country, but its running game ranked 81st overall. This put more pressure on Wilson, and made things much easier for opposing defenses as the offense was very one-dimensional.
The Crimson Tide defense will look real different this season with so many players leaving, but that Arkansas offense will also have an added weapon that it must be prepared for.
Key: Just play Alabama football.
Much like the game against Western Kentucky, there's really no chance Florida Atlantic can pull off the upset over Alabama. You're talking about a program that's won 10 combined games in the last three years and was absolutely blown out by Florida and Michigan State last season.
The Owls were ranked in the 100s in scoring offense and scoring defense a year ago. They return 14 combined starters, and they're simply not a team that has anything going for them when they enter Tuscaloosa.
As long as the Crimson Tide play the way they're capable of, they'll end up winning this game by at least 30 points.
Then again, it won't even take that much to get the job done in this lopsided matchup.
Key: Score 30 points.
Alabama opens the season with a third cupcake team as Ole Miss truly is lacking the firepower on both sides of the ball to compete at a high level. Last season the Rebels scored more than 30 points a total of two times, and there were five games where they even failed to score at least 10 points.
Mississippi returns eight starters on the offensive side of the ball, but with the combination of Alabama's defense and key players possibly being ruled ineligible for the Rebels, it's nearly impossible seeing this Ole Miss team actually remaining competitive in this contest.
Look for the Crimson Tide to score a few touchdowns and win their ninth straight against Mississippi.
Key: Prevent third-down conversions.
Despite all of the offensive talent the Tigers have on their team, they were one of the worst squads in the country at converting third downs. Missouri was ranked ninth in the Big 12 last season and 72nd in the country as it converted less than 40 percent (70 of 183) of its third-down attempts.
Meanwhile, Alabama was the best in the country at getting off the field on third down, as teams only converted 24 percent of the time last season.
Missouri does have playmakers on the offensive side of the ball in quarterback James Franklin, wide receiver T.J. Moe and true freshman Dorial Green-Beckham. However, it simply won't be able to beat the Crimson Tide if it can't extend its drives and give itself more scoring opportunities.
Key: Intercept quarterback Tyler Bray.
Tennessee is going to be a completely different team this season. Not only does it return majority of a talented team on both sides of the ball, but it also gets Justin Hunter back at wide receiver and Herman Lathers back at linebacker.
Quarterback Tyler Bray may have one of the more talented wide receiver corps in all of college football heading into the year. And although he's only thrown 16 combined interceptions in his first two seasons, he tends to throw more than one pick in games he does turn the ball over. In the nine games Bray has thrown an interception, six of them have been games where he's thrown at least two completions to the other team.
Tennessee may be a young and very talented team, but it's simply not going to squeeze out a victory if it turns the ball over. Bray did not play in last year's meeting, but a couple turnovers would result in the Crimson Tide's sixth straight victory over the Volunteers.
Key: Don't fall for the trap.
By this time next season, everybody will be looking ahead to the next week with the huge matchup against the LSU Tigers. Maybe both teams will go into the contest undefeated and the media will label it the "Game of the Century"—oh wait...
Anyway, it's important to not overlook this Bulldog team. Sure, it lost its starting quarterback and workhorse running back in Vick Ballard. However, it does return seven starters from a defense that was decent when it wanted to be and ranked 16th in the country in points allowed.
The Bulldogs also have a speedster of a running back in LaDarius Perkins, who looked real sharp throughout the spring and during the spring game.
We won't hear much about this matchup as everyone will be focused on a week ahead, but it's important the Tide take care of business before they have their heated rematch with LSU.
Key: Stop that Tigers running game.
This rematch is going to be very interesting because both teams will look very different from a year ago. LSU should have a quarterback who can throw the ball in Zach Mettenberger, and both defenses lost a lot of key players due to graduation and the NFL draft.
However, there is one thing that remains the same: LSU has the deepest backfield in the country.
The Tigers return four running backs that rushed for at least 300 yards last season. Any of them could truly be a No. 1 option on most college football teams out there. They all bring something to the table and it makes things really difficult for opposing defenses that must try to keep up with so many fresh legs rotating throughout the game.
During Alabama's 9-6 loss to the Tigers in the regular season, LSU rushed for a total of 148 yards. In Alabama's victory in the national championship game, LSU only managed 39 yards on the ground. Not to mention this would force Mettenberger (a quarterback with limited game experience) to prove himself against an SEC defense.
Key: Win the battle in the trenches.
SEC football is a grown-man conference, and the team that protects the quarterback and rushes the opposing quarterback better usually wins. Texas A&M may be the newbies of the SEC, but it brings that physical style of play that will help it compete from day one.
The Aggies return eight starters on defense, notably the majority of the front seven that led the Big 12 in sacks with 51. They also return their entire offensive line from a year ago. It's the same offensive line that only allowed nine sacks last season, which was the best in the Big 12 and second in the country.
The Aggies may have a new coach, new defensive scheme and have to find an answer at the quarterback position, but they do have a great defensive and offensive line working in their favor. This will be a gut-check game for both teams, and you know that Nick Saban's team will be ready for it.
Key: Score two touchdowns.
The Western Carolina Catamounts are from the Southern Conference, and they finished last year with a 1-10 record. They averaged 22 points on offense and allowed an absolutely horrible 45 points on defense.
There's no key to this game whatsoever. The Crimson Tide show up and score a couple of touchdowns early in the first quarter. If Western Carolina can somehow manage to get into the end zone twice, Alabama will forfeit the win and call it a day.
No, seriously. Good luck.
Key: Generate pressure.
Nobody is quite sure whom the starting quarterback this season for Auburn will be. It's either going to be Clint Moseley, Kiehl Frazier or true freshman Zeke Pike. Regardless of who it is, the starter will have little game experience and a lot to learn in a short amount of time.
Auburn should be a much better team than it was last season, returning most of the young players, but this is still a team that allowed 32 sacks. The best way to force a quarterback into mistakes is to pressure him early and often, especially a young quarterback that will likely be a first-year starter.
You can expect Nick Saban and company to dial up the pressure and see how this young Auburn offense responds.