Alabama Football: Power Ranking the Crimson Tide's Hardest Challenges in 2012

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIJune 11, 2012

Alabama Football: Power Ranking the Crimson Tide's Hardest Challenges in 2012

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    Alabama seeks its 15th national championship in 2012, and the Crimson Tide is going to be met with fierce opposition in every single game.

    Granted, the Tide has a few lopsided matches that will be almost-guaranteed wins, but the challenges that face the Tide in 2012 will not be easy.

    The bullseye on the back of the defending champions will be gigantic and impossible to escape. Let's take a look at the five toughest tests that the Tide will face in the potential history-making season that is 2012.

5: Texas A&M Aggies (The Trap)

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    This is probably the biggest trap game that the Tide will face in 2012. The media will be talking about the Missouri game all through Alabama's bye week.

    The media will be hyping the LSU game and the Oregon vs. USC game on Nov. 3, 2012.

    At this point in the season, Alabama will have made it through the "big three" tests of its season and will be breathing a sigh of relief after taking down a national powerhouse in LSU.

    Enter the Texas A&M Aggies to play season-spoiler for the Tide. The Aggies have a rough inaugural schedule this year. They are coming into the SEC West and will play Arkansas, LSU and Alabama every year.

    They will show up to win every game they play, but they will show up a little harder against the top three. This is their year to establish their place in the recruiting pecking order, and they will fight accordingly.

    This is a team that is no stranger to the quarterback sack. They logged 51 of them in 2011 alongside 100-plus tackles for loss.

    These Aggies will be fighting for immediate respect in the premiere conference in the nation. They will play accordingly.

    Plus, there's a ton of pent-up frustration in College Station. The Aggies played second fiddle to the Longhorn Network's Texas squad led by Mack Brown for decades.

    Now, they can earn a spot among the elite. Put yourself in their shoes: What would a first-year upset of the Crimson Tide do for the Aggies' recruiting efforts? Let's not find out, shall we?

4: Michigan Wolverines (The Season Opener)

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    The Denard Robinson Michigan Wolverines will be the fist team on the slate in 2012 for the Tide. Nick Saban and company just showed what happens to teams when he has plenty of time to prepare.

    The Michigan game will not be a cakewalk, but it ranks fourth in terms of difficulty for the Tide. It will be held at a neutral location, the Tide will be well-coached and the Wolverines will be struggling to find more than a few holes in the defense of the Crimson Tide.

    The Wolverines are breaking themselves back into the game of powerhouse football, but they are not there yet. If there is an out-of-conference foe that can take Alabama down, I think it will be a conference champion.

    Even if Michigan is the Big Ten champ when this season is over, the end-of-season, it would stand a chance of winning. The season-opening Wolves are going to be too rusty to take Alabama through the fourth quarter.

    The great new is that this game will likely be the best season opener in 2012.

3: Auburn Tigers (The Iron Bowl)

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    The Auburn Tigers return 18 starters in 2012. Any Tide fans that remember 2009 and 2010 will know what to expect from the Tigers.

    You expect them to play like a team that you haven't seen at all in the previous 11 games of the season. You expect an onside kick following the first score of the game.

    You expect some kind of superstar to come from behind and unravel a much better Tide. Essentially, when it comes to the Iron Bowl, you expect the final score to be somewhat close to what it should be.

    However, the journey is never what you expected. Nobody expected the Tide to be down by 14 in 2009, and nobody expected the Tide to be up 24-0 in 2010.

    It is a gigantic rivalry, and it has gotten that way over the last century for two reasons:

    1. Geographical proximity of the two competitors.

    2. Quality of the games played.

    The score is rarely a blowout, but the game is always challenging (for the players) and entertaining (for the fans). The Tigers will be looking to assert themselves as a factor in the SEC West, and they would absolutely love to do it at the expense of the Tide.

2: LSU Tigers (Vengeance)

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    The second-most-difficult game on the Tide's schedule is against the LSU Tigers on Nov 3.

    There are two reasons that this game is this high on the list:

    1. It is in Death Valley, LSU's home field.

    2. The Tigers enjoy a bye week before facing the Tide, whereas the Tide will be coming off three SEC battles in a row.

    The Tigers will not have forgotten the title game. The game where every Tiger fan in Mercedes-Benz Stadium was screaming for Jordan Jefferson to be benched.

    The Tigers will have their wish on Nov. 3. They will battle the Tide with zero chance of Jefferson taking a snap.

    There will be blood, and there will be noise. There will be a live tiger (caged) on the sideline. The Tide will be much more mature than they were when they played the Razorbacks.

    Don't expect a loss for the Tide here, but don't look for a cruise-control victory, either.

1: Arkansas Razorbacks (The Perfect Storm)

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    The Razorbacks are the reigning Cotton Bowl champs and will be meeting the Crimson Tide in Week 3 of the 2012 season.

    Tyler Wilson was the first Razorback ever selected to the First-Team All-SEC squad in the school's history. He is returning to Fayetteville for his senior season...a season he would obviously like to see end in crystal hardware.

    Arkansas is poised to take advantage of a young Tide defense. The rest of the teams on this list (except Michigan) will be meeting the Tide after the defense has had the opportunity to gel and become a formidable force to face.

    Arkansas is the most difficult game of the season simply because it is so early on the schedule and so good. (Remember, they were ranked third in the BCS standings the week before they faced LSU in 2011. This will be no walk in the park for the Tide.)

    The perfect storm here is the Razorbacks' maturity against an untested defensive configuration in the Crimson Tide. This will not be a chill game to watch, which is what will make it so great a memory.