The 2012 college football season is just about six weeks away and, as the first of September creeps closer and closer, fans across the country are starting to calculate their teams' chances for a better season than last.
What they are ultimately looking for are wins. In Alabama, however, they are looking for losses.
As the defending BCS National Champion, the Crimson Tide cannot do much better then their 2011 effort. Sure, an undefeated season and a second consecutive title would be an improvement of sorts.
In Tuscaloosa, fans are confidently trying to find the one or two games that could possibly trip the Tide up and derail a quest for a trip to Miami in January's title game.
With this in mind, now is as good a time as any to check in with the teams Alabama will face this season in their quest for back-to-back BCS titles.
Michigan is back in the football business coming off of an 11-2 season in their first under head coach Brady Hoke. They will try to prove themselves as national contenders when they face Alabama in Dallas on September 1st.
Offensively, Michigan returns six starters to a squad that averaged over 33 points per game in 2011. Dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson returns as one of two Wolverines that ran for over 1000 yards last year. But not known for his passing, Robinson lost his top two receivers from a unit that was 93rd in the nation in passing offense last year.
On the defensive side, Michigan has to replace three starters off the defensive line, something that Alabama coach Nick Saban and his running game will likely look to expose. They do, however, return all three starting linebackers and three of four from the secondary. A defense that ranked 17th nationally in 2011 will be very formidable.
The Hilltoppers return sixteen starters from a team that went a respectable 7-5 in 2011.
As an offense that likes to rely on the running game, the loss of running back Bobby Rainey is going to be tough to overcome. Rainey finished second in the nation in rushing last season.
Western Kentucky is looking to find their way to a Sun Belt championship and a bowl bid this season, but they aren't going to find any help in Alabama's home opener. WKU played both Kentucky and LSU out of the SEC last year, and did so respectably. But without the experienced and game-tested Rainey, this one is likely to get ugly.
Alabama opens conference play at Arkansas on September 15th. The Hogs are looking yet again to prove themselves against Western division foes Alabama and LSU.
Veteran coach John L. Smith is now at the helm after the untimely departure of Bobby Petrino, which could throw off the momentum the Razorbacks carried into the offseason.
On offense, quarterback Tyler Wilson is another Heisman candidate on the Tide's schedule. Wilson has NFL talent, but will be without superior receivers Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, and Greg Childs. Instead, he will have the support of running back Knile Davis who returns from a broken ankle in 2011. The ability to mix the run and pass will benefit an offense that returns eight starters coming off of a season where they scored 37 points per game.
Defensively, Arkansas returns three starters from the defensive line, as well as three of four in the backfield. Still, this unit was 74th nationally against the run and 18th against the pass in 2011. If they can iron out their deficiencies, they will be dangerous.
With a chip on their shoulder, Arkansas has this game circled, and Alabama better be prepared.
The Owls will be adjusting to new schemes on both sides of the ball in 2012.
They are going to a spread offense after a 2011 season in which they scored only 12.9 points per game. Last in the Bowl Subdivision in yards per game last year, they experimented with four quarterbacks this last spring, hoping to find the right fit.
Defensively, they return seven starters from last year's team that allowed over 35 points per game.
Coming off of a 1-11 season, new head coach Carl Pelini will have his hands full for a while, and a trip to Tuscaloosa will be no more than a glorified bye week for the Tide.
Hugh Freeze is replacing Houston Nutt as the new head coach in Oxford this year. In doing so, he takes over a young, but experienced roster.
Junior Barry Brunetti and transfer Bo Wallace are expected to compete for the quarterback job as former QB Randall Mackey has been moved to wide out. Depth is going to be an issue all over the field for Ole Miss again this season.
On defense the Rebels return seven starters, but they are once again weak up front and will be young in the secondary.
The Rebels ranked 116th in scoring last season and are in the midst of a 15 game SEC losing streak. The chances that Ole Miss will make it out of the SEC West cellar this year are pretty slim.
One of two newcomers to the SEC, the Missouri Tigers will be looking to make their presence felt early. Knocking off defending champion Alabama would be a good way to earn a little respect among conference peers.
While the Tigers lost twelve starters off of last season's 8-5 club, they return some rather impressive talent.
Quarterback James Franklin is as deadly on the ground as he is through the air, ranking 15th nationally in total offense last year. After tearing both his ACL and MCL last fall, running back Henry Josey's return is uncertain at this point. His availability and another 1100 yards on the ground would take a lot of pressure off of Franklin, who lost three starters from his offensive line. He will, however have the number one recruit in the nation on hand in the form of receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who is expected to contribute immediately.
Defensively, the line is inexperienced, returning only one starter. But behind them are experienced linebackers and a secondary that returns three starters. An average defense in 2011, the Tigers should be improved defensively.
After a miserable finish to an injury-riddled season in 2011, head coach Derek Dooley finds himself on the Knoxville hot seat going into his third season.
Quarterback Tyler Bray is back from a hand injury and hopes to establish himself as one of the best arms in the league. He will have help from receivers Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter who are among the best in the conference as well. If Tennessee can find a dependable running game, their offense will be much improved.
Defensively, the Vols are converting to a 3-4 scheme under new offensive coordinator and former Alabama assistant Vinnie Sunseri. They bring back eight starters, though, and should be much improved—especially if they can maintain their health.
Tennessee has had a rough go of it against the Tide in the Saban era and will be looking to give their coach a signature win and possibly save his job.
Dan Mullen has the Bulldog program headed in the right direction, but overcoming divisional rivals like Arkansas, Alabama, and LSU is no easy proposition.
Offensively, State returns only four starters and the offensive line is a mess. Quarterback Tyler Russell is experienced, but the loss of running back Vic Ballard to the NFL will leave him light on support.
On the defensive side, the Bulldogs are always solid. They return seven starters in 2012 from a group that ranked 35th nationally last year. The departure of tackle Fletcher Cox will not be easy to overcome, but State has experience and athleticism all over the field with the possible exception of the safety position.
They will once again be a threat, but will struggle to get out of the middle of the SEC pack.
In what will be one of the most nationally anticipated games of the season, the Tide returns to Baton Rouge on November 3rd. They will face a Les Miles-led LSU team that is 30-1 in home night games during his tenure as head coach.
LSU is going to be loaded once again.
Their biggest concern is likely to be quarterback Zack Mettenberger, who transferred from Georgia with a lot of hype behind him. He will have the help of three of his top four receivers from last year in guys like Russell Shepard, Jarvis Landry, and Odell Beckham Jr. The offense returns four of five to help keep him protected and, to make matters worse, the Tigers return their top three running backs.
On the defensive side, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid will be running the backfield with precision while the defensive front is loaded with the likes of Barkevious Mingo. Linebacker may be a bit of a concern for Miles, but with everything he has surrounding them, he is unlikely to lose much sleep over it.
It was often said in 2011 that LSU would be better in 2012. Well, they may well be. If there is a game that Alabama will be the underdog in, this is it.
Kevin Sumlin joins the Aggies as head coach after leaving a very successful run at Houston. He leads A & M into their first season in the SEC with 14 returning starters.
He will be missing, however, quarterback Ryan Tanneyhill who was all-everything for the Aggies last year. They will have a strong running game which will be aided by an experienced offensive line. Still with their quarterback gone, as well as starting running back Cyrus Gray and receiver Jeff Fuller, the Aggies have big holes to fill.
On defense, there are only five returning starters and the Aggies are very thin up front. Linebacker Sean Porter leads a good group of returning linebackers and will contend for All-SEC.
This is a home game for Alabama, but coming off of a battle with LSU, it could be a trap game.
The Catamounts are coming off of a 1-10 season in which their only win was against Division II Mars Hill. They have a new coach and played no less than four quarterbacks in their spring game, all with a chance to win the starting job.
They do have a pair of running backs in the fold for another year, but this team will have no chance to compete with the Tide, who will be tuning up for the Iron Bowl the following week.
Alabama and Auburn have traded national title runs for three years running, each unable to ruin the other's chances for the crystal football.
Auburn comes into 2012 with sixteen returning starters, eight on each side, for head coach Gene Chizik.
The loss of running back Michael Dyer will be a big blow, but it will also allow Ontario McCalebb to have his chance to shine in the spotlight unopposed. Kiehl Frazier will be under center for the Tigers, behind a young but talented offensive line.
On defense, Auburn is talented on the line, which will have a reasonable chance to hold its own against Alabama' offensive front. In the secondary, Auburn has three more returning starters including third year starter T'Sharvan Bell.
Auburn is not yet back to the level of Alabama and LSU, but the Iron Bowl is always a wild card on the schedule.