Alabama's 2012 season would be a gauntlet even if the Tide weren't defending national champions. The fact that they are defending a title makes the season even more difficult. The toughest games of the season are against Michigan, Arkansas and LSU.
A loss in any one of those games would not be mind-blowing, although a loss to Michigan would be the most shocking of the group. For an upset to truly blow a fan's mind, it comes from a team that was a two-touchdown (or greater) underdog.
Let's take a look at the few teams flying just under the radar that will give the Tide a run for their money in 2012.
Alabama has a bye week before traveling to take on the Missouri Tigers in October.
Missouri will be well-prepared for Alabama (as will everyone in 2012), but that should not be enough. The Tide is favored by 14 points against the Tigers and should perform accordingly.
Things the Tide should watch out for are:
1) James Franklin and Dorial Green-Beckham. (If Beckham and Franklin find a rhythm early in the season, this duo could put a few surprise points on the scoreboard. Two touchdowns would be enough to level the playing field.)
2) Complacency. If the Tide doesn't go to Missouri planning on waging war, then Alabama could be looking at a repeat of the 2010 South Carolina game.
If Missouri were to upset the Tide, it would indeed be mind-blowing. The odds are low, but the threat is absolutely real.
Odds Alabama loses—2:1 against.
Tennessee makes this list by virtue of the fact that it is Tennessee. This game rarely goes as it should.
Last year, the Tide should have dominated Tennessee from whistle to whistle, but the Volunteers managed to take a 6-6 tie to halftime.
The Tide came out in the second half and destroyed Tennessee to the tune of 37-6, but the first half proved that the Volunteers were capable of taking advantage of a lull in Bama's intensity.
The odds are extremely low that the Vols upset the Tide, which is what would make the loss mind-blowing. However, if the Tide is looking toward either Mississippi State or LSU, this game could be another nail-biter entering the third quarter.
Nick Saban is going to do everything in his power to ensure that the Tide overlooks no one, but he can't possess the players and make them think about every opponent the same way.
In theory, LSU and Western Carolina should receive equal intensity. In reality, everyone knows that WCU is no LSU. Let's hope the Tide doesn't take that attitude towards Tennessee.
What to watch out for: Tyler Bray. He's got a lot to prove and taking down the Tide would do it.
Odds Alabama loses this game—3:1 against.
Mississippi State never brings an offense that matches its defense, but its 2012 defense returns seven starters from 2011. The Bulldogs will be bringing their A-game against the Tide.
College football fans know that whoever scores the most points wins. Down here in the SEC, we know that the team that scores the fewest loses. Mississippi State's defense always makes this game tougher than the paperwork suggests it should be.
Things to watch out for: Timing. This game is right between two of 'Bama's marquee games of the season. The Bulldogs would be easy to overlook, and that would be catastrophic for the Tide.
Odds Alabama loses this game—3:1 against.
Texas A&M is starting what will be a perennial battle for power in the SEC West. The Aggies open as 20-point underdogs to the Tide, and the final score should reflect at least a two-touchdown Tide victory.
The issue is that A&M has a few key players, especially on defense, that the Tide needs to be ready for.
Jonathan Stewart and Sean porter combined for 177 tackles last year, and they are defenders that are ready for the SEC in terms of pure talent. Their cohort, Damontre Moore, racked up 71 of his own in 2011, and will be yet another defender for A.J. McCarron to mark when he takes the snap.
The Aggies will enter 2012 with a chip on their shoulder. There's no way that the players have missed the fact that they are expected to finish in the middle of the pack in the SEC West. A win over Arkansas, Alabama or LSU would put them in the top tier of SEC teams.
They have plenty to prove, and those three conference matches will be high-priority games for the Aggies.
Odds Alabama loses this game—2:1 against.
The 18-point spread against the Tigers shows us that they are not yet expected to contend for the trip to Atlanta in 2012, but they always seem to have some tricks up their sleeves.
The 2009 Iron Bowl comes to mind immediately, in which the Tigers scored first and followed that up with a perfectly-executed on-side kick. They turned that possession into a quick 14-point lead that the Tide would not overcome until the fourth quarter.
It's safe to say that one on-side kick wouldn't win them the 2012 Iron Bowl, but it would be a stunning upset if Chizik could play season-spoiler to Alabama's potential repeat.
Thing to watch out for: It's Auburn. The Tigers play Alabama tougher than they play anyone else on their schedule.
Odds Alabama loses this game—3:2 against.