A new and improved A.J. McCarron has the Crimson Tide making room in its trophy case for a title trophy.
Easy is not often a word associated with the Southeastern Conference. But this season, Alabama's football schedule is just that. The Crimson Tide defend their title with a September 1 matchup against Michigan, at Jerry Jones' 'Big House,' Cowboys Stadium.
The Crimson Tide face a schedule this season void of Florida for the first time since 2009. Although it does face No. 8 Michigan and No. 10 Arkansas in two of its first three contests, another loaded Saban-led squad will play well on the road. Saban's defense-first scheme practices portable football and plays just as well on the road as it does at home.
With Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower gone to the NFL draft, the Crimson Tide have a strong group of linebackers filling in, led by Nico Johnson at the middle linebacker spot and C.J. Mosely. Trey Depriest should also see increased reps and could be an X-factor in the defense.
Even though Dave Miller of the National Football Post says the Crimson Tide could be "in for a down year," you won't see Saban's squad skip a beat.
The secondary will mourn the loss of Dequan Menzie and Dre Kirkpatrick quickly as it reloads with Dee Milliner, who led the team with three interceptions last season.
The Crimson Tide are in the unique position of reloading and never rebuilding. Part of the reason I am down on guys like Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson stems from this. Ingram showed that he was a product of great offensive lines, as will Richardson. Both were supreme talents at the college level but both also had swollen offensive lines.
This season is no different. Expect Eddie Lacy to showcase his speed and spin move en route to a stellar rushing campaign. Lacy had 95 rushes, 674 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011.
How many losses will Alabama have in the regular season?
With another year under his belt, A.J. McCarron will better his 2011 stats of a 67-percent completion percentage, 2,634 yards and 16 touchdowns. McCarron's favorite target should be trusted tight end Michael Williams.
Expect McCarron to pass for 20 or more scores and reach the 2,800-yard mark as Lacy runs wild in one of the more balanced offenses Saban has ever had at Alabama.
The Wolverines will bring a good test to start the season with the athletic Denard Robinson under center. But look for the Crimson Tide to be well rested and almost over-prepared for Robinson's style. Saban's proven ability to game-plan will come out in this matchup, and the Crimson Tide will start slow but win big with a grind-it-out approach.
Boredom will be the only opponent the Crimson Tide face in its Week 2 matchup with the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers. You will see an absolute rout at Bryant-Denny Stadium as Saban lets his guys run-and-gun to prepare for one of the season's toughest matchups with Arkansas.
From there, three of its next five games are at home. Alabama will be will in a groove by the time its two road matchups with new SEC foe Missouri and Tennessee. It faces a young Mississippi State squad before heading to Baton Rouge for its toughest matchup of the season against LSU.
The November 3 squabble will not mirror last season's 9-6 loss. The Crimson Tide have a better offense and LSU is without its playmaker Tyrann Mathieu, which Darren Heitner writes "will benefit him in the long run," but definitely not the Tigers' odds at another title.
The Crimson Tide close out its 2012 campaign with matchups against Texas A&M, Western Carolina and Auburn before advancing to the SEC championship, slated for December 1 at the Georgia Dome