Alabama is about to enter the toughest portion of its schedule, with three straight games against ranked opponents. Even though the Crimson Tide haven't been truly tested to this point, they will undoubtedly be prepared for the critical stretch.
The top-ranked Tide started the season by crushing Michigan, which looked like a major victory at the time. It turns out the Wolverines were vastly overrated, however.
By now, teams should be placed closer to their actual ability level.
Alabama's series of tricky tests begins on Saturday against fellow undefeated SEC squad Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are ranked 11th and are built from the same defense-first mold that has allowed Alabama to become a powerhouse.
They didn't receive much attention during the first half of the season because they mostly beat up on overmatched opponents, but a victory over Tennessee a couple weeks ago put them on the radar. Now they must live up to the hype.
The Bulldogs offense is led by quarterback Tyler Russell, who has been tremendous. Not only has he thrown 15 touchdowns in seven games, but he's also shown the decision-making skills necessary to have some success against the Tide defense.
He held his own against Alabama last season, but his teammates didn't give him enough support in a 24-7 loss. Mississippi State should be able to remain within striking distance for awhile, but the Tide are just too strong.
Assuming Alabama does survive that first test, a road clash with rival LSU awaits. The two teams split their two meetings last season, of course, but the Tide stepped up when it mattered most to win the national title. The Tigers will be looking for revenge.
Will the Tide go undefeated in the regular season?
While nobody should expect anything but another defensive battle, the one area where Alabama should have a significant edge is at quarterback. AJ McCarron has played his role of game manager to perfection whereas Zach Mettenberger has struggled.
In a game where there are so many important third-down opportunities, especially in the second half, that's a crucial edge to have. It further proves that McCarron is the unsung hero on a team with plenty of star power.
If Alabama gets through those two games unscathed—and it should—the stretch will come to an end against Texas A&M. The 20th-ranked Aggies have one of the nation's most explosive offenses, which will test the Crimson Tide secondary.
The Aggies' only losses came against Florida and LSU, two of the top teams in the country, and both defeats were only by one score. So Alabama won't be able to take them lightly and get away with it.
Yet, it once again comes back to the Tide's talent advantage. They are a step above everybody else and, in college football, it's tough to overcome that. It's going to take an extraordinary effort from an elite team to knock them off.
Don't expect it to happen over the next three weeks, despite the schedule's increased level of difficulty.