Alabama Football: 5 Teams That Nick Saban Is Worried About in 2013
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After claiming back-to-back national titles, Alabama’s road to claim a third consecutive crystal football will undoubtedly come with a few bumps in the road.
At first glance, the 2013 schedule appears manageable for Nick Saban’s club. However, no one envisioned Texas A&M being the team to trip up the Tide last season, so new challengers to their throne could emerge from the shadows.
The season begins with another high-profile non-conference showdown against Virginia Tech in the Chik-fil-A Classic at the Georgia Dome.
The clash with the Aggies comes two weeks after the season opener, with a bye week in between.
In what is becoming a shift of power in the SEC West, former challengers Arkansas and Auburn appear to have been supplanted by up-and-coming programs like Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
The usual battles within the SEC schedule are present, but which games will be the toughest for Saban and his staff to prepare for?
Find out as I try and break down the teams that will represent potential pitfalls in the Tide’s 2013 schedule.
5. Virginia Tech
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Just how dominant has Alabama been in non-conference openers under Nick Saban?
The Tide have won their six season-openers by an average of 32 points—including an average margin of victory of 20 points in three kickoff classic matchups against opponents from BCS leagues.
The one outlier in that streak was a hard-fought 34-24 victory over Virginia Tech to begin the 2009 season.
Those two teams will square off once again in the Georgia Dome in the Chik-fil-A kickoff classic.
The Hokies are coming off a year that saw them fail to win 10 games for the first time since 2003. However, the return of quarterback Logan Thomas and nine starters from a defense that ranked 18th nationally in total defense gives them a chance to have a rebound season this fall.
Alabama will still be heavily favored, but Frank Beamer returns a veteran group that has played in several big games and is too dangerous to be taken lightly.
4. Mississippi State
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Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M this season came one week after its emotional comeback win over rival LSU.
This season, a trip to Starkville looms after the Nov. 9 showdown against the Tigers.
In their last trip to Davis Wade Stadium in 2011 (and after their 9-6 overtime loss to LSU that season), Alabama led 10-0 entering the fourth quarter before pulling away for a 24-7 win.
With the lessons from last season fresh in their minds, the Tide will have to prove that they can keep their foot on the gas against the Bulldogs—regardless of what happens the week before.
3. Ole Miss
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The Tide will get a rare scheduling break in hosting the Rebels at home for the second consecutive season.
Despite three turnovers in the second quarter of a 33-14 loss to the Tide this season, the Rebels held Alabama to a season-low 305 yards of total offense, and made them fight for four quarters.
The Rebels finished 7-6 last season and have a ton of momentum built up after Hugh Freeze and his staff put together a top-flight recruiting class to the surprise of many fans and recruiting analysts across the country (h/t, Barrett Sallee, B/R).
Freeze’s up-tempo offense is similar to the spread no-huddle attacks that are the latest trend in college football, and the Rebels return a large portion of their starting lineup, including quarterback Bo Wallace.
While the Rebels may still be a year or two away from competing with the Tide from a talent standpoint, facing an offense like Freeze’s will give Saban and his club another chance to slow down a high-octane offense.
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Alabama’s thrilling win in Baton Rouge offered another stellar chapter in a rivalry that has dominated the sport for the last few years.
Quarterback Zach Mettenberger finally delivered a performance that measured up to his enormous potential in their 21-17 setback to the Tide, and his return bolsters an offense that will return largely intact.
While LSU may not enter the season ranked as highly as they have been in recent years, the Tigers are still one of the most dangerous and talented clubs in the entire country.
Considering the road team’s success in this series, Les Miles’ club—despite losing a wealth of talent to the NFL—should not be taken lightly.
1. Texas A&M
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The Aggies 29-24 upset victory over the Tide propelled Kevin Sumlin’s club to the program’s best finish (11-2) in more than a decade.
With Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and a deep and explosive group of skill players returning, Sumlin’s club will enter the season as one of the Tide’s main contenders to be No. 1 in the preseason polls.
Saban’s defense was shredded by Manziel in last season’s meeting. This fall’s showdown—set for Sept. 14 in College Station—will match likely preseason SEC West favorites. It has likely been circled by Tide players and fans since the 2013 schedule was released.
With an offseason to prepare for Sumlin’s offense—which ranked third nationally in total offense averaging nearly 559 yards per game—Saban and his staff are bound to spend a portion of the next six months scheming ways to ground the Aggies high-flying attack.