Alabama Football: Power Ranking Tide's 2013 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest
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Alabama’s road to a third consecutive national championship features a schedule that is navigable despite the typical rigors of playing in the SEC.
In facing 2012 Eastern Division cellar dwellers Kentucky and Tennessee instead of powers Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, Nick Saban's club appears to have caught a break in its league slate.
The nonconference schedule is light, aside from the season opener against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in the familiar confines of the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Heavily anticipated tilts against Texas A&M and LSU highlight the schedule, but how would it look if it were ranked from easiest to toughest?
1. Georgia State
The Panthers begin their first season on the FBS level as members of the Sun Belt Conference. Their transition coincides with a new head coach in Trent Miles, who replaced former Crimson Tide coach Bill Curry.
The Panthers went 1-10 last season, and their growing pains are likely to continue in a tougher league.
The teams last met in 2010 when Alabama took Georgia State behind the woodshed in a 63-7 romp, and this year’s meeting on Oct. 5 should result in a similar drubbing.
The Mocs may be an FCS school, but they are only one of six opponents on the Tide’s slate that had a winning record in 2012.
They provide the opposition in the Tide's annual tuneup the week before the Iron Bowl. Alabama has won four consecutive games against FCS opponents in late November by an average score of 51-7, including a 45-0 win over the Mocs in their last meeting in 2009.
This contest should be nothing more than a scrimmage before the Tide heads to Auburn to close out the season.
3. Colorado State
The Rams will invade Bryant-Denny Stadium on Sept. 21 led by former Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain.
McElwain guided the Rams to a 4-8 record in his debut last season, and while his club should be much improved, it is clearly not ready to compete with a team of Alabama’s caliber.
Depending on the outcome of the Tide’s mega-clash with Texas A&M the week before, the Tide could come out angry or sluggish. Regardless, expect the final margin to be comfortable in favor of the home team.
The Wildcats' program has been given a jolt of energy under the leadership of new head coach Mark Stoops.
However, plenty of work remains for a club that went 2-10 last season and has failed to record a winning campaign in each of the last three years.
This game will take place on Oct. 12 in Lexington, which could give the Wildcats a better chance to hang around for maybe a half. But in the end, the Tide should cruise to one of its easiest wins in conference play.
After a successful stint at Wisconsin, Bret Bielema has wasted little time adapting to life in the SEC. He’s even thrown a few barbs Saban’s way, according to Mike Herndon of AL.com.
However, his first trip to Tuscaloosa will be the last leg of a brutal five-game stretch against teams that went a combined 55-11 last season.
After facing that gauntlet, it’s hard to imagine Arkansas rolling into Tuscaloosa and giving the defending champions a stiff challenge.
The Volunteers have failed to knock off the Crimson Tide since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, and Butch Jones will be the third coach in that span to take a shot at turning the tables in this rivalry.
The Vols are another team that could fall victim to the weekly grind of the SEC. The Alabama game on Oct. 26 will be Tennessee’s fifth game in six weeks against a team that won at least 11 games last season.
While Jones has talent on hand, which means Tennessee could be better, the timing of the game against Alabama could doom any hopes to end the Vols' six-game losing streak in the series.
Gus Malzahn was the architect of the Tigers' offense three years ago when Auburn won a national title, and now he succeeds former boss Gene Chizik as head coach.
After its heart-stopping comeback victory over the Tide in 2010, Auburn has lost the last two Iron Bowls by a combined score of 91-14.
Malzahn and his staff have several holes to fill, but the Tigers have recruited well and have plenty of talent on hand.
The Tigers have a chance to surprise this fall, and they should be hitting their stride toward the end of the season when the Iron Bowl takes place on Nov. 30.
8. Mississippi State
The Tide lost to Texas A&M a week after a physical and emotional comeback win over LSU.
This year, the Tide makes the short trip to Starkville a week after facing the Tigers.
In its last visit to Davis-Wade Stadium two years ago, and coming off a loss to LSU the week before, Alabama struggled with the gritty Bulldogs before finally putting away Dan Mullen’s club late in a hard-fought 24-7 victory.
The Bulldogs have enough talent to be a pesky opponent for the Tide a week after what should be a slugfest against LSU.
9. Virginia Tech
Although Virginia Tech is coming off a down year, the Hokies still have enough talent to be one of the premier clubs in the ACC.
The Hokies return seven starters from a defense that finished 18th nationally in total defense, and Logan Thomas is one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the country.
However, Frank Beamer’s club hasn’t fared lately well in marquee nonconference matchups. The Hokies are 0-4 against ranked nonconference opponents since 2009, but only one of those losses was by more than 10 points (a 40-12 loss to Stanford in the 2010 Orange Bowl). Included in that figure was a 34-24 loss to Alabama in the Georgia Dome to kick off the 2009 season.
Opening with a quality opponent is something Saban’s past teams have relished, and the Tide will get another opportunity to make a statement against the Hokies.
10. Ole Miss
Ole Miss is projected to be a sleeper in the SEC West. The Rebels return 20 starters off a team that went 7-6 in its first year under Hugh Freeze. Three of those losses came in league play by a combined 10 points.
A rare scheduling quirk has the Rebels making their second consecutive trip to Tuscaloosa. For all of the attention their offense has generated, the defense held Alabama to a season-low 305 yards of total offense in a 33-14 loss last year.
If the Rebels can avoid the costly turnovers that doomed them a year ago, this game could become a bit more dangerous for the Tide.
11. Texas A&M
Most college football observers have had this date circled after the Aggies' shocking upset of the Tide in Tuscaloosa last November.
Given the banter coming out of College Station, this game needs no further buildup, as both teams are likely to be ranked in the Top Five entering the season (h/t Barrett Sallee, B/R).
Saban has spent a good portion of the offseason fielding questions about how he will deal with Aggies quarterback sensation Johnny Manziel, as his defense will get a chance to avenge one of its worst outings of the 2012 season.
The atmosphere at Kyle Field is sure to be one of the most electric of the season. This meeting is easily the Tide’s toughest road trip. But the Tide have not lost a road game since falling at LSU in 2010.
The winner gets a leg up in the SEC West and should take a giant leap forward in the national title hunt.
While the Aggies were the only team to vanquish the Tide in 2012, LSU let a golden opportunity slip away by allowing a scoring drive in the final minute of a 21-17 loss in Baton Rouge.
Considering that LSU has won five of the last six meetings between these teams in Tuscaloosa, it is one of the rare programs that should feel confident when it takes the field in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The return of quarterback Zach Mettenberger and a cast of skill players who torched the Tide for 435 yards of total offense should give the Tigers one of the most explosive attacks in the SEC.
The defense must be retooled, but the Tigers have plenty of talent waiting in the wings and should be fully reloaded by the time Nov. 9 rolls around.
Regardless of when it appears on the schedule, LSU is still the program that is closest to knocking the Tide off their perch.