The release of the 2013 Associated Press preseason poll, via the AP's official site, was met with its normal college football frenzy. But to the shock of no one who follows the sport, it was the Alabama Crimson Tide who ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Despite the strong roster and winning tradition, the road to a third consecutive BCS National Championship won’t be easy. Not only are the Crimson Tide in the always-tough Southeastern Conference (SEC), but the fact that the program is coming off of back-to-back championships makes Alabama public enemy No. 1 in college football.
The following matchups will be the toughest in 2013 for the Crimson Tide.
No. 1 Alabama at No. 7 Texas A&M (Saturday, September 14 at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS)
The biggest test without question is Alabama’s meeting with Texas A&M in College Station.
Whether Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel is playing or not, the tough defense and run-first offense of the SEC powerhouse (11th in the country with 242.1 yards per game) will give the Crimson Tide fits.
The ultimate X-factor in this matchup will be senior quarterback A.J. McCarron and how he handles Texas A&M's tough secondary. If McCarron can protect the ball and make efficient plays, there's little doubt that Alabama will be able to walk into Texas A&M’s building and stun the program in a Week 3 dream matchup.
Prediction: Alabama 24, Texas A&M 17
No. 12 LSU at No. 1 Alabama (Saturday, November 9 at TBD)
The battle between Alabama and the LSU Tigers will be the same battle that it's been every other time the two programs have faced off in the past: a defensive showcase with timely scoring making the difference in the final outcome.
LSU was 12th in college football last year in terms of points allowed per game (17.5), but it will square off with a defense that returns most of its top stars from 2012.
The Crimson Tide are coming off an impressive year in which the defensive unit ended the season as the top-ranked defense in the nation (10.9 points per game allowed).
Expect the Bayou Bengals to struggle putting points on the board and ultimately lose another heartbreaker to Alabama.
Prediction: Alabama 17, LSU 14
Arkansas at No. 1 Alabama (Saturday, October 19 at TBD)
While on paper the Arkansas Razorbacks don’t look like a team that can challenge the Crimson Tide this season, the October 19 meeting could be the ultimate trap game for Alabama if the team underestimates its opponents.
Losing stars like quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis will hurt the Razorbacks, but with one of the toughest schedules in the nation, Arkansas will be seasoned and ready for anything Alabama has to offer.
The Razorbacks visit Alabama in the seventh game on the schedule, but they will have played three preseason Top 10 teams in a row leading into the meeting. While Arkansas may not beat Alabama, playing Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and the Crimson Tide in a four-week stretch will have the program ready for its biggest game of the year.
Alabama must be ready for the challenge.
Prediction: Alabama 30, Arkansas 20
All stats via ESPN.com