Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide are poised to make a run at their third consecutive national title.
Although Alabama had nine players taken in April's NFL draft, there's more than enough returning talent to make the Crimson Tide's quest for a third straight BCS national championship a real possibility.
Nick Saban’s club returns a number of stars off the squad that pummeled previously unbeaten Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS title game. And the Tide’s schedule, which still has its share of challenges, does not appear to be as daunting as in previous years.
The season opener against ACC power Virginia Tech kicks things off on Aug. 31 in the Georgia Dome. Showdowns with SEC West powers Texas A&M (Sept. 14) and LSU (Nov. 9) will be tough, but the Tide have the luxury of a bye week preceding each of those contests.
So, how does the rest of the schedule play out, and can the Tide run the table and produce their second unblemished season under Saban?
The Hokies enter 2013 trying to bounce back from their worst season in the last decade, but Frank Beamer’s club has enough ammunition to return to the upper echelon of the ACC.
However, considering that Alabama has won its season openers under Saban by an average of 32 points, the Hokies have their work cut out for them if they hope to challenge the two-time defending national champs.
While quarterback Logan Thomas is a capable threat and Bud Foster’s defense is always known for its lunch-pail mentality, the Hokies' program is in transition and clearly a few notches below a power such as the Tide.
Virginia Tech should play hard and could keep things close for a while, but expect the Tide to pull away in the second half.
Alabama 41, Virginia Tech 17
The hype for this game has become somewhat subdued with the looming cloud of the NCAA investigation surrounding Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel.
However, regardless of whether he plays, this game still holds tremendous importance in the SEC West race.
Considering that the Tide have spent the offseason hearing about their failures against the Aggies in last season’s 29-24 loss, there’s no doubt that they will be motivated heading into this year’s meeting.
While Kevin Sumlin’s offense is still capable of producing headaches for the Tide, the Aggies' main issues heading into the season lie with their defense. Expect McCarron to avoid the costly turnovers that doomed the Tide in last season’s meeting, and that should help his club earn a hard-fought road victory.
Alabama 41, Texas A&M 27
Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain returns to Tuscaloosa as the head coach of Colorado State.
McElwain led the Rams to a 4-8 season in his first year in Fort Collins. While he is in the midst of a rebuilding project, his club simply won’t have enough firepower to match up with the Tide.
Depending on the outcome of the game against the Aggies the week before, the Tide could come out sluggish after two tough games to begin the season.
Regardless, expect the Tide to cruise in this non-conference matchup.
Alabama 48, Colorado State 10
The Rebels enter 2013 with a ton of momentum based on a strong debut season for coach Hugh Freeze, followed by a banner recruiting class in February.
Additionally, in last season’s 33-14 loss to the Tide, the Mississippi defense held Alabama to a season-low 305 yards of total offense.
With few personnel losses off last season’s club, the Rebels should be improved and capable of giving the Tide one of their toughest tests on the schedule.
However, because of Alabama’s struggles against the Rebels a year ago, and with the good fortune of having seen a similar high-powered Aggies offense two weeks prior to this year’s meeting, Saban’s club should be amply prepared for this division clash.
Alabama 34, Ole Miss 24
In 2010, Alabama claimed the only other previous meeting with Georgia State by a score of 63-7.
This nonconference matchup should amount to a light scrimmage for the Tide, given that the Panthers went 1-10 last season and will be led by a new head coach in Trent Miles.
With the SEC schedule ramping up after this game, this contest will likely provide Saban with a chance to get a long look at the latter portion of his depth chart.
Alabama 63, Georgia State 0
New Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops has brought a ton of enthusiasm to Lexington, and it’s needed since Kentucky has gone 7-25 in conference play since 2009.
Stoops is noted for his defensive mind, having spent the previous three seasons helping mold Florida State’s defense into one of the nation’s best. He hired Neal Brown, who was the architect of the high-powered Texas Tech attack for the last three seasons, as his offensive coordinator.
While those changes give Kentucky a chance to climb out of the SEC’s cellar, the Wildcats are unlikely to improve enough to challenge perennial powers such as Alabama in their first year under Stoops.
Alabama 42, Kentucky 10
The Razorbacks pulled off a coup in getting Bret Bielema to leave Wisconsin and become the coach entrusted with helping resurrect a program that had championship aspirations entering last season.
However, the Hogs' schedule will do him no favors, with the meeting against the Crimson Tide at the end of a brutal five-game gauntlet.
Even though the Razorbacks may be much improved from last season, catching the Tide at the tail end of that stretch almost dooms their chances to put up a significant challenge.
Alabama 42, Arkansas 17
Tennessee marks the fourth consecutive opponent with a new head coach on the Tide’s schedule.
Butch Jones will try to get the Vols program back on track, but similar to the challenges Bret Bielema faces at Arkansas, a murderous schedule could wreak havoc on his debut season.
Alabama has won six straight meetings in this rivalry, and all signs point to the Tide earning a seventh consecutive victory over the Vols.
Alabama 45, Tennessee 14
The last three meetings in this rivalry have seen both teams enter the game ranked in the Top Five.
While the Tigers are ranked No. 13 in the initial USA Today Coaches Poll, Les Miles’ club has enough firepower to emerge as a legitimate contender to claim the SEC West.
LSU has also won five of the last six meetings in Tuscaloosa, and this showdown has all the makings of another epic slugfest.
The bye week should give Alabama a chance to refocus on the second half of the season and to prepare for what may be the toughest test on the 2013 schedule.
Alabama 23, LSU 21
This is the spot in last season’s schedule that saw Texas A&M surprise Alabama a week after its draining battle against LSU.
Mississippi State fell apart last season after Alabama ruined its 7-0 start by thrashing the Bulldogs 38-7.
While the Bulldogs return standouts such as quarterback Tyler Russell and running back LaDarius Perkins, their defense has to retool after losing standout corners Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay.
The Bulldogs catch Alabama at a good time, and they have an opportunity to make this game closer than it appears heading into the season.
However, expect Alabama to meet the challenge and survive one of its last remaining road hurdles.
Alabama 34, Mississippi State 17
The Mocs occupy the spot traditionally reserved for the annual warmup the week before the Iron Bowl.
Don’t expect much of a fight, as the Tide should make short work of the Mocs.
Alabama 56, Chattanooga 0
New Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has reinvigorated the Tigers' fanbase after taking over for Gene Chizik.
He should help resurrect Auburn’s anemic attack, which ranked 118th nationally in total offense, according to cfbstats.com.
Malzahn gets his first crack at Alabama at home, and the Tigers should be a much improved club by the end of the season.
However, with Alabama poised to continue its march toward another SEC West crown and another BCS title berth, expect the Tide to earn their third consecutive win over its in-state rivals and a trip to the SEC title game.
Alabama 45, Auburn 24
While the preseason media polls have predicted a rematch of last season’s epic SEC title game between Alabama and Georgia, the Bulldogs will have a tougher time making it back to the Georgia Dome for the third consecutive season.
Meanwhile, Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks, who have beaten the Bulldogs in each of the last three seasons, may have the easiest path out of the East.
The Gamecocks are coming off consecutive 11-2 seasons, and Spurrier may have his best club since taking over in Columbia.
The offense should be balanced, but Spurrier will have to find a replacement for star running back Marcus Lattimore, who declared early for the NFL draft.
The defense, led by all-everything defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, should once again be one of the nation’s elite units.
While these teams have similar styles of play, Alabama appears to have a little more firepower and more experience in games with a championship on the line.
That slight edge should be enough for the Tide to clinch a berth in its third consecutive national championship game.
Alabama 28, South Carolina 23
Assuming Alabama enters the BCS title game, there are plenty of worthy candidates who could emerge and try to prevent the Tide from earning a three-peat.
While Ohio State is a trendy pick to make it to Pasadena for the BCS title game, David Shaw’s Stanford club played in the Rose Bowl last season, and they are looking to make a repeat trip with a chance to play for the sport’s biggest prize.
The Cardinal’s 35-5 record over the last three seasons is identical to what Alabama has done in the same time span.
With 16 returning starters, including quarterback Kevin Hogan, Stanford is ready to take the next step and become an elite program.
The Cardinal play a physical and disciplined brand of football, which in some ways mirrors the makeup of the Crimson Tide. Stanford may not have as much depth as Alabama, but it has proven that it can beat speedy and athletic clubs in recent years.
However, Saban and the Tide have been unstoppable in national title games. With a third consecutive crystal football in its sights, Alabama will be prepared for whatever challenges stand between them and making history.
Alabama 34, Stanford 21