There is no such thing as an easy conference schedule when it comes to the SEC, but the Tide has it easier than some. The biggest reason it is easier is because they don't have to play the dreaded Gators, unless they meet in the SEC championship.
Although they do get lucky enough to not play Florida, they do pick up South Carolina this year, who is a Jekyll-and-Hyde team and never know if the dominating defensive team is going to show up or the team that is going to get blown out and turn the ball over five or six times.
Since I have already previewed the non-conference schedule for Alabama, it is time to look over the conference side of the schedule.
The only thing that the Razorbacks have going for them this season is that the offense looked great in the spring. Arkansas averaged 31 points a game last year and should do better then that this year now that they have had a year, and spring practices, to learn more of Petrino's system.
Michael Smith led the team and was one of the leading rushers in the SEC last year and wound up putting up some decent numbers against a good Alabama rushing defense a year ago. The bad news for Arkansas is that they are having to break in a new quarterback, so they may have to lean too heavily on the run too really stay in this game.
With most of the Alabama defense returning, including one of the best run stoppers in the nation in "Mount Cody", I don't see them allowing the Razorbacks over 100 yards on the ground. That mixed with their cornerbacks and different cover schemes should be able to lock down the wide receivers and not allow many passing yards.
The Alabama offense probably won't put up another 49 point performance but should be able to still do what they want against an Arkansas defense that was one of the worst in the nation. The only thing that they can hope for is that a year really does make a difference . They return 9 starters including all of the defensive line and linebackers so the potential is there. The only reason that this game should be close is if Alabama's offensive line hasn't meshed yet and Arkansas' defense is improved from a year ago.
One might be true, but I don't see Alabama's offensive line not gelling enough to at least impose their way. The wide receivers should help gain some extra chunks of yards and set up the long ball, which McElroy is better at then some people are giving him credit for.
Like I said, I think that Arkansas should be an improved team, but I don't think that they will be improved enough to beat Alabama, or most of the teams on their brutal schedule for that matter. I am thinking a 35-10 kind of score for this matchup.
After facing Arkansas, Alabama goes on the road to face a Kentucky team that gave them a scare last year. It took a touchdown in the last two minutes of the game and a kickoff recovery to seal the game.
Although you can never underestimate an opponent in any game, I don't think that it will take that much this year.
The Kentucky offense should see about the same numbers as last year, which weren't all that bad, but not the best in the nation. Alabama is playing them a week after they play the defending national champs, so they could be demoralized like they were last year after playing Florida. They do, however, have Randall Cobb returning at wide receiver to help jump start this offense that kept them in most of their games, but just wasn't enough to get the "W" when it mattered.
Hopefully for the Wildcats Mike Hartline will get better with a year under his belt as a starter in the SEC. He showed signs of great potential against Georgia and Vanbderbilt, but choked against teams like Alabama and Florida. They didn't have enough fire power last year to score more than 14 points against the Tide and I don't think that that will change this year.
The defense is a different story for Kentucky. They had a great game against Alabama and kept them to 17 points. The bad news is that they only have five starters returning including only one linebacker and one corner back.
They will have a tough time guarding Alabama's physical wide receivers and stopping their tough ground attack. Alabama will grind the ball down their throats and then pass it to their wide receivers and let them out play the UK defenders.
This game won't be a three-point game like last year.
Much like the outcome of the Arkansas game, I don't think that Kentucky can stay with Alabama now that they have a more talented, and more depth, team. I am thinking a 30-10 score.
This game could very well decide the SEC West. Either Ole Miss is going to be the real deal and possibly contend for a national championship, or they are going to be underachievers and finish third at best in the West.
The offense is going to be the first team of the season that is going to really test the Alabama defense. Jevan Snead is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, but this is going to be the best defense that he is going to face up to this point in the season. The good news for the Crimson Tide defense is that the Rebels are going to have to replace a great offensive lineman on the left side of the ball.
That mixed with the fact that they are a little thinned out at the line position should be a big part of this game, trust me on that fact because Alabama hasn't had the depth that they do this year in a long time. Alabama's hefties on the defensive line could tire the lineman out in the second half of this ball game and put some serious pressure on Snead to disrupt the Rebels game plans.
McCluster will need to have a great game for Ole Miss to win this game, but he has proven in the past that he can't hold onto the ball with consistancy and doesn't have the size to have the upper hand against the Alabama defenders.
This will be the first conference game that the Tide offense will have to prove that they are for real.
The Rebels are returning eight starters to a defense that was fourth in the nation against the run and 20th against the pass. Greg Hardy and Kendrick Lewis look to make things extremely hard on McElroy and the offensive line of Alabama. They shut down the Tide in the second half of last years game and could give them fits this year. Alabama will have to rely on the passing game to win this one.
As of now Ole Miss' starting corners are 5' and 5'9" where as Alabama's potential starting wide receivers are 6'5" or taller. That is a huge advantage for the Tide if they can give McElroy a few seconds to get rid of the ball. If they can, the run game will fall into place and they should take care of the Rebels.
McElroy is a much better quarterback then critics give him credit for and if the line can give him a few moments, which I believe they will, I think that Alabama narrowly escapes with a much needed victory. Much like last year I think that Alabama wins it 17-13.
South Carolina is another one of those "wishy washy" teams. The biggest problem is that Spurrier doesn't have his gun-slinging quarterback that he always had the luxury of having down at the swamp. There might not be too much to preview about this game.
Stephen Garcia was suppose to bring back the winning way for Steve Spurrier, but Garcia mustered up only six touchdowns while throwing 8 INTs. This and the fact that South Carolina only has five starters returning on the offensive side of the ball should be a nightmare for the Gamecocks in this game.
Alabama's defense is too good for Garcia to turn the ball over multiple times and not have a good outing. Another point of concern for South Carolina is the fact that they will probably need freshman Jarvis Giles to come in and lead the way for the rushing attack that hasn't seen much productivity due to a faltering offensive line. The line shouldn't be able to hold off the pressure from Alabama's front four and the linebackers should be able to confuse Garcia into making a few, if not more, bad throws.
Alabama's offense might be able to impose their will just like their defense.
South Carolina only returns six defenders and none of them are their corner backs. They will have two freshman and a sophomore starting in the secondary to try and stop the air attack. Alabama is always a run first team and the Gamecocks gave up more than 132 yards a contest last year so this game could get out of hand quick if they can't stop Ingram, Richardson and company. Julio Jones will have a good game if, for some reason, the stable of running backs can't get the job done.
Overall, South Carolina doesn't have the experience or the talent to stay in this game. They are having to go to a hostile environment and play a team that is hungry to prove that they can take care of every game and not look ahead to an improved Tennessee team.
Don't expect to have a blowout in this game. Tennessee may be starting Crompton, but the coaching change may be just what the doctor ordered. The Vols are steaming about the last 2 years and want revenge, which is what this series is all about.
Jonathan Crompton may not be the best quarterback that Tennessee fans could hope for, but as of right now they don't have too many other options. The best that fans can hope for is that the "Lane Train" can turn his fortunes around and turn him into a top passer, because after all, he was a five star recruit coming out of high school. The other good thing, hopefully for fans, is that the whole offensive line, minus the RT position, is back.
The bad news is that Hardesty hasn't been able to prove if he is the rusher that he has shown glimpses of being. If not we may get to see what David Oku can do against a top rated defense. I don't think that the UT offense is going to be good enough to get things done against an experienced defense like the Tide is going to show them, at least this year. Alabama's defensive unit dominated the Vols last year and should again this year. Don't look for this to be a high scoring game anyway.
This will be the toughest defense that Alabama faces all year, and that includes Va. Tech and LSU, unless they play Florida in the SEC championship. Eric Berry is enough to drive offensive coordinators crazy, but Rico McCoy, Dan Williams and Wes Brown complete this scary defense that was third in the nation last year as a unit.
They should be able to get to McElroy and disrupt the flow of the Alabama offense. Julio Jones and the other incoming wide receivers are going to have to take the offense on their backs if they are going to have a chance at moving the ball in this defensive battle.
Alabama should win this game, but Tennessee is going to be a much improved team. Lane Kiffin is already renewing all of UT's rivalries and this rivalry is officially back. Alabama 14-6.
This game will have a significant meaning if LSU can make it through the gauntlet they have in the middle of their schedule. They play Georgia, Florida, and Auburn before playing the Tide. Doesn't get much worse than that.
LSU is going to, if you can imagine it, better than last year. Thanks to a big victory over Georgia Tech in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl game, they found a quarterback that they can count on to not throw five INT's in one game.
Jordan Jefferson is a Jamarcus Russell-like quarterback that should fit into Les Miles' offensive scheme better than Jarrett Lee did last year. Of course, it isn't too hard when you have guys like Charles Scott and Brandon Lafell as your supporting cast. Scott ran all over the Tide defense last year. Although, in Alabama's defense, it was Cody's first game back and he wasn't 100 percent, but nontheless they still had their way against 'Bama.
They probably still will get their rushing yards, but with two new starters in the middle of the offensive line Cody should be able to get thru to Jefferson and make him nervous while the linebacker crew wreaks havoc in the middle of the field.
Alabama's offense might have the upper hand seeing as how they have a week off to take a look at LSU's defense. Until this defense can prove itself to be improved, I will give them no respect. They were torched last year in several games, not that the offenses they were facing weren't good, but LSU defenses don't normally give up 50+ points let alone twice.
LSU also has a brand new defensive line, except for Charles Alexander, that they are going to have to break in. So unless they step up and can smother the running game and put pressure on McElroy, which is always the key, Alabama may put up more points than last years meeting.
LSU always has the talent to contend in the SEC and with a new defensive coordinator in Chavis, I don't see how they could be as bad as they were last season, but they may have to wait a year for the schemes to sink in. I take Alabama, in regulation this time, 28-17.
Wow. Mississippi State. What can I say? They are picked to finish last in the West and might not win an SEC game if they can't replenish their defense. Let's try not to be too bias on this pick.
The best thing that State has going for them is a running back by the name of Anthony Dixon. He rushed for almost 900 yards and seven touchdowns last year on a mediocre, at best, team. MSU does have three of the five starters returning on the o-line, but still have only six total starters returning on offense. They only managed seven points against Alabama's defense last year and I don't think that they will get much more this time.
Like I have been saying all along, Alabama has a lot more talented depth this year and should stop State all night even with the second string defenders.
Alabama's offense might have as easy a time as the defense should. MSU returns only five starters on this side of the ball and gave up 32 points to Bama last year. The more physical style of the Alabama offense looks to be too much for the Bulldogs to handle.
McElroy will probably get many chances to throw the ball and show what he can do against this inexperienced defensive team.
With the Bulldogs losing so many starting players on both sides of the ball and a new coaching staff, don't look for them to have a good season for at least a couple of years when the coaching staff has the players that best fit their style. Alabama should win easily 37-9.
Anything is better than last season right? Not so fast, as Lee Corso would say. If Tommy Tuberville couldn't do better than 5-7, including a 36-0 finale against his most hated rival, what makes fans think that Chizik can turn them around?
Kodi Burns looks to be the starting quarterback, as of now, at Auburn and should be seeing as how he is the only one with any experience on the roster. The problem is that he hasn't shown me any reason why he was recruited by Tuberville in the first place. I saw him choke in the final seconds against Georgia's horrible defense last year and look like he had no clue what was happening against Mississippi State and Alabama.
The run game was also almost non-existent with Ben Tate only managing a little over 600 yards on the ground. If they can't improve either of those positions, they are in for another 5-7, if they are lucky, and another beat down by Alabama because the Tide are looking to start a streak of their own against their in-state rivals.
Auburn is another team that reloads on the defensive side of the ball. This is the only reason they stay close in most of their games.
They return seven starters to an OK defense who still allowed over 130 yards on the ground and almost 200 thru the air a game last season. A year can make a difference for a team, but if their offense can't keep the "D" on the sidelines the same thing is going to happen this time around. Alabama circles this game every year so I don't think that they won't show up, but they better be on their guard even if Auburn has a down year again.
They will have the score posted in their locker rooms from a year ago and will be ready to try and upset the Crimson Tide. Once again, though, i think that the Auburn offense will be their Achilles heel. I don't believe that the players that Chizik needs are there and the ones that are there will have to learn a whole new style of play.
Once again it comes down to another school having to break in another new coach in the best league in the country and it will take a couple of years to get Auburn back to contending in the SEC. Alabama 24-13.
If you are reading this and thinking that it is just another fan who is bias and is dreaming, think again. Alabama was a surprise team last year and only will be better with the recruits and new quarterback this year.
With Coffee gone, Ingram and Richardson will more than likely get most of the snaps. Mix in Roy Upchurch and a rejuvenated Terry Grant and you have a stable of running backs that could more than likely start anywhere else they went. The offensive line will be fine, even with the departure of Smith, and they will be able to run the ball as well as protect McElroy, who in my opinion is a better all around quarterback then Parker Wilson.
The defense will once again be the strtength of this Alabama team. With nine starters returning to a top five defense in the nation last year, there will be no need to worry if you are a Tide fan. They only got better too adding talented depth to the roster which will help them tremendously if they do make it to Atlanta to play the Florida Gators, which I do believe will happen.
Call it whatever you want to, but I am picking Alabama to beat Florida in the SEC championship 30-24 and then Texas in the national championship 35-21. Like I said, if you thought last years team was good just wait till this season kicks off.