The Bye Week Gauntlet: A Look at Alabama's Final Six SEC Opponents
"We want to be a team that nobody wants to play. Clearly, to me, that comes from how physical you are, how tough you are, the kind of effort and intensity you play with as well as your ability to execute. And that's certainly something that we want to continue to create as an identity." ---Coach Nick Saban
From 2007 through 2010 Alabama will have faced 16 SEC teams that were coming off of a bye week. When the 2010 season comes to a close the Crimson Tide will have played three times as many SEC teams coming off an idle week than any other SEC team in the same 4 year period. The last 6 of the 8 SEC teams on Alabama's 2010 schedule will be idle the week before playing the Crimson Tide.
The importance of the bye week is best illustrated by Gene Chizik. Discussing Auburn's bye week before the 2009 Iron Bowl, Coach Chizik said, “It was big. I think that not just physically, as I have said even earlier in the week, I think mentally, just mentally for our guys just being able to walk away for a couple days and then come back and refocus. I just think that’s a big part of rejuvenating yourself. I think it came at a time when we needed it.”
Lets take a look at the teams that are taking their bye week before facing Bama this year:
10/09 @ South Carolina Gamecocks
Expect the Ole Ball Coach to be gunning for Bama this season. After Spurrier accused Alabama kicker Leigh Tiffin of using tape to mark his kicks, an NCAA no-no that few teams and officials pay attention to, Coach Saban made light of it, thanking Spurrier for helping Alabama avoid a 5 yard penalty in the future. The 20-6 loss and Saban's response to his accusations will be a motivational factor in this season's game.
With the Gamecocks playing 2, maybe 3 quarterbacks in the 2010 season, plus the addition of Marcus Lattimore, look for a Spurrier team that will more closely resemble the 1997 fun and gun Gators that upset the previously undefeated Seminoles who were on their way to play in the national title game. Alabama will have the benefit of film from USC's game against Auburn but I doubt Spurrier will show all of his cards in Jordan Hare.
This has the potential to be Alabama's toughest game against bye week opponents.
10/16 vs. Ole Miss Rebels
2009 found the Rebels in uncharted territory. Ranked preseason #8 following an impressive come from behind win against Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl, and relying heavily on Jevon Snead's experience, Ole Miss quickly climbed to #4 three games into the season. Unable to play up to their ranking the Rebs found themselves falling fast after losses to South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn.
With the absence of Dexter McCluster Ole Miss will have to rely on Brandon Bolden to pave the way on the ground. The Rebels offense, lacking quality wide receivers, have not fared well against Ole Miss' defense in the first two scrimmages in spring practice..
A bye week before coming to Alabama probably won't be enough to help the Rebs pull off the upset.
10/23 @ Tennessee Volunteers
The Rocky Block game was the first of Alabama's two close calls in the 2009 season. Monte Kiffin's defense kept Alabama out of the end zone and made them rely on Leigh Tiffin's toe to win the game 12-10. And that was in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
2010 finds Alabama travelling to Neyland Stadium, one of the most hostile inviroments in the SEC. But the 2010 Vols barely resembles the Vols of 2009. Tennessee would have been better this season had Lane Kiffin and staff stayed. With a new coaching staff that has been dealing with mass defections, including Sr. quarterback Nick Stephens, and missing key players from the 2009 season, Tennessee has an uphill climb in the SEC.
Derek Dooley, a Saban disciple, will need a few years to get the Volunteers back in the thick of things in the SEC East.
11/06 @ LSU Tigers
This game is as much about Nick Saban vs. Les Miles as it is Alabama vs. LSU. The rivalry, often overshadowed by Alabama's rivalries with Auburn and Tennessee, increased tenfold when the Crimson Tide hired Nick Saban as head coach.
Les Miles and his staff are feeling the pressure to get the Tigers back in contention, not only in the SEC but nationally as well. Last year's starting quarterback, Jordan Jefferson, has struggled this spring. He was 7-20 with 1 interception for the white team and completed only 1 of 3 for the purple in the Tigers' spring game. Jarrett "Pick 6" Lee may be the LSU starting QB again come August. Red-shirt freshman running-back Michael Ford hopes to improve the Tiger's running game this year but LSU's OL will need to show vast improvement before that can happen.
Alabama also enjoys a bye week before heading to Tiger Stadium.
11/13 vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs
What can be said about the Bulldog's 5-7 (3-5 SEC) 2009 record? Just that the NCAA rated MSU's 2009 schedule the toughest in the country and the 2nd toughest in the last 10 years. Expect to see improvement in Dan Mullen's second year as head coach.
Gone are Tyson Lee and Anthony Dixon. Coach Mullen will probably split quarterback duties between last year's Egg Bowl hero Chris Relf and 6' 4" red-shirt freshman Tyler Russell, one of Mississippi State's biggest recruits in recent Bulldog memory. MSU also returns the 2009 offensive line and wide receiver Chad Bumphis.
There are questions on defense so expect the offense with a running-back committee to be MSU's strength.
11/20 vs. Auburn Tigers
Once again the Auburn Tigers will play 11 straight games before their bye week leading up to the Iron Bowl. Last year's gamble with the bye week almost paid off as the Tigers jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Alabama then outscored Auburn 26-7 in the remaining 3 quarters giving them 26-21 victory in Jordan Hare Stadium.
This season Auburn travels to Bryant-Denny, where 2 years ago they were soundly defeated 36-0. This will be Coach Chizik's first visit to Tuscaloosa as head coach as well as most of his team. Look for juco transfer Cam Newton and veteran running-backs Mario Fannin and Onetrio McCalebb to lead the offense. Michael Dyer will also get some looks but expect the veteran RBs to get most of the carries behind an impressive front line.
If the Tigers can't improve on the defensive side of the ball they will have a long day ahead of them at Bryant-Denny. Keeping their players healthy through 11 games will be key if Auburn is to have a chance to pull the upset.
The second half of Alabama's season will be tough. The bye week before the LSU game, and playing Georgia State before the Auburn game could help them go 6-0 in the home stretch. The team is focused and know what they're up against, but the toughest games on the bye week schedule are all on the road. If Bama is able to finish the regular season undefeated after running this gauntlet then this team will be one for the record books.
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