The state of Alabama will be on national display this weekend as #1 Alabama and #14 Auburn square off against Top 15 SEC opponents.
Both teams are undefeated and full of optimism, but there are still burning questions that need to be answered before we really know what these teams are made of.
With that in mind here are the 5 biggest questions both team will have to answer this weekend.
#15 South Carolina Vs #14 Auburn
1. Can the Defense and Offense play a complete game to potential against the same opponent?
To date we have seen the Auburn Offense and Defense play championship football, but not at the same time or in the same half for that matter. If the Tigers expect to compete for the SEC Championship and maybe more both units will have to compete consistently and together. There are very few freebies left on Auburn's schedule and The Gamecocks (at least for now) are for real.
2. Who is the real Cam Newton?
Is Cam Newton the Quarterback who can hit receivers down field and buy time with his feet while scrambling for 30 yards when no one is open? Or is he the Quarterback who locks in on receivers, throws interceptions more consistently than deep balls, and his only real threat is running the ball? The answer at least to this point is unknown to anybody including Cam Newton.
3. Is Gus Malzhan a one trick pony?
When my mother is predicting the Auburn play calling trouble is on the horizon. Last year Auburn's offense was dangerous because it was unpredictable and could score from any position on the field. This year it is end arounds, throw it long for an incompletion or interception, run off the option read, throw it to Adams, and let Cam scramble. If this is the just of the Auburn offense Defensive coordinators in this league will have Malzhan's number and soon.
4. Does Auburn have more than one receiver?
Darvin Adams is a fully grown man and maybe the best receiver the nation does not know about, but every Defensive Coordinator in the conference knows his number, height, weight, and 40 times. If Auburn is going to have a real passing game it must have more than one option to throw too.
5. Is the offensive line going to answer the bell?
With one man gone for the season is the group that was supposed to be the biggest strength on this team ever going to play to potential now? So far the Auburn offensive line has looked spotty at best. They have not allowed many sacks (primarily because of Newton) and have opened some nice holes in the running game. On the other hand they have looked horrible against any pass rush and have consistently missed blocks leading to tackles for loss in the running game. This is a problem that will cost Auburn heavily in the near future.
#1 Alabama Vs #10 Arkansas
1. Can the secondary survive an all out attack from a real passing game?
There is no doubt that the Alabama secondary is talented, but how mentally sound are they in the complex systems of Nick Saban and Kirby Smart? So far the Tide is near the top in pass defense but who has really challenged them. San Jose St is well San Jose St. Penn St had a true freshman in the fires of Bryant-Denny, and well Duke is a fine academic institution. This weekend however this unit will go against one of the better QB's in college football and one of the most talented receiving corps in college football. This will test will truly tell how far a long this unit is.
2. Does Alabama have a pass rush?
There are certainly mitigating circumstances as to why Alabama is 115th in sacks this year, but that still does not excuse the fact that this team has two sacks in three games. With questions a plenty in the secondary an effective pass rush is a must if the Tide hopes to win another BCS Title. The return of Dareus will improve this area but this is a glaring question mark heading into this weeks game.
3. How will a young defense perform in a hostile environment?
For those of you are going to say this unit already preformed on the road need I remind the confines at Wallace Wade stadium where about as hostile as senior center canasta game. Arkansas may not be one of the most hostile environments in college football but it will surely affect the mindset of the young men playing in primetime for the first time outside of Alabama.
4. How will the Special Teams perform when the game is in question?
So far so good for the Crimson Tide's freshman punter, long snapper, holder, and place kicker, but how will they fair when the points actually matter. What will Mandel do when he is pinned in his own end zone having punt in tied ball game late in the fourth quarter? How will Foster respond when called on to kick a 45 yard field goal with three seconds left down by two? Now these questions may not come into play but it is far more likely that from now on what the specialists do will affect the outcome of the game.
5. Can Alabama stop the run against a good running team?
I know that this question will not be answered this weekend but it will become a factor and soon. The absence of Mt. Cody is being felt in more than just stat column. Alabama almost had a streak of 35 games without allowing a 100 yard rusher come to an end against Duke! That streak will end soon if Alabama does not get it together in the front seven and fast.
One question for both teams will be answered this weekend as well "Will the Iron Bowl decide the west?” That is a question that will only receive a partial answer but one that will have the State of Alabama on the edge of it's seats at least for one more week.