Backup RB Eddie Lacy takes it to the house against Michigan State
The future looks bright for Alabama football. There are some losses that the Crimson Tide will definitely feel in 2011, but promising young players like Demetrius Hart, Jesse Williams and Aaron Douglas hope to ease the pain at key positions.
Alabama is ready to take another shot at the national title after winning 10 games in 2010. One factor that affected Alabama was their grueling schedule, a factor that has been the downfall of many good SEC teams.
While 'Bama's lineup of games this season will be a bit more forgiving, that's not saying much at all. The Tide will travel to several contests including Penn State, Auburn and a trip to the Swamp in Gainesville to face the Florida Gators.
Here's a game-by-game breakdown of Alabama's 2011 schedule.
When: September 3
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Opponent's 2010 record: 5-7
Alabama will work out the kinks against MAC opponent Kent State. Look for Nick Saban to give snaps to both A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims, regardless of who wins the starting job. It is worth noting, however, that Kent State gave Miami a tough fight last year, losing 21-27.
Another important thing to watch is who steps up on the offensive line. Aaron Douglas and the Kouandjio brothers, Arie and Cyrus, among others, hope to fill some vacancies on the O-line.
Player to watch: nose tackle Jesse Williams. If the big man from Australia lives up to his potential, he'll be a star nose tackle for 'Bama and start things out with a bang against KSU.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Kent State 10
When: September 10
Where: State College, PA
Opponent's 2010 record: 7-6
There is no doubt Penn State is talented, so don't let 'Bama's 24-3 win at home last year fool you. This time around the Crimson Tide will have to travel into hostile territory to face the Nittany Lions on the road. Expect a hard-fought game with plenty of hard hits. However, I think 'Bama pulls away in the second half for the win.
Player to watch: A.J. McCarron/Phillip Sims. This one is quite obvious. A.J. McCarron is favored to beat Phillip Sims for the starting spot, so it will most likely be A.J. who will face his first real road test against PSU.
Prediction: Alabama 28, Penn State 17
When: September 17
Opponent's 2010 record: 3-9
Alabama is expected to cruise past North Texas in preparation for the SEC opener against Arkansas. In 2009, the Crimson Tide beat the Mean Green 53-7. Don't expect much to change.
This game does have significance, though, because it is Nick Saban's final chance to tune up the team before the slate of difficult SEC games begins.
Player to Watch: Eddie Lacy. Lacy looks ready to step into the spotlight and get a good number of carries in 2011. This game provides a nice opportunity for him to show what he can do. It is also worthy to note 5-star RB recruit Demetrius Hart will be joining the team and might push Lacy for playing time.
Prediction: Alabama 55, North Texas 10
When: September 24
Opponent's 2010 record: 10-3
The Arkansas Razorbacks had a solid 10-win season in 2010 that ended in a 31-26 Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State. Now, coach Bobby Petrino faces several question marks on his team that threaten Arkansas' ability to follow up on last year's success.
Offensive line and tight end are two positions that lost star players, but the loss that stung the most was quarterback Ryan Mallett. Nick Saban will try to test Arkansas' new quarterback, probably Tyler Wilson, with plenty of blitz packages.
The past few Arkansas-Alabama games have all been great contests, and I don't expect a change in the trend this time around.
Player to Watch: C.J. Mosley. The linebacker showed flashes of excellence in his first season and is ready to come into his own as a starting linebacker. Mosley is a player to watch all season long.
Prediction: Home-field advantage helps propel Alabama to a 26-20 victory.
When: October 1
Where: "The Swamp," Gainesville, FL
Alabama and Florida have a promising rivalry going on at the moment. In 2008, the two teams met in an epic clash which Florida won due in large to do-it-all QB Tim Tebow. In 2009, 'Bama exacted revenge in route to the national championship. In 2010, Alabama dominated Florida at home.
Looking ahead to this year's matchup, it will be Florida that is thirsty for redemption after a mediocre season. The raucous crowd at Gainesville will fuel the Gators, who will give Alabama what I think will be the toughest game in the regular season.
Player to Watch: WR Marquis Maze. Without Julio Jones, Maze is the star receiver, and must step up and make big plays along with the other receivers at the inexperienced wide receiver position for 'Bama to win.
Prediction: My pick for Alabama's upset. Florida 30, Alabama 27
When: October 8
I almost feel sorry for Vanderbilt. While I have respect for the Commodores and realize that anything can happen in the SEC, I don't think Vandy has much of a chance. If Alabama does lose to Florida, chances are the Crimson Tide will release a lot of frustration on the Commodores.
Player to Watch: Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix. I think Ha'Sean will come in and receive solid playing time as a freshman. The hyped recruit from Florida is a player to watch.
Prediction: Alabama 42, Vanderbilt 17
When: October 15
Where: Oxford, Miss
The Ole Miss Rebels will be a dangerous team as long as Houston Nutt is their head coach, as demonstrated by their upset of Florida during Nutt's first year. The Rebs will be psyched and going for the upset at home, but I think they lack the firepower to get it done.
Player to Watch: Damion Square. Square is a dark-horse player to watch this spring and has the physical attributes to become a dominant force on the defensive line.
Prediction: Alabama 28, Ole Miss 17
When: October 22
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Derek Dooley and the Tennessee Volunteers will invade Tuscaloosa for the annual cross-border clash on the third Saturday in October. Dooley is trying to get the UT program back on its feet after two underachieving seasons, and has the necessary talent to do so with the likes of RB Tauren Poole.
Expect a great game near the standard's of 2009's last-second thriller. In the end, though, the Vols will likely be defeated.
Player to Watch: Brian Vogler. Some might be surprised to see Vogler here, but 'Bama lacked a reliable tight end all of last season, and I think Vogler just fits the bill for tight end in Saban's offense.
Prediction: Alabama 21, Tennessee 14
When: November 5
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium
The Bayou Bengals are among the most formidable opponents Alabama will face all year. Coach Les Miles' offenses have been subpar, but LSU's defense has developed a reputation for big plays and hard hits.
On the flip-side, 'Bama brings in an intimidating defense of its own and A.J. McCarron will have plenty of game experience by the time this game comes along. Unless LSU's offense sees major improvements this season, I foresee an Alabama victory.
Player to watch: Courtney Upshaw. When healthy, "Jack" linebacker Courtney Upshaw is a beast. 'Nuff said.
Prediction: Alabama 30, LSU 23
When: November 12
Where: Starkville, MS
The cowbells will definitely be ringing when the Crimson Tide pays the MSU Bulldogs a visit in November. Dan Mullen, MSU's coach, is a great game-planner and will make sure the 'Dogs are ready to go.
QB Chris Relf is a dangerous runner and could become one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC once he improves his passing skills. I think this one will stay close until the fourth quarter.
Player to watch: WR Darius Hanks. Hanks is a good deep threat and an underrated asset to 'Bama's offense. This year he will have the opportunity to step out from behind the shadow of Julio Jones and show everyone how good he can be.
Prediction: Alabama 34, MSU 27
When: November 19
I don't have much to say about this one, other than it won't be very pretty. Although he'd never admit it, Saban will probably have the team preparing for Auburn as well during this game week.
Player to watch: Ed Stinson. Stinson may actually end up a starter this season, and I think this edge-rusher will perform. Stinson and Upshaw may prove to be a lethal combination working from both edges.
Prediction: Alabama 48, Georgia Southern 0
When: November 26
Where: Auburn, AL
Statistics and logic have nothing on the Iron Bowl. It is arguably the nation's most intense rivalry, and it is very unpredictable.
This time around, things look pretty bleak for Auburn, which lost its entire offensive line, all-star Heisman winner Cam Newton, and Nick Fairley, a top defensive tackle, among others.
There is still hope for the Tigers, though, in the form of young stars like Onterio McCalebb. Last time Alabama played at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the game went down to the last few seconds when Greg McElroy hit Roy Upchurch in the end zone for the game-winning play.
AU offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is a genius and will keep AU in the game and get a legitimate shot at the win. In the end, I feel the more experienced and deep Alabama squad walks away with the victory, though.
Player to watch: Trent Richardson. RB Richardson is ready for a Heisman run and has a very bright future.
Prediction: Alabama 20, Auburn 14