What Is Biggest Tide Game In 2011?

Former Alabama Football Coach Gene Stallings has a commonsense outlook, including his pragmatic philosophy on "big games." Stallings said, "They're all big. If you don't think so, just try losing one and you'll see how big it was."

Fortunately for Alabama, Stallings won most of his games, big and otherwise, which is the primary reason he is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

The definition of a "big game" beyond the Stallings concept is ordinarily one that has substantial reward for winning and penalty in event of loss. Some are obvious – championship games and rivalry games, for instance.

A team like Alabama has more big games than most teams because the Crimson Tide is likely to be in the thick of a championship race. The recommended way to win a championship is to win all games.

Bama is also the hunted by opponents. As Tide Coach Nick Saban points out, Alabama always has a target on its back.

While Alabama has the coaches and players to make Bama more likely to win each Saturday, the Crimson Tide also faces opponents who can make the season with a win over Alabama. Thus, each year the Tide has a schedule of dangerous games.

It was easy to pick out the big danger of 2010. Alabama would be going to South Carolina after back-to-back Southeastern Conference games against Arkansas on the road and Florida in Tuscaloosa. The win at Arkansas was by the hardest. And although Bama romped over Florida, it was an emotional game because it matched the two most recent SEC and national championship schools. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks were waiting after having enjoyed an open date (as most of the 2010 SEC opponents did before playing Bama).

When Bama went to South Carolina with a 19-game winning streak, it was understandable that it was regarded as the biggest game in Gamecocks history. It wasn't the biggest game in Alabama history by a long shot, and Bama played an uninspired game. Think it wasn't a big game now? Final score South Carolina 35, Alabama 21, and the season in which Bama hoped for back-to-back national championships was essentially over.

Going into 2011, what will be the biggest and/or most dangerous game for Alabama? First of all, both Stallings (lose it and see how big) and Saban (Alabama has a target on its back every game) are both correct, so there are many possibilities. But just for starters, we'll eliminate three non-conference games – Kent State, North Texas, and Georgia Southern. We'll also eliminate two teams expected to finish last in their divisions in SEC play, Ole Miss in the West and Vanderbilt in the East.

Also just to get started, we shall point out that Bama does not play the two teams most often selected to win the SEC East, defending champion South Carolina and Georgia.

That leaves us with Penn State, a non-conference road game the second week of the season, and SEC games against Arkansas, LSU, and Tennessee in Tuscaloosa, and Florida, Auburn, and Mississippi State on the road. A case can be made for six of the seven. Throw out Tennessee, which is on the right road, but isn't close to being there yet.

Penn State in State College on September 10 is big because it matches college football blueblood programs and includes legendary Nittany Lions Coach Joe Paterno, likely in his last game against the Tide, facing Bama's Saban, who continues to add to his legend. Alabama won last year, 24-3, in a game that wasn't that close. The Tide is not likely to overlook the Lions.

Alabama plays the teams predicted by most to finish (with Alabama) among the top teams in the SEC West, LSU and Arkansas, in Tuscaloosa. Alabama and Arkansas play early in the season, and the game has been considered a barometer of what kind of season the Crimson Tide is going to have. Beat the Razorbacks and have a pretty good year, but lose to the Hogs and not much good happens. It appears to be a function of what kinds of teams are playing rather than determining the season.

Nationally, the Alabama-LSU game in Tuscaloosa on November 5 shapes up as a game for not just the SEC Western Division title and a chance at the SEC crown, but also as a game between potential national championship contenders. Both teams have an open date before that contest. There is also interest in the game by some because Saban once coached at LSU, resurrecting the Bengal Tigers to a national championship...as he has done at Alabama.

That brings up the Alabama game in which the opponent has some advantages. Following the LSU game, Bama will go to Mississippi State. Dan Mullen has done a good job of building the Bulldogs and State will have had a tune-up against Tennessee-Martin before hosting the Crimson Tide.

The case can be made that Alabama's biggest game every year is against Auburn, the in-state rival. In the contest of in-state interest, that is true, and this year the game is in Auburn on Saturday, November 26. Neither team has an open date before the game, but both play patsies the week before. Although the best team usually wins the game, and by the final game of regular season play the best team may have been delineated clearly, the game still should be hotly contested. And there is not going to be a situation in which a team is not ready to play.

Alabama goes to Florida on October 1. The Crimson Tide has smacked the Gators pretty hard in the last two meetings, the 2009 SEC Championship Game (32-13) and last fall in Tuscaloosa (31-6). There is a new head coach in Gainesville, Saban protege Will Muschamp. Results of the two recent games notwithstanding, Florida has outstanding players and coaches and will be highly-motivated to end the losing streak to the Crimson Tide.

The biggest Bama game in 2011?

We may not know until late in the season.

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