Bama’s Schedule Not Tough Just On Road

I enjoy speaking to Red Elephant Clubs, Quarterback Clubs, Touchdown Clubs and the like, in part because of the question and answer period in which I find out things Alabama fans are thinking about. Such was the case this week when I addressed the Baldwin County Red Elephant Club in Fairhope. Someone wanted to know about the quarterback situation.

Just kidding. To be sure, the Alabama quarterback battle was addressed, but the question was not one I had anticipated I answered the question because there was no wrong answer, but on my return trip to Tuscaloosa the question (and possible answer) was on my mind.

The question:

“What do you think will be Alabama’s toughest home game this year?”

Now, Alabama has been judged by some to have the nation’s toughest schedule. The Associated Press pre-season poll came out earlier this week. Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide was ranked third. But the big news was that seven Bama foes were ranked in the top 25 and two more were just outside at 26 and 27. So nine of 12 Alabama opponents received support as a strong team.

It starts, of course, with Alabama being a member of the nation’s toughest division in the nation’s strongest conference. Being in the Southeastern Conference Western Division means six difficult games for every West team. It was Bama’s bad luck this year to draw the two teams from the SEC East that are considered the most likely to win that side of the league, Georgia and Tennessee.

When most think of the difficulty of the Alabama schedule, the first consideration probably is concerned with the road opponents. It starts Saturday in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, when Bama opens the 2015 season against Wisconsin. The Badgers are 20th in the preseason AP poll. Later in the year the Tide will play at Georgia (ninth), at Texas A&M (27th), at Mississippi State (26), and at Auburn (sixth).

But the question wanted to know my opinion as to which game in Bryant-Denny Stadium would provide the greatest challenge.

Needless to say I did not consider the three cupcakes Alabama has bought -- and subsequently sold to its captive fans: Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana-Monroe, Charleston Southern.

To spare any more suspense, in my preseason SEC prediction, I had LSU second to Alabama in the West, so I stuck to my conviction and answered that I thought the Fighting Tigers (preseason 14th) would be the Tide’s toughest home game. That matchup, on Nov. 7, is the one I believe will determine the SEC Western Division champion.

Last year it took a miracle drive to a tying field goal in the final seconds of the game at Baton Rouge, and then an overtime touchdown pass from Blake Sims to DeAndrew White to win it, 20-13.

I don’t think LSU improved itself by losing John Chavis as defensive coordinator and adding Kevin Steele from Alabama’s coaching staff as the coordinator, but I do think the Tigers have excellent athletes.

Alabama has an athletics department slogan regarding all sports: “Built By Bama.” Think of LSU football as Built Like Bama. Excellent defense, tough running game, great competitors. And LSU has the unusual history of seeming to play the Tide better in Tuscaloosa than in Louisiana.

Still, the question nagged at me for much of the next day. Consider the other three SEC home games:

Last year Ole Miss (preseason 17th) defeated Alabama in Oxford, 23-17; Arkansas (18th) had the Crimson Tide on the ropes in Fayetteville before Landon Collins’ interception preserved a 14-13 Bama win; and Tennessee (25th) put a scare into the Tide before Alabama got out of Knoxville with a 34-20 win.

In recent years Mississippi recruiting has looked suspiciously like Auburn recruiting, meaning, “How do they get such good players to go there?” Robert Nkemdiche from Georgia, Laremy Tunsil from Florida, Laquon Tradwell from Illinois?

Arkansas has gotten bigger and stronger and better under Coach Bret Bielema, and the Razorbacks return a serviceable quarterback in Brandon Allen. Losing tailback Jonathan Williams to a foot injury, though, is going to be hard to replace.

Butch Jones looks like one of the best head coaches in the SEC at Tennessee, and in his third season the Vols are hoping for something better than a minor bowl game. Joshua Dobbs started to become a quarterback of note in last year’s game against Alabama, but the Vols have too many holes and not enough depth yet before they are back to their accustomed role as the SEC’s second best program.

By the way, the first installment of our Almost Perfect Picks will be coming to you late next week.

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