Alabama's 42-14 blowout victory vs. Auburn last season was primarily because of its defense, which led the country in fewest points allowed per game, rushing defense, passing defense, total defense and pass-efficiency defense in 2011.
The Tigers were unable to move the ball effectively in last year's Iron Bowl, only having 140 total yards for the game and not scoring an offensive touchdown in last year's contest. Quarterback Clint Moseley completed 11-18 passes in the game, but gained just 62 yards.
Linebackers C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson are expected to be leaders in 2012. Mosley, a 6-2, 232-pound junior, played in 10 games last season, starting six in the nickel formation, and made six tackles against Auburn. The 6-3, 245-pound senior Johnson made two tackles for a loss last year vs. the Tigers.
Nico Johnson runs through a drill at practice.
With Damion Square and preseason All-SEC pick Jesse Williams returning as starters, the defensive front has the potential to make opposing teams' running games suffer after last season's defense only allowed 74.9 rushing yards a game.
Unlike in 2011, Alabama's offense has the potential of playing a larger role this season. Returning starting quarterback A.J. McCarron threw for three touchdowns and 184 yards on 18-23 passes against the Tigers last season on his way to helping the Crimson Tide win at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
McCarron won't have the same supporting cast this season, however. Running back Trent Richardson's decision to enter the NFL Draft after finishing last year with the sixth most rushing yards nationally opened the door for Eddie Lacy. Although playing limited snaps last season and missing spring practice due to turf toe surgery which has recently sidelined him, the junior running back is expected to play a major role in the offensive production with the help of four returning starting offensive linemen, including All-American Barrett Jones.
There will also be a new starting receiving corps for McCarron to target. Receivers Kenny Bell, Kevin Norwood and incoming freshman Christion Jones are expected to be featured in the offense after Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks finished their eligibility in Tuscaloosa. Three-year starting tight end Michael Williams is also returning as a threat through the air.
Eddie Lacy is expected to be Alabama's key contributor in its rushing attack.
As Coach Nick Saban enters his sixth year at Alabama with a 50-12 overall record coaching the Tide, his team will face a schedule that could be more challenging than recent ones starting with the opener vs. Michigan on Sept. 1st at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium in Arlington, Tex. In the SEC West the Tide has challenging road tests to Arkansas and preseason SEC favorite LSU. Alabama plays its rivalry game vs. Tennessee on the road and its regular season finale vs. Auburn in Tuscaloosa. The Tide plays both new SEC members with a home game vs. Texas A&M?and a road trip to Missouri.
Key Players to Replace: Running back Trent Richardson was named a Heisman Trophy finalist after he led the team last season with 1,679 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns on 283 carries. Richardson also caught 29 passes for 338 yards and three scores. Wide receiver Marquis Maze led the team in receptions (56) and yards (627) last year while adding a touchdown. He also returned 12 punts for 342 yards. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower was an All-American last season after leading the team in tackles (85) and recording 11 for a loss, four sacks and an interception. Defensive back Mark Barron finished his senior season with 68 tackles and five tackles for a loss. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw was named an All-American after leading the 2011 team in tackles for a loss (18) and sacks (9 1/2) while finishing third in tackles (52).
All-Star Candidates: Quarterback A.J. McCarron (219-328 passes, 2,634 yards, 16 TDs); Eddie Lacy (95 carries, 674 yards, 7 TDs); wide receiver Kenny Bell (17 receptions, 255 yards, 2 TDs); linebacker Nico Johnson (47 tackles, 6 1/2 TFL); defensive end Damion Square (32 tackles, 7 TFL); linebacker C.J. Mosley (36 tackles, 3 1/2 TFL, 2 sacks); defensive tackle Jesse Williams (22 tackles, 4 TFL)
Series Results: Alabama leads 41-34-1
Sept. 1--Michigan vs. Alabama (Arlington, Tex.)
Sept. 8--Western Kentucky at Alabama
Sept. 15--Alabama at Arkansas
Sept. 22--Florida Atlantic at Alabama
Sept. 29--Ole Miss at Alabama
Oct. 13--Alabama at Missouri
Oct. 20--Alabama at Tennessee
Oct. 27--Mississippi State at Alabama
Nov. 3--Alabama at LSU
Nov. 10--Texas A&M at Alabama
Nov. 17--Western Carolina at Alabama
Nov. 24--Auburn at Alabama
This season Nick Saban will attempt to get his team back to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2009.
Key Games for Alabama
Alabama at Arkansas--With interim coach John L. Smith having eight of Arkansas' offensive starters returning in 2012, including preseason All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson and other big-play threats, the Crimson Tide's defense will be tested early in the season. Defeating a senior-laden Arkansas team on the road could be a challenge even with Bobby Petrino no longer coaching the Razorbacks.
Alabama at LSU--Despite beating LSU in the 2012 National Championship Game, Alabama fell to the Tigers at home during the 2011 regular season. Traveling to Baton Rouge, where Saban is still hated after leaving to coach the Miami Dolphins, will should be a tough test in this SEC divisional rivalry game. Alabama's run defense will be tested by a strong and deep group of LSU backs who will be running by a veteran offensive line.
Worth Noting: Missouri is the only team in the SEC with a winning record against Alabama (2-1).
The Challenge For Auburn: Alabama has featured outstanding running backs in the past three years with Richardson and 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram carrying the football. While Lacy has potential running behind a veteran offensive line, the Auburn defense will try to make the Tide offense win the game through the air so how effectively Auburn's front seven performs will go a long way in determining a winner in this contest.