2013 Auburn Opponent Preview: Alabama

Our series of Auburn football opponent previews ends with a look at Alabama.

Although the Tide has to replace many key players from its 2012 team that lost just one game, there is no reason to expect a big drop in performance level during Coach Nick Saban's seventh season as head football coach at Alabama.

Featuring a veteran quarterback, proven performers to lead the defense and a schedule that is not as challenging as many SEC teams are facing, the Tide goes into the 2013 season as the favorite to defend its league championship.

A key player on offense is senior quarterback A.J. McCarron, a second team preseason All-SEC selection. As a junior he completed 211-314 passes for 2,933 yards and 30 touchdowns. Those are impressive numbers, but perhaps the most outstanding one was a 10-1 touchdown/interception ratio in 2012.

One of the strengths of the team should be the receiving corps led by sophomore Amari Cooper, who caught 59 passes last year for 1,000 yards with 11 touchdowns. Senior Kevin Norwood returns after catching 29 balls for 461 yards and four scores last year.

The running game looks solid with sophomore T.J. Yeldon returning after setting school records for a freshman with 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns on 175 carries.

The Tide backs will be counting on returning starters Cyrus Kouandjio at left tackle and Anthony Steen at right guard to open running lanes as the team rebuildings the offensive front that must replace three players who were taken in the NFL Draft.

The top player returning on defense is senior linebacker C.J. Mosley, who made 107 tackles last season. The other linebacker starters also return in the Tide's 3-4 front with Trey DePriest, Xzavier Dickson and Adrian Hubbard in the mix.

Ed Stinson, a 6-4, 292 senior, is the lone returning starter on the defensive front. Alabama is counting on 6-4, 290 Jeoffrey Pagan and 6-4, 310 Brandon Ivory to develop into key players next to Stinson.

Two of the starters are back in the secondary with Deion Blue at cornerback and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix returning at safety.

Also back are punter Cody Mandell and kicker Cade Foster. Mandell averaged 44.3 yards per punt and Foster made 4-9 field goals tries last season.

Saban's team will take on a schedule that does not include Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, the trio of teams expected to be at the top in the SEC East. The Tide has open dates before games against divisional foes Texas A&M and LSU, opponents that gave Alabama problems last year.

Alabama will visit Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 30th, the final regular season game for both teams.

Top Offensive Player

Amari Cooper set a school record with his 11 touchdowns catches to earn Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2012. He caught eight passes vs. both Ole Miss and Georgia and finished with 162 receiving yards vs. Tennessee.

Top Defensive Player

A major contributor since his freshman year, linebacker C.J. Mosley enters his senior season with 20 career starts and 211 tackles.

Schedule Tough Stretch

Unless a couple teams are better than forecast the toughest part of the schedule could be the opening two games on August 31st vs. Virginia Tech in Atlanta followed by a road trip to Texas A&M on Sept. 14th.

Newcomer to Watch

Tight end O.J. Howard, a 6-6, 237 freshman from Autauga Academy, may have the tools to contribute early.

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Mississippi State Preview

LSU Preview

Ole Miss Preview

Western Carolina Preview

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