The Opponents: Alabama

Ole Miss will head to Tuscaloosa for an Oct. 16 game against defending national champion Alabama. Two years ago there, the Rebels turned their season around in the second half of the game.

The Crimson Tide led 24-3 at halftime and was in total control. But the Ole Miss defense allowed nothing in the second half, and a Rebel comeback feel just short in the game's final minutes as the home team desperately held on for a 24-20 final. UM didn't lose again, winning its last six games to finish 9-4.

Last year in Oxford the Tide rolled 22-3 on its way to the national crown, the Rebels' lone loss on their home turf. It was another 9-4 season for UM.

Alabama enters the 2010 season without some key personnel from last season. Only two starters return on defense, while eight are back on offense.

Greg McElroy

Running back Mark Ingram returns after becoming the first Heisman Trophy winner in Crimson Tide football history. Still, Coach Nick Saban admits there are challenges ahead for the Tide this fall.

"To replace eight defensive starters, which is what we have to replace, and all four guys in the secondary, will be a real challenge," he said. "Even though we have some talented players who lack experience, how they grow and learn and mature as players is going to determine to a large degree the kind of success we have.

"Offensively we have eight players back that are starters. Three really good receivers, two really good runners, a very experienced quarterback who did an outstanding job for us last year in Greg McElroy, who is applying for a Rhodes scholarship. On the offensive line, we've got a couple guys to replace. But actually we have three starters back there, and a good young tight end prospect to replace the tight end. We're going to have a freshman punter and kicker almost certainly."

So it's obvious this is not the same team that Alabama won it all with last season. Saban says that was then and this is now.

"Even if we had all the same ingredients back, it would be difficult to manufacture the same kind of team chemistry. That's one of the great things about college football, there's always a lot of new opportunity for a lot of new people because you have turnover on your team. And a realistic approach is, are we going to be able to do the things that we need to do with the young players that don't have as much experience, that are going to get some on-the-job training in terms of what they want to accomplish, what they need to do to do a good job?

"Are they going to be able to do those things with the right attitude, the right commitment, the right intensity, the right sort of ability to overcome adversity? Deal with success when they have success, and have the maturity to overcome some of the negatives they'll surely go through in this season?"

Over the next few months, Saban and others will find out.

Pete Fiutak of CollegeFootballNews.com, affiliated with Scout.com, takes an indepth look at Alabama in 2010.

What to watch for on offense: A bit more from the passing game. While it's not like Alabama will be turning into Hawaii, there will be more balance thanks to a loaded receiving corps and the experience of QB Greg McElroy. The bread will still be buttered with Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, and a punishing and explosive ground game, but the passing attack should average more than 200 yards per game mainly because the veteran targets, as well as the backs, should do even more cranking out yards after the catch. The veteran receivers are all great downfield blockers, while McElroy should do a better job of taking advantage of the mismatches.

What to watch for on defense: Not that much of a drop-off. This isn't going to be the nation's second-best defense again, but it's not going to be all that far off.

Dont'a Hightower

Rolando McClain came up with a huge year at middle linebacker, the secondary was drum-tight, and Terrence Cody was the definition of an anchor in the middle, but it's a group effort for the Alabama defense. It seemed like someone different was making a big play at a key moment, and it should be more of the same this year with more speed, athleticism, and upside than anyone in America. There might not be that much experience returning, but the D is littered with four and five-star talents with prototype skills and NFL money waiting, almost literally, on the other side of the fence.

The team will be far better if...the special teams are tighter. It's not like Bama played a ton of close games last year, but it needed four Leigh Tiffin field goals and a huge blocked kick from Cody to beat Tennessee. This year, there should be a few more tight ones and the kicking game needs to be solid. That could be a problem with true freshmen Cade Foster handling the placekicking and Jay Williams taking over the punting duties. Throw in that teams were 3-for-3 on converting onside attempts, averaged 25.1 yards per kickoff return, and 9.2 yards per punt return, and there's work to be done.

The schedule: The Tide should be good enough to get through the schedule unscathed and play for a second straight national title if it can hold serve at home. There are plenty of landmines that might appear to be off the radar a bit, like a road trip to Arkansas before the showdown against Florida and a trip to South Carolina following the Gator game. The games against the East are nasty going on the road to deal with South Carolina and Tennessee to go along with the Florida game, and the West isn't a peach, either. There's a big break getting the final three games at home, and getting Ole Miss and Auburn at home is a bonus, but the Arkansas battle will be a shootout while the biggest bad boy of the division bunch, LSU, is in Death Valley. Throw in a non-conference game against Penn State, and this is one interesting schedule for the defending champs to deal with.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Mark Ingram. The Heisman winner won the big prize, as well as the national title, by carrying the offense through almost every big game and every big moment, and he did it as a receiver as well as a runner. There might be many who believe that Stanford's Toby Gerhart deserved the Heisman, and Fresno State's Ryan Mathews might have had a more explosive year, but no back was Ingram when the lights were brightest. Remember, his Heisman campaign was considered dead and buried after running for just 30 yards on 16 carries against Auburn, and then came the SEC title game running for 113 yards and three scores, and catching two passes for 76 yards, against Florida. He can do it all with quickness, power, and clutch ability.

Best defensive player: Junior S Mark Barron. The junior was overshadowed a bit by all the other great talents in the Alabama secondary, but he was the one who always seemed to come up with all the big plays.

Mark Barron

He finished second on the team with 76 tackles to go along with seven interceptions and 11 broken up passes. The secondary might be even more talented with phenomenal slew of young prospects about to shine, and Barron will be the steady leader of the pack.

Key player to a successful season: Junior NT Josh Chapman. Even with all the drama surrounding Marcell Dareus and the loss of six of the front seven's top players, the defensive front should be just fine as long as the middle is solidified. 6-4, 319-pound Kerry Murphy is a good-looking run stuffer, but it's the 6-1, 310-pound fireplug, Chapman, who has the talent and the experience to be the anchor the defensive front can work around. It'll be hard to run on the Bama defense no matter who's on the nose, but the D can go from great to national title good if Chapman holds his own on a consistent basis.

The season will be a success if...Alabama wins the SEC championship. Yeah, anything less than an appearance in the BCS Championship will be a disappointment for the defending national champion, but to get there the Tide has to take care of its conference business first. With so much turnover and with everyone gunning at a higher level to knock the king off the mountain, winning a second straight SEC title will be a fantastic accomplishment. If it can be done with no more than one loss, it'll be tough to keep the Tide out of Glendale.


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