Alabama Football: An Early Preview of Next Year's Opponents
While Nick Saban and his coaching staff are busy in their efforts to lock up another top-rated recruiting class, Crimson Tide supporters are already anticipating the start of the 2014 season.
The upcoming offseason will be one filled with the most transition since Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa back in 2007.
While the Tide have several holes to fill, they enter 2014 fueled by their failures in season-ending losses to Auburn and Oklahoma. However, there’s no question that Saban will once again field one of the nation’s most talented rosters this fall.
How does Alabama match up against its opponents on the 2014 schedule?
Aug. 30 vs. West Virginia, Chick-Fil-a Kickoff Classic, Atlanta, Ga.
For the fourth time in Nick Saban's tenure at Alabama, the Crimson Tide will begin their season at the Georgia Dome in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.
This year, Alabama will face Big 12 foe West Virginia in the Tide’s home away from home.
The Mountaineers are coming off a disastrous 4-8 season in their second year under Dana Holgorsen. However, West Virginia returns 14 starters from last season’s squad, which gives it a chance to turn things around in 2014.
Alabama’s revamped offense, which will feature a new starting quarterback and a new play-caller in Lane Kiffin, will be under the spotlight in the season opener.
Considering that the Mountaineers are in rebuilding mode, they are unlikely to give a team as talented as Alabama a serious run on opening weekend.
Alabama 34, West Virginia 13
Sept. 6. vs. Florida Atlantic
Alabama’s home opener will be against Conference USA foe Florida Atlantic, who finished 6-6 in 2013.
Former Arkansas assistant Charlie Partridge takes over the Owls program this season, and he will inherit 11 returning starters, including junior quarterback Jaquez Johnson. However, a defense that finished 11th in the country in total defense must replace six starters.
The Owls represent a decent nonconference opponent for the Tide’s newcomers to work out their kinks against.
Alabama 31, Florida Atlantic 10
Sept. 13 vs. Southern Miss
It was a rough debut season for Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken, whose Golden Eagles won only one game in 2013.
Monken paid a hefty price for using a roster that relied heavily on underclassmen to take their lumps. However, the payoff for that strategy could come in 2014. It just won’t come in this matchup.
Southern Miss fielded one of the most porous rushing defenses last season that finished 115th nationally in rush defense, according to cfbstats.com. That means the Tide's stable of backs led by T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry should have a huge day.
With the matchup against the Golden Eagles representing the Tide’s final tuneup before conference play begins, expect the Tide to cruise to another solid nonconference victory.
Alabama 38, Southern Miss 7
Sept. 20 vs. Florida
Will Muschamp enters 2014 on the proverbial hot seat after Florida failed to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1990 after a 4-8 campaign last season.
The Gators offense was the source of frustration for fans of the Orange and Blue. New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s first major test will come in Tuscaloosa in the SEC opener for both teams.
On the other side of the ball, Alabama’s new-look offense will face a formidable defensive opponent for the first time in 2014, with the Gators returning seven starters from a defense that finished eighth nationally in total defense, according to cfbstats.com.
This will be a significant test for Kiffin and whichever quarterback emerges to win the starting job. If the Tide’s offense can move the ball against a stout Gators defense, that should be a good omen for the rest of the season.
Alabama 23, Florida 10
Oct. 4 at Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze has turned things around in Oxford after winning a second consecutive bowl game to punctuate his second season in charge of the Rebels.
The payoff for 2013's banner recruiting class could come in 2014, with the Rebels fielding a roster ripe with experience, depth and talent heading into the upcoming season.
After two consecutive trips to Bryant-Denny Stadium, a Rebels squad that returns 14 starters (nine on defense) will be eager to try and snap a 10-game losing streak at the hands of the Tide.
A bye week before the first true road test of the season should help Saban and his staff prepare the team for what could be a game with huge implications on the race in the SEC West.
Alabama 24, Ole Miss 20
Oct. 11 at Arkansas
Bret Bielema's inaugural run through the SEC proved that he has a ways to go before rebuilding the Razorbacks program.
His offense should look much improved, with standout rushers Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins leading a group of seven returning starters on that side of the ball.
The return of senior defensive end Trey Flowers will help a unit that gave up an average of nearly 488 yards per games over the final six games of the season.
While Arkansas should be much improved in year two under Bielema, there's still a sizable gap between the Hogs and a powerhouse such as the Tide. Alabama rushed for 352 yards against the Razorbacks last season, and the trio of T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry should be in for another solid day in Fayetteville.
Alabama 38, Arkansas 17
Oct. 18 vs. Texas A&M
Alabama fans probably exhaled when Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel announced his decision to turn pro.
While the electric Manziel is gone, Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin’s high-octane offense will still give opponents fits. However, fixing a defense that finished 111th nationally is a task that could be even greater for Sumlin to figure out.
This contest will once again put the spotlight of the Tide's defense and their ability to slow down hurry-up, no-huddle offenses. Given the Tide’s failures against Auburn and Oklahoma to end the season, this game will be the first true measure of whether Saban and Kirby Smart have solved the riddle of slowing down these types of offenses.
Alabama 38, Texas A&M 28
Oct. 25 at Tennessee
Adding Lane Kiffin, who was Tennessee’s head coach in 2009, to the sidelines of this rivalry should add a layer of intrigue to a series that has been one-sided since Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa.
Considering that Tennessee had arguably the toughest schedule in the country last season, finishing 5-7 wasn't as disappointing as it may seem for Butch Jones in his first season on Rocky Top.
While the Vols have some nice pieces returning, including sophomore receiver MarQuez North, both line units have been gutted due to graduation.
The trip to Knoxville is the third road game in an October stretch that could catch up to the Tide. However, their strength in the trenches should help them extend their winning streak over the hated Vols to eight.
Alabama 41, Tennessee 17
Nov. 8 at LSU
The annual slugfest between the Tide and the Tigers flips back to the Pelican State, with Alabama looking to earn its third win in its last four trips to Baton Rouge.
The Tide have strung together three consecutive wins in the series with the Tigers, with two of them coming by 21-point margins, including last season's 38-17 win in Tuscaloosa.
Additionally, Les Miles' club will have to replace six talented underclassmen who exited the program as early entries into the 2014 NFL draft.
However, there's more than enough talent for the Tigers to bounce back and make another run at another SEC title.
Four offensive linemen return on offense and the defense returns seven starters. Plus, help is on the way at positions such as receiver and running back in the Tigers' touted 2014 recruiting class.
Given the momentum that has shifted this series in favor of the Tide, the pressure is on the Tigers to knock off the Tide for the first time since their famed 9-6 overtime win in Tuscaloosa back in 2011.
LSU 24, Alabama 21
Nov. 15 vs. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs fought valiantly before succumbing to Alabama in a 20-7 defeat last November. However, Dan Mullen's club returns 18 starters from a team that looked impressive in three consecutive wins to end the season.
Ten of those starters are from a defense that finished 18th nationally in total defense. Additionally, dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott returns after piling up 2,769 yards of total offense and 25 total touchdowns.
While the Bulldogs have a strong team on paper, Bryant-Denny Stadium has been their house of horrors recently. In fact, the Tide have won the last three home meetings in the series by an average of 25 points per game.
Getting the Tide after what should be a physical contest against LSU, as was the case last season, may factor in as well. In the end, the home crowd and the Tide's depth across the board should help weather what should be another hard-fought victory.
Alabama 27, Mississippi State 17
Nov. 22 vs. Western Carolina
For the third time in the Saban era, Western Carolina will make the trek to Tuscaloosa to face the Tide.
Alabama has won the previous two meetings by a combined margin of 101-6.
This matchup comes in the spot reserved for the annual cupcake-the-week-before-the-Iron Bowl scrimmage.
Given the magnitude of the following week's game, expect this one to end early.
Alabama 56, Western Carolina 0
Nov. 29 vs. Auburn
After Auburn's dramatic 34-28 win in last season's Iron Bowl, it's safe to say the anticipation for this year’s battle between the Tide and Tigers will build at an exponential rate until Nov. 29.
Both teams return a ton of firepower from the duel that captivated the nation's attention less than two months ago.
However, all eyes will be on coaching chess match between Gus Malzahn and Saban. Malzahn’s offense riddled Saban and Kirby Smart’s defense, but as the Tigers showed in the BCS title game loss to Florida State, they are capable of airing it out in big games.
Saban will undoubtedly look at tweaking his schemes to match up better against tempo-based attacks such as the ones used by Auburn.
This game feels similar to when the Tide lost to Florida in the 2008 SEC title game but rebounded to meet the top-ranked Gators in the same game a year later. Saban and Alabama's defense solved Urban Meyer's offense the second time around.
Can they repeat the same trick five years later against Malzahn and the Tigers?
Alabama 3,1 Auburn 20