Alabama's Schedule Is Easier Because They Don't Play Alabama // SEC 2011

Alabama has a marquee non-conference game at Penn State this fall.

This is an overview. Predictions come later. Home games in CAPS.

SEPTEMBER

9/3: KENT STATE

9/10: at Penn State

9/17: NORTH TEXAS

9/24: ARKANSAS

Nick Saban faces his alma mater in the first game, but that's pretty much the most interesting thing about the contest. Going on the road to Penn State will be the first real hostile environment that Bama's young quarterback(s) will play in, and I might call it dangerous if the Nittany Lions had any shot of actually scoring a touchdown. North Texas provides a breather before the first big conference game of the year against Arkansas. The Razorbacks had the Tide on the ropes in Fayetteville last year before crumbling in the fourth quarter. Bama should be in good shape for the game though. It's 6-3 against the Hogs at home since conference expansion in '92, with only one loss coming since 1997.

OCTOBER

10/1: at Florida

10/8: VANDERBILT

10/15: at Ole Miss

10/22: TENNESSEE

10/29: BYE

The last time Alabama had a first-year starting quarterback, he went into a serious swoon in October. That makes this stretch potentially more dangerous than it might otherwise be. The road trip to Florida is the toughest task, especially with Will Muschamp knowing all of Nick Saban's secrets. The home game against Vandy won't be trouble, but then a trip to Ole Miss could be dangerous if the Tide is looking ahead to its rivalry the next week. Tennessee will be up for this game thanks to the 41-10 beating it took last year, but I don't know if it has the players just yet to do much about it. A bye week then provides a buffer heading into the home stretch.

NOVEMBER

11/5: LSU

11/12: at Mississippi State

11/19: GEORGIA SOUTHERN

11/26: at Auburn

This is about as tough a stretch run as you'll find in the conference. LSU comes to Tuscaloosa for a visit, where the Tide will try to avenge last year's somewhat improbable loss that was caused in large part by a fourth down conversion on a reverse. A trip to Mississippi State follows, which could be a let down game after a big time battle with the Tigers. Georgia Southern gives the team an effective bye week before the Iron Bowl. Auburn may be down this year from last, but both matchups of Saban and Gene Chizik have been classics despite the varying qualities of the teams over the past two years.

OVERALL

The Crimson Tide's schedule is by default one of the easier ones in the West (at least where we sit here in the preseason) simply because it doesn't have to play itself. Bama is the runaway favorite in the SEC and among the favorites for the national title, so that's a big bonus. Furthermore, Alabama doesn't face either South Carolina or Georgia (though LSU doesn't either). Penn State is the perfect kind of non-conference road game in that the win will count for more than it should thanks to the disparity between the stadium's reputation and the team's quality. The team's four conference road games are against rebuilding Florida and the consensus bottom three teams in the West. All in all, you could do a lot worse than Bama's schedule in as tough a division as the West is.

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