Much has been made about Alabama having six teams with bye weeks before they play the Tide, which is a fact and something you probably don't want to happen to your football team, even if you are as skeptical as I am about how much that actually matters. In any case, with Alabama as the preseason No. 1, the storyline of every game is going to be (as we saw with Florida last year): Can this team stop them? With that in mind, here are some teams that just might be able to end Alabama's bid for a third straight undefeated regular season, and why they could do it.
at ARKANSAS | Sept. 25
Bye week before? No
Reasons to Worry Anyway: The defense that limited Arkansas to a single touchdown last year is largely gone (as we've discussed), and the Razorbacks' offense is if anything expected to be more explosive this year than last. And if there's an ideal time to catch a young defense, it's at the beginning of the year. Also: Of the four cities in which this game has been played -- Tuscaloosa, Little Rock and New Orleans (for two Sugar Bowl matchups) are the others -- the Tide has a winning record in all but one: Fayetteville, where Alabama is 3-4. Not that I'm a huge believer in those sorts of historical trends, but if you're looking for something to worry about, that'll do.
FLORIDA | Oct. 2
Bye week before? No
Reasons to Worry Anyway: If there is a coach who is almost as good at getting his team ready for the big game as Nick Saban, it would have to be Urban Meyer. Almost since the conference split into two divisions in the 1990s, this has been a rivalry, with conference supremacy the prize. One of the key question is whether Tim Tebow's tears are transferrable between people and years. This might be the wildest of wild cards on Alabama's schedule: The Tide's highly-touted offense will face off with Florida's attrition-decimated defense, while the perhaps-strong Florida offense (depending on John Brantley's abilities) will go up against the Tide's inexperienced defense. POINTS? Maybe a few.
at SOUTH CAROLINA | Oct. 9
Bye week before? Yes
Other Reasons to Worry: Alabama hasn't won in Columbia since 1993, at least according to the NCAA. (There was that technical "win" in 2005, but Alabama fans always know that any win is only safe when verified after the inevitable investigation.) Last year's 20-6 victory was closer than it appeared in the box score; Alabama's margin of victory was a Stephen Garcia pick-six early in the game and a 68-yard drive by
Alabama Mark Ingram that started more than halfway through the fourth quarter. And that was in Tuscaloosa. Also, this is supposed to be South Carolina's year. And they mean it this time.
AGAINST RESTED RIVALS
at TENNESSEE | Oct. 23
Bye week before? Yes
Other Reasons to Worry: We all remember that last year's game was essentially won by the outstretched hand of Mt. Cody, who has now taken his talents to the NFL. First-year SEC coaches who aren't at Vanderbilt tend to win at least one surprising game of the year, so this might as well be that game for Tennessee. Smokey could gnaw off Greg McElroy's leg, I suppose. Any given Saturday? Actually, there's this: If there is a coach anywhere in America who will face Alabama this year and might know how Nick Saban thinks, it's Derek Dooley, which I guess has to be worth something.
at LSU | Nov. 6
Bye week before? Yes, but Alabama also has its bye week before this game
Other Reasons to Worry: Because the SEC officials will actually have HD televisions for replays this season. Actually, LSU has won five of the last seven in this series, the exceptions being Alabama's undefeated seasons in 2008 and 2009. Of course, if you look at that another way, Nick Saban has won four of the last five that he's coached in. LSU might be a better team this year, and they were an uncalled interception away from winning the last game. And you never know exactly what's going to happen with the Mad Hatter calling the shots. (This could also be a reason for LSU fans to worry, but I digress.)
AUBURN | Nov. 26
Bye week before? Yes, but Alabama plays Georgia State and does so on Thursday
Other Reasons to Worry: Remember last year? Alabama won on a touchdown pass with 1:24 left. The 291 yards of total offense was fewer than anyone else had gained against Auburn save Louisiana Tech, Ball State and Furman. (Furman actually scored more points against Auburn than did Alabama. Look it up if you doubt me.) Auburn shut down Alabama's vaunted running attack, almost derailing Mark Ingram's Heisman campaign, and outgained Bama by more than 40 yards. Plus, the Iron Bowl is one of those games where the records really don't matter, and Auburn would I think enjoy knocking Alabama out of the national title conversation more than a lot if it came to that.
9.4.10 | SAN JOSE STATE This is the first meeting between the Tide and the Spartans. It should last for about one and a half quarters.
9.11.10 | PENN STATE We'll have more on this game later, but it is one of the nonconference games I'm most looking forward to this season. The two teams have played 13 times, with only the first three in bowl games, and the Tide winning eight of them. The Nittany Lions actually have a winning record (2-1) in Tuscaloosa.
9.18.10 | at DUKE The last time Duke defeated Alabama was in 1944. In fairness, there have been only three games in this series. In fairness, this is Duke we're talking about; they probably would have lost all the other anyway. The new-and-improved Duke will actually make a game of this for two or three quarters.
10.16.10 | OLE MISS Can we please score more than one combined touchdown this year? Please? I mean, as much as we all love games in which both teams average less than five yards per pass attempt and complete fewer than half those attempts, it would be nice to see some -- I believe it's called offense -- this year, just for a change of pace.
11.13.10 | MISSISSIPI STATE The Tide has won the last two games in the series by a 63-10 margin. Dan Mullen might be good, but he's not a miracle worker. It's likely going to take a few years to build the Western Division Bulldogs into an SEC West contender. Then everyone will know how to spell their name.
11.18.10 | GEORGIA STATE Guess who's got a bye week before they play Alabama? Oh, Bill Curry, you sly old fox. Out for revenge against your current team, and you set things up to give yourself the advanta-- Wait a minute, what? Georgia State's been playing football for how long? Oh. Well then. Bill Curry, do not be alarmed; this is not Armageddon. It's just a very bad week to be the head coach at Georgia State.