While the San Jose State game is a joyous occasion simply because it signifies the return of Alabama football and the expansion of Bryant-Denny Stadium, by all objective indications the game itself should be a complete and total snoozer. The Spartans were 2-10 last year, with their only wins coming in close games over Cal Poly and New Mexico State, and every semi-respectable team they played effectively blew them out of the water. Their new head coach, Mike MacIntyre, has already said that this game is mainly for building toughness in his team.
On Alabama's end, the only reason we ever scheduled this game was because, as Nick Saban said last year after the UT-Chattanooga game, we had to play somebody. We wanted a scrumptious cupcake to warm up for Penn State, and few Division 1-A teams fit that bill more than the Spartans, hence their trek to Tuscaloosa. We'll win with ease, the score will be what we want it to be, and our starters will probably have an easier time than they had in either of the two previous intra-squad scrimmages. For Alabama, the biggest task will be emerging from this game healthy, and not having any more injury nightmares ala Brodie Croyle against Western Carolina in 2003.
From a fan's perspective, simply enjoy the beatdown and pray to the football gods for injury luck. Aside from that, keep your eyes closely on these two things, as they may provide legitimate insight into what the Tide will do against Penn State:
Who replaces Marcell Dareus at defensive end?
Forget the appeal, it's a massive longshot-at-best of being successful for UA, and we're simply going to have to find someone to step up and fill the void left by Dareus' suspension at defensive end for the Penn State game. But who will that be?
On the depth chart that Nick Saban released Monday, the back-up for Dareus was listed as "Undra Billingsley or Darrington Sentimore." Keep in mind, however, that it's not quite so simple. Last year when Brandon Deaderick was shot prior to the Virginia Tech game, Luther Davis was listed as his back-up, but in reality Marcell Dareus was the top reserve defensive end, and he started in Deaderick's absence.
That could easily be the case this year, and for all of the depth chart designations, many feel that Damion Square is in fact the top reserve on the defensive line. That's what I'm putting my money on as well, so keep a close eye on #92 this Saturday. He looked to be a breakout player last year before his knee injury, and after returning to full health this year Saban and his teammates have had nothing but glowing reviews for the Houston native. The smart money is seemingly on him.
Regardless, expect Kirby Smart and company to rotate defensive linemen throughout the game, with this being as good of an audition as any for a starting job next week.
What is the personnel package on the field when Alabama goes to the nickel and the dime?
The starting defensive backfield looks relatively solid right now, for better or for worse, with Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie at cornerback, and Mark Barron and Robert Lester at safety. But what about when we go to nickel and dime packages?
Nick Saban said earlier this week that when Alabama went to the nickel package, if healthy, DeQuan Menzie would slide inside and play the star position. That would keep Kirkpatrick at corner, as well as Barron and Lester at safety, but we would just need to find a third cornerback to play on the outside. Who will that be? Per some practice observations, the third corner looks to be DeMarcus Milliner, and not Burton Scott. That's a bitter pill for Scott -- who most had pegged for a starting job this time last week -- but even so it does solidify the lineup.
But what about the dime package? Saban has only said Menzie would play the star in the nickel, and a lot of people still think that Mark Barron will come down and play the star when Alabama goes to the dime. That obviously creates a void at safety, which would have to be filled by Will Lowery, Jarrick Williams, or Nick Perry. Regardless of who it would be, it would nevertheless put a player into the game with no meaningful experience.
This may be a bit of an area in which the Alabama coaching staff can choose to play it vanilla as possible to keep Penn State from knowing exactly what to prepare for, but even so watch this closely. The personnel groupings for the nickel and dime packages are seemingly still a mystery for 'Bama fans, so pay close attention to what Saban and company do this Saturday.