With a shiny new schedule getting announced with the conspicuous lack of a neutral site season opener and a whole muffin tin’s worth of cupcakes, Alabama is set to have a grueling 10-game onslaught of SEC opponents.
Of course all Alabama’s SEC opponents also have a 10-game SEC schedule AND have to play Bama.... So obviously the Crimson Tide actually has the easiest schedule of the bunch. Whatcha gonna do?
Now that the schedule is finalized (for the second time), I am going to take a stab at predicting the outcomes of each game.
First up, there’s poor ole Missou:
Trying to break in a brand new head coach and replace an entire offense is not exactly ideal during a year when all of spring practices were cancelled and fall practices limited. Missou’s offense is going to be a total wildcard, though they do return most of what was a solid run-stopping defense and a top-notch safety tandem.
They’ll be depending on that defense to keep them in games while the offense figures itself out, but ultimately this is a rebuild year for a brand new head coach, and just making it to a bowl game will be an accomplishment.
Alabama should win handily here.
Next up, Alabama takes on the other Big 12 cast-off:
Jimbo Fisher, once again, enters a season with great recruiting results and a whole lot of media headlines claiming that this is finally “the year” he takes his team from “very good” to “elite.”
The Aggies return almost their entire offense. Unfortunately, that means they return 4/5 starters from a leaky offensive line and a senior QB that is as likely to be holding them back as he is pushing them forward. They should have a dynamic running game, at least.
Defensively, they boast a deep squad with a number of solid starters, including defensive tackle Bobby Brown. They still need to find a way to generate some pass-rush to move from a top-25 unit into a truly dominant one... But who doesn’t need to find some pass rush?
I think Alabama has a significant speed advantage over the Aggies on offense, though they’ll make it tough for the Tide to sustain any drives. Alabama jumps out to an early lead, but A&M fights back in a lackluster second half for Alabama to make this one more of a nail biter than maybe it should be.
The Lane Train has come to Oxford, and you just KNOW his #1 goal is find some way to get under the skin and into the head of his old boss and pal, Nick Saban. Despite a major talent advantage across the entire roster, Ole Miss gave Saban’s defense fits with speedy “quarterback” John Rhys Plumlee doing his best Johnny Manziel impression... just without the improbable passes to Mike Evans.
Kiffin, a mastermind at exploiting individual defensive weaknesses, will absolutely find a way to make sure Plumlee does some damage to Alabama’s defense over and over and over until they find a way to stop it, even if Plumlee is not their true starting QB going forward. They still won’t be dangerous in the passing game, but Kiffin is the best at finding ways to maximize a strength of his offense even if it’s not “balanced” in a traditional sense.
Defensively, the Rebels return a few disruptive players in the front 7, but have little depth and their secondary is a complete unknown.
They’ll be a pain in the side for Alabama for sure, and are a popular pick for an upset game for the Tide. However, I don’t believe their defense is anywhere near good enough to keep Alabama from outscoring them, and a healthy Dylan Moses and Christian Harris at inside linebacker should give Alabama enough speed to keep Plumlee contained much better than last year.
The Bulldogs look to return a strong defense anchored by an experienced secondary that’s likely the favorite to be the top secondary in the SEC. There’s some spots that have to be replaced along the defensive line, but overall, it’s arguably the best defense in the conference.
On the other hand, they lost nearly their entire offense— including two first round linemen and a first-round running back— and will be trying to decide between transfer QB Jamie Newman and transfer QB JT Daniels... neither of whom were exactly the models of efficient QB play at their previous schools.
This game could very well be the one that forces Alabama QB Mac Jones to either step up into a true team leader or make way for freshman Bryce Young. Fortunately, a revamped (read: uninjured) Alabama front-seven stymies Georgia’s attempts at picking an effective QB, and Alabama pulls away in the 4th quarter to win a fairly low scoring game.
I swear, this time, it really is the year that Tennessee is back.
Seriously though, Jeremy Pruitt really turned things around from a disastrous start to the 2019 season by finishing it out with a whole lot of really solid and competent football from the Vols. They lost a lot of major talent on both offense and defense, but also have a lot of depth players waiting in the wings that were highly rated recruits.
They’ll still be held back offensively if nobody is able to unseat 7-year starter Jarrett Guarantano as the starting QB, and have to break in an entirely new receiving corps. Defensively, they return a good bit of talent from a defense that really clamped down on things in the second half of last year, but also lost their best player at each level of the defense in Darrell Taylor (DE), Daniel Bituli (LB), and Nigel Warrior (S).
If the Vols are still rolling with Guarantano by the time the Bama game rolls around, I won’t be worried. If someone else has outperformed and taken the job from him, though, this one just might worry me more than anyone else on the schedule. The Vols gave Alabama a bit of a tough time last year, are riding the confidence gained from that, and have a lot to prove after the 13 year drought. Oh, and they get that dreaded trap game spot the week after the Tide faces Georgia.
State wasted a couple of years of exciting talent with a coach that didn’t make the most of it. Now they brought in Mike Leach and his patented Air Raid system to shake things up, and he’ll be trying to make a lot happen with a bare cupboard. There’s a lot riding on Stanford transfer K.J. Costello to come in, pick up Leach’s system, and execute it against SEC defenses, but he’s got a great supporting piece to lean on in running back Kylin Hill.
New defensive coordinator Zach Arnett boasts a multi-year top 15 defense with his 3-3-5 scheme at SDSU, but is working with roster without much in the way of top talent and trying to change their system in a limited offseason.
The Bulldogs may be starting to figure some things out by the end of the season, but I don’t expect them to really be able to make waves until 2021, after Leach and Arnett have a year to really getting the offensive and defensive rosters to reflect their schemes.
Alabama should win this one without much of a sweat, which will thankfully come only one week before having to take on LSU.
The defending national champs might have been one of the best teams college football has ever seen last season, but a huge chunk of that team in now in the NFL. They return the Biletnikoff winner in wide receiver Jamarr Chase and one offensive lineman, but the rest of their offense is going to be brand new.
Their defense fared a little better with most of their defense line, along with cornerback Derek Stingley, Jr. and safety JaCoby Stevens, returning, but are still replacing their entire linebacker group and over half of the secondary while switching schemes from a 3-4 to a 4-3.
All that said, they’ve still recruited with the best of them, and will be filling all those holes with former top high-school talent. This will be the season that Ed Orgeron either proves he’s a coach that can sustain an elite program or show that the 2019 team was just a culmination of senior talent and a 23-year old QB catching fire and torching defenders much younger than him.
Expect this to be Alabama’s toughest opponent of the year on talent alone (sorry, Georgia). But replacing 16 starters is still replacing 16 starters. Will they have the mental toughness to hang with a more experienced Alabama team for 4 quarters?
Great, a former cupcake team that’s been quietly getting better is sandwiched in between LSU and Auburn....
Sure, the Wildcats lost Lynn Bowden, Jr, but they also return a trio of running backs named Smoke, Rose, and Rodriguez. And they get some extra points in coolness factor just for those names. Unfortunately, Kentucky has no semblance of a passing game, and Wildcat fans hoping for Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood to come in and be the savior is just depressing to watch.
They do have a sneaky-good defense under Mark Stoops, though, and that, coupled with a dangerous (and cool!) running game will be enough to make Kentucky a threat to be a top-3 team in the SEC East. Oh, and they have the best punter in college football.
Anything could happen, of course, but I have trouble seeing any team without a decent passing offense being able to upset Alabama. They’ll make it a game for the first half though.
As usual, Auburn had a fully senior-laden offensive line the year that they upset Alabama in Jordan-Hare stadium. It’s a pretty regular occurrence at this point, and Alabama usually beats the tar out of them the following year.
They return Freshman Heisman Winner Bo Nix at quarterback to complete 50% of his passes to the actually dynamic wideout duo of Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz. But they lost all 5 offensive line starters and their elite bell-cow running back in Jalen Whitlow. There’s a whole lot of hope riding on Nix being able to make a huge jump as a sophomore from an inefficient scrambler that made some big plays to a constant playmaker despite a brand new offensive line and a gutted running game.
Auburns top-rated defensive unit from last year has been similarly gutted, as their vaunted defensive line lost both Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown, while they also lost all four of their top starters in the secondary.
Again, as usual, Auburn really came together last year with a talented, senior roster and managed to do it in the same season they drew the Alabama match-up in their home stadium. They’ll be rebuilding this year, and Alabama will mercilessly avenge last year’s loss for a 3-score win.
A new head coach in the middle of a year with no spring practices is just asking for trouble. Arkansas returns a top-notch running back in Rakeem Boyd and a couple of established linebackers... But they also return a bunch of players on both offense and defense that didn’t exactly light up the world in 2019. Felipe Franks was nothing if not inconsistent and Florida with elite supporting cast around him, so expecting much from him at Arkansas is bit of long shot.
Ultimately, this is probably the worst team in the SEC West, and I don’t expect Alabama’s starters to be playing for long into the 3rd quarter.
Alabama’s final record: 9-1
The Tide should be favored in every single game. Georgia, LSU, and Tennessee are the most likely culprits to spring the loss, and while in a vacuum I think Alabama should win every one, it’s going to be nearly impossible to come out unscathed.
Georgia and Tennessee should both have the revenge factor in their favor, but both could be held back by their quarterbacks. LSU meanwhile has a bunch of wildcard talent, but also has to contend with the national title hangover and complacency that we’ve so often witnessed at Alabama.
If I’m forced to pick, I think Georgia is the most likely to truly pull the loss. They have the defensive talent to really stifle an Alabama offense that hasn’t had time to figure itself out so early in the season, and who knows, one of those transfer QB’s just might work out for them.
Who is most likely to hand Alabama a loss in 2020
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