Column: Which Alabama Opponent Left On Schedule Is Most Daunting?
Saturday, the Alabama Crimson Tide narrowly escaped Austin, Texas with a win over the Longhorns in thrilling fashion.
You all know the story by now... Will Reichard and Bryce Young came up clutch, providing Alabama with a last-second win at Texas to save its season in Week 2. Although the Tide likely have to lose twice to fall out of playoff contention, they could not afford to drop a contest this early on in the season.
With the victory, it's time to move on to the current opponent at hand, which happens to be Louisiana Monroe. The Warhawks came into Tuscaloosa in Nick Saban's first season and beat the Tide, which marks the legendary coach's last regular season non-conference loss while in charge.
Texas came within a play or two of breaking that streak on Saturday, but now, it's back to where it all began.
Alabama should have no trouble with Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, as the Warhawks come into Bryant-Denny as a 48.5-point underdog, with a blowout loss to Texas already under their belts.
However, the program does bring up enough past history to garner a mention. Louisiana-Monroe's win over Saban will forever be used as a last-ditch effort to troll the Tide by fans of opposing teams such as Auburn, Tennessee and LSU. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks of Arkansas happened to drop a game to the Warhawks in 2012 in Little Rock as well.
But enough about the Warhawks, we are here to mention the three teams left on Alabama's schedule that should scare you the most.
Now, since we're not Nick Saban, I do think it's fair to look ahead to potential postseason opponents as well. Just don't tell him we did it.
Alabama has made Atlanta an annual destination over the Saban era, winning the west in all but six seasons dating back to 2007.
There is a very good chance the Tide play for the conference title in the Capital of College Football, which they have done in back-to-back seasons and three of the past four years.
Assuming Alabama can get to Atlanta, Georgia is without a doubt the toughest test the Tide will face, if they get there, of course.
And per FBS Schedules, every SEC team has the conference title game on its schedule, until they are eliminated from participating in the game... so as of now, Alabama and Georgia are still on track for their annual clash...
So, without further ado, let's rank these bad boys.
Toughest Alabama Opponents Pre CFP
1. vs. Georgia* (in Atlanta)
2. @ Tennessee
3. @ Arkansas
(If you don't want to count the potential Georgia game, @ Ole Miss would be No. 3 in its place, while the other two slide up the list).
If Alabama is able to make it to Atlanta, the Tide are likely to face cross-division foe Kirby Smart and his Georgia Bulldogs. Obviously, Kentucky, and Tennessee are dark horses to challenge the Bulldogs in the East and get to Atlanta, but until we see it happen, we just aren't on board yet.
The Bulldogs have had the Wildcats' number since a fluky loss in 2009, while the Volunteers seem to have a better chance at knocking off the Dawgs. Kentucky gets Georgia at home, but has to travel to Oxford and Knoxville on the schedule.
In addition, this year's Georgia-Tennessee game happens to be in Athens, a place Smart has only dropped one SEC contest (2019 vs. South Carolina) since his inaugural season as a head coach. The Volunteers also play host to Alabama, which makes it easier to pencil in the Bulldogs as East Division champions for the fifth time in six years.
With a manageable schedule down the stretch for Georgia, I just don't see them losing to anyone in the regular season.
First and foremost, the Georgia game. Nick Saban and his former assistant Kirby Smart have met five times across the sidelines, with the master leading the apprentice 4-1 in the head-to-head series. To make things even more intriguing, four of these five matchups came in postseason play. Georgia and Alabama have met twice in the SEC Championship over this span, while playing in two national championship games as well.
The Bulldogs finally got the best of Alabama when it mattered most last season, coming from behind to steal national championship 19 from the tusks of the Tide.
Georgia looks to be a serious championship threat yet again this season, as anyone who watched the Week 1 game against Oregon would tell you.
Let's just play with general probability here and assume the Dawgs win the East and make it back to the big game for a date with the Tide in Atlanta again.
Is there a more dangerous matchup out there? I think not.
Next on the list of most dangerous games is a trip to Tennessee for the Third Saturday in October. This legendary rivalry game has been more lopsided than Ohio State-Michigan over the Saban era, with Alabama winning every game since 2006.
However, Michigan was able to snap its losing streak to Ohio State in the Big House last season, after Jim Harbaugh resurrected the Wolverines back to prominence.
Could the same thing happen up in Knoxville with Tennessee? It's highly unlikely, but the Volunteers' fast-paced and up-tempo offense, 100,000+ singing Rocky Top and Alabama's struggles on the road the past 12 months have us a bit concerned.
Due to all of those factors, I have to put the Tennessee game at the top of the current scare-factor list. The Volunteers got through Pittsburgh on the road in overtime last week and are likely a win over Florida away from facing Alabama as a Top 10 team in mid-October.
After Georgia and Tennessee, I turn my attention west towards the Ozarks of Arkansas. Sam Pittman and the Arkansas Razorbacks have found their bread and butter over the last year, with a pair of impressive wins in 2022 already to their name. The Razorbacks defeated last year's playoff darling in Cincinnati, before pushing past South Carolina in Week 2 at home.
Arkansas will get a chance to fix the few mistakes it has made in a cupcake contest with Missouri State this week, before turning its attention to division play against Texas A&M and Alabama.
If the Razorbacks stay unbeaten until October 1, look for College Gameday and the entire media mecca to transcend upon the foothills of Northwest Arkansas when Alabama comes to town on Talladega race weekend.
The Hogs are already a Top 10 team, but two more weeks of winning could propel them all the way up to the Top 5.
KJ Jefferson and company gave Alabama fits in Tuscaloosa last season offensively, so a rematch in Fayetteville sure does not seem easy.
Aside from these two main road threats, the Tide still have to travel to LSU and Ole Miss. I do not see LSU as much of a threat under Bryan Kelly in Year 1, however, the Rebels can always put a thorn in the side of the Tide.
When Lane Kiffin is involved, a man who knows Nick Saban almost as well as anyone, anything can happen. You all saw that 2020 game of hell for Alabama in Oxford, right? How about the 2014 meeting, or even the 2015 loss in Tuscaloosa back when Bo Wallace and Chad Kelly dropped back in the pocket?
Ole Miss is one of those teams which Alabama can beat by 50 or end up in a dogfight with. There really is no in between. With the Rebels ranked and still unbeaten, this game all rides on the record of Ole Miss heading in. If the Rebs stay as hot as their championship-winning baseball team, they too could pose a major challenge to Alabama's quest to win the west.
On the home side of things, I really do not feel too uncomfortable. Texas A&M was supposed to be the game of the year in Bryant-Denny, but an early loss to App State has exposed many of the Aggies' flaws early on.
In addition, Texas A&M and Auburn can't seem to do anything in Tuscaloosa without a Heisman-winning quarterback, a bit of magic and a poor-performance from the Tide.
Neither team has that Heisman-level quarterback threat this season, so I really don't see too much of a danger from either. All of the Auburn scares Alabama has faced came from the confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium over the past decade. The Tigers on the road are a completely different story.
The road trip to LSU has tripped up a handful of talented teams in the past, but never Nick Saban. Alabama has had the Tigers' number over the past decade, aside from Round 1 of the Game of The Century in 2011 and Joe Burrow's trip to Title Town in 2019. I think Alabama can beat this current Tiger squad without too much hesitation. Plus, Bryan Kelly vs the Tide is a movie we've seen too many times by now. Everyone knows the ending already.
That's all for today, folks. Let us know what you think below!
Can the Tide right the ship and return to their dominant winning ways? Is this a season where the dynasty begins to crumble?
In my opinion, 12-0 will be much more difficult than it looks for Alabama this season. The Crimson Tide are arguably a better team than anyone they play, which should come as a surprise to no one. Georgia can match Alabama's talent level in Atlanta, but everyone else has to rely on taking the Tide off their game.
With that said, this is the beautifully chaotic sport of college football, where weird things happen. Texas just about knocked off Alabama early Saturday, while App State beat Texas A&M and Marshall upset Notre Dame in the same window of afternoon games later on.
Winning in the SEC is never easy, especially on the road. An 11-1 season with a loss at Tennessee, Ole Miss or Arkansas seems plausible, although Alabama can just as easily run the table.
The final fate of the Tide rests in its offensive playbook, as flaws have been exposed in the last four major road contests. Getting creative in the playbook like former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian did back in 2020, will be the life and death of this 2022 Alabama team.
If the Tide stay predictable on offense like last season, they likely end up anywhere between 9-3 and 11-1. However, a more creative playbook could lead Alabama back to glory and a perfect 15-0 record.
Which of these outcomes will happen? Only time will tell...