Nick Saban and Alabama are once again picked to win the SEC. They have the best coach, the best roster and, among most contenders, the best schedule.
Every SEC schedule is perilous and extremely difficult relative to the rest of the nation. But Alabama’s schedule — as one of the weaker slates in the conference — isn’t that much more difficult than those of other leagues. Like the Pac-12, for example.
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Alabama’s 2014 run for a national title is fraught with intrigue, upset alerts and four preseason Top 25 teams. But it is very manageable for a team of this caliber.
2014 Alabama Schedule Analysis
Roll Tide, Roll
The trio of West Virginia, FAU and Southern Miss is as easy a three-game start to the season Nick Saban has had since arriving in Tuscaloosa. The Mountaineers were supposed to be better when the game was scheduled and that could eventually hurt Alabama when it comes to the playoff committee. Either way, Bama should crush its way to a 3-0 start when Florida comes to town in Week 4.
Crossover breaks again
Alabama beat Tennessee and Kentucky in crossover play last year. Those two teams combined for 17 losses in 2013 and this year’s tandem for Tennessee and Florida didn't fare much better with 15 combined defeats last season. Florida comes to Tuscaloosa in Week 4 fresh off the worst campaign in school history, but still features plenty of talent. In late October, Bama and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will return to Knoxville. So while both Tennessee and Florida figure to be improved from last year and both games are loaded with storylines, it’s hard to see anything but two big wins for the Tide in SEC crossover play.
On the road in October
Critical games with Ole Miss and LSU will happen over a month-long span from Oct. 4 to Nov. 8. Mixed in are two more road trips to Arkansas and the aforementioned Tennessee, as well as a home game with Texas A&M. The bookends are the games to focus on here, as both Ole Miss and LSU are ranked in the preseason Top 20 and both are eyeing SEC West contention. Bama hasn’t lost to Ole Miss since 2003 and has an impressive record against LSU in the state of Louisiana. Alabama has won three out of four against LSU in games played in the state and is 10-4 in its last 14 games versus LSU in The Pelican State.
The Final Stretch
The final stretch includes two extremely winnable home games with Western Carolina and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have only won once in Tuscaloosa since 1997 and that win resulted in a coach getting fired and the arrival of Saban. These two games set up what could be a rematch of epic proportions. Before last year never had the Iron Bowl meant as much as it did, but the SEC West could again be hanging in the balance should things go as planned for both Yellowhammer schools. There won’t be another atmosphere in the country like the afternoon a potential top-five Tigers team rolls into town in the season finale with another SEC title on the line.
In all, Alabama is scheduled to play four preseason Top 25 teams and is a heavy favorite in all but one game (the Iron Bowl). The non-conference schedule is as weak as Saban has had at Bama and while crossover play is more intriguing with Florida involved, the Crimson Tide are still significant steps ahead of both the Gators and Vols. Handling their business on the road with four games in five away from Tuscaloosa in October will be critical but none of the bouts appear to be overly taxing. No, it is likely that Bama again will face Auburn with a perfect record and a berth in the SEC title game at stake at the end of the year.