The Alabama Crimson Tide finished one of the most remarkable and impressive seasons in college football history with a 52-24 victory over Ohio State in the national championship game. The blowout win capped a 13-0 run that included 11 victories over SEC opponents, as well as Notre Dame, led by a star-studded cast of characters — many of whom will be selected in the NFL draft very soon.
Of course, the college football calendar doesn't allow much time for celebration. Head coach Nick Saban's sixth national title in 14 seasons in Tuscaloosa quickly blended into another No. 1-ranked recruiting class as he and a new-look offensive staff set about quickly preparing to replace Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, quarterback Mac Jones, running back Najee Harris, and three starters on the offensive line, among others. And with spring practice now in the books, it's time to look ahead to the championship defense. Saban has only won back-to-back titles once (in 2011 and 2012), but as we explore the 2021 Alabama football schedule, there's plenty of reason to expect the Crimson Tide to contend again.
Bye: Week 9
Week 1 – Sept. 4 vs. Miami (Atlanta)
Alabama hasn't been an underdog in any matchup since 2015, a string of 70 consecutive games with no end in sight. Even with the roster turnover in Tuscaloosa and high hopes for Miami coming off an 8-3 campaign, the Crimson Tide are likely to be a heavy favorite in their season opener in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. However, if quarterback D'Eriq King is fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered in the bowl game, the Hurricanes might have the talent to pull off an upset in Week 1. Either way, Miami should contend with Clemson and North Carolina for the ACC crown.
Week 2 – Sept. 11 vs. Mercer (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Mercer opened its 2020-21 season on Oct. 10 with a 34-28 loss to Jacksonville State and finished more than seven months later with a 44-20 loss to Samford. The long, strange FCS season (in which the Bears finished 5-6) featured a stretch of five wins in six games, including three straight over opponents ranked in the top 25 in the subdivision.
Week 3 – Sept. 18 at Florida (Gainesville, Fla.)
The Gators played Alabama closer than any other team in 2021, but ultimately fell 52-46 in the SEC Championship Game. Quarterback Kyle Trask, tight end Kyle Pitts and multi-use weapon Kadarius Toney are all off to the NFL, so head coach Dan Mullen must rebuild his offensive depth chart quickly to have a shot against Alabama's elite defensive talent. But despite last year's struggles against the Crimson Tide, Florida isn't far behind in terms of talent on the defensive side of the ball and the SEC opener is one of Alabama's toughest matchups on the 2021 schedule.
Week 4 – Sept. 25 vs. Southern Miss (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
The 2020 season was a wild one for Southern Miss as the Eagles suffered more than a half-dozen opt-outs among returning starters and were led by three different head coaches. Last season's 3-7 record doesn't look good on paper, but two of USM's three wins came against bowl teams and All-Conference USA running back Frank Gore Jr. is a solid building block for new head coach Will Hall.
Week 5 – Oct. 2 vs. Ole Miss (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Florida technically played the Crimson Tide to a closer final score, but Ole Miss put up more points against Alabama (48) than any Crimson Tide opponent last season. The problem, as was the case for the Rebels most of the year, was defense. If the unit makes even a small stride in 2021, Ole Miss could be very dangerous. Quarterback Matt Corral and running back Jerrion Ealy are two of the best offensive players in the SEC, and though head coach Lane Kiffin must replace ultra-productive receiver Elijah Moore, plenty of talent returns.
Week 6 – Oct. 9 at Texas A&M (College Station, Texas)
There's some offseason buzz that's understandably optimistic that tabs Ole Miss as the team with the best chance to upset Alabama in the regular season. Nevertheless, the team best built to challenge the Crimson Tide in the division standings is Texas A&M. Assuming Jimbo Fisher finds the right quarterback to replace Kellen Mond, the Aggies have one of the most talented offenses with playmakers like Isaiah Spiller, Ainias Smith and Jalen Wydermyer returning, along with offensive lineman Kenyon Green, who is an All-American candidate. The defense should also be stout, especially since four starters and a handful of other contributors decided to return as super seniors in 2021.
Week 7 – Oct. 16 at Mississippi State (Starkville, Miss.)
Mississippi State finished last season 4-7, but expectations are on the rise in head coach Mike Leach's second year. A high-profile college football analytics system even projects the Bulldogs as a top-10 contender — though the general consensus calls for more modest improvement. Nevertheless, many of Leach's top offensive performers were true freshmen last year, and the defense was an unexpected strength. And let's not forget, State knocked off the previous defending national champions last year, so intimidation won't be an issue.
Week 8 – Oct. 23 vs. Tennessee (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Few SEC programs have more questions than Tennessee entering 2021. The Volunteers watched as more than 20 players entered the transfer portal, including nine starters. Linebacker Henry To'oto'o, arguably the best of the bunch, might even end up playing for the Tide this season if spring rumors turn out to be correct. Regardless, the extra year of eligibility awarded to players helped new head coach Josh Heupel soften the blow as eight seniors are set to return, including all three returning starters on the defensive line.
Week 10 – Nov. 6 vs. LSU (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
On paper, LSU appears poised for a big bounce-back performance after posting a 5-5 record in its national title defense. An experienced offensive line, budding star Keyshon Boutte at receiver, and several options at quarterback point to a capable offense, and despite a disappointing defense, new coordinator Daronte Jones inherits an experienced and talented unit. Jones' and new offensive play-caller Jake Peetz' hires are the biggest storylines this offseason given the four-year coordinator roller-coaster in Baton Rouge. By November, we should have a pretty good idea of whether or not Ed Orgeron hit on those, and whether LSU is a threat in the SEC West.
Week 11 – Nov. 13 vs. New Mexico State (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
The first thing that came to mind for many college football fans after learning New Mexico State lost 43-17 to Tarleton State (in its first game as an FCS program after moving up from Division II) in February was the date the Aggies had scheduled in Tuscaloosa in November. A 36-29 victory over Dixie State (another first-season FCS team) in March gave New Mexico State a 1-1 record in the spring after not playing in the fall of 2021. Alabama may be a 50-point favorite (or more).
Week 12 – Nov. 20 vs. Arkansas (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Despite a 3-7 final record that included a four-game season-ending losing streak, Arkansas looked like one of the most improved teams in the country in Sam Pittman's first season as head coach. Linebackers Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool form one of the best duos in the nation, and safety Jalen Catalon should receive preseason All-American consideration. New quarterback KJ Jefferson has huge potential, Treylon Burks is one of the best receivers in the SEC, and the experienced offensive line should improve with Pittman's guidance.
Week 13 – Nov. 27 at Auburn (Auburn, Ala.)
Gus Malzahn was fired at Auburn, and Alabama fans weren't sad to see him go given Malzahn's relative success versus Saban compared to the rest of the SEC. Time will tell whether or not Bryan Harsin poses a similar challenge, but unless the Tigers get much-improved quarterback play from Bo Nix, it's difficult to imagine Auburn challenging the Crimson Tide in the SEC West standings. However, the Tigers could have one of the best defenses in the SEC, and Jordan-Hare Stadium is a tough place to play regardless.