The sports landscape has definitely changed over the past few years. What was normal in 2019 was anything but in 2020. Last year was a vast improvement over the previous one and hopefully, 2022 gets back even closer to a pre-pandemic feel. Through it all, one thing didn't change: Alabama remained dominant in college football.
No, the Crimson Tide did not take home the title last fall, but they played in the season's final game and had another Heisman Trophy winner. And quarterback Bryce Young is back, along with a plethora of exceptional athletes on both sides of the ball.
At Alabama, the difficulty of the schedule is all relative. The Tide are usually more talented than the opposition, regardless of which team it is they share the field with. But this year, the slate appears to be exceptionally friendly. They go on the road early to play a brand name that is still rebuilding, the SEC East crossover game is a slam-dunk, and their biggest rival and biggest perceived West challenger both come to Tuscaloosa.
There are some tricky spots, but this looks like a schedule Nick Saban's team can manage.
Bye: Week 9
Week 1 — Sept. 3 vs. Utah State (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
The Tide usually opens the season playing a Power 5 program at a neutral site. But for the first time since 2011, Alabama's initial game will be against a Group of 5 team when Utah State comes to town. The Aggies will be led by quarterback Logan Bonner, who has 66 touchdown passes in his career between Arkansas State and Utah State and is back for his sixth season of college football.
Week 2 — Sept. 10 at Texas (Austin, Texas)
In Week 2, former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will play host as he looks to improve the Longhorns in his second season. The Texas quarterback situation has to get sorted out, but wide receiver Xavier Worthy will be a dynamic playmaker in his sophomore season regardless of who is throwing him the ball.
Week 3 — Sept. 17 vs. ULM (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
In Saban's first season, the Warhawks came to Tuscaloosa and pulled off the upset. Considering that ULM has not had a winning season since 2012, the chances of that happening again are extremely minute.
Week 4 — Sept. 24 vs. Vanderbilt (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
A Vanderbilt victory at Bryant-Denny Stadium would be just as shocking. Second-year head coach Clark Lea has a huge building job in front of him, and the last Commodore win over the Crimson Tide was back in 1984.
Week 5 — Oct. 1 at Arkansas (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Sam Pittman has made the Razorbacks relevant again, guiding Arkansas to an Outback Bowl win in just his second season. Only nine total starters return, but quarterback KJ Jefferson and leading tackler Bumper Pool are among those coming back.
Week 6 — Oct. 8 vs. Texas A&M (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
A&M also brings back just nine starters, but excitement reigns supreme in College Station. The cornerback duo of Tyreek Chappell and Jaylon Jones are more than solid, and the nation's No. 1 recruiting class will be warmed up by Week 6.
Week 7 — Oct. 15 at Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.)
The energy at Texas A&M is matched by that at Tennessee. The offense exploded in Year 1 of the Josh Heupel era, and with Hendon Hooker back at quarterback, Year 2 should be even better. A jump in defensive efficiency in 2022 could push the Vols into SEC East contention.
Week 8 — Oct. 22 vs. Mississippi State (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
It's a Mike Leach-coached team, so that means the Alabama pass defense must be ready. The Bulldogs were No. 4 nationally in passing offense in 2021, and third-year quarterback Will Rogers has a deep group to throw to, despite the departure of Makai Polk.
Week 10 — Nov. 5 at LSU (Baton Rouge, La.)
Brian Kelly has faced Nick Saban a couple of times, and it didn't go well on either occasion. But Kelly is no longer at Notre Dame, and this game will be played in Baton Rouge, not at a neutral site like the previous two meetings. The bad news is that the Tigers return the fewest number of starters in the SEC in 2022, so an LSU victory would have to be considered a major upset.
Week 11 — Nov. 12 at Ole Miss (Oxford, Miss.)
The Tide beat the Rebels last season in a game that wasn't as close as the 42-21 final score would suggest. But Lane Kiffin's squad gave Alabama a battle in the Tide's last visit to Oxford before falling to the Tide 63-48.
Week 12 — Nov. 19 vs. Austin Peay (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
The Governors have finished above .500 in three of the last five seasons, which is the apex of their football existence over the past 20 years. But they have never come close to beating a Power 5 team, and winning at Alabama seems impossible.
Week 13 — Nov. 26 vs. Auburn (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
What would have happened if Tank Bigsby had stayed in bounds? Would Alabama have been able to rebound and win the SEC title the next week? Would they have made the playoff? Would Bryan Harsin's job have been in jeopardy all offseason? We will never know, but Bigsby and Harsin will look to get redemption in 2022.
– Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, focusing on the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.