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Ranking the Toughest Games on Alabama’s College Football Schedule in 2015

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Alabama draws one of college football’s toughest schedules this year. Of the team’s 12 regular-season opponents, nine are in Athlon Sports' preseason Top 25, five of which won bowl games in 2014. 

The Crimson Tide open the season in Dallas against Big Ten opponent Wisconsin in the 2015 Cowboys Classic, and host Ole Miss just two weeks later. Road games at Georgia and Mississippi State, with home dates against Arkansas, LSU and Tennessee splashed in between, will provide head coach Nick Saban with perhaps one of his most challenging coaching jobs to date.

If Alabama can make it to the Orange or Cotton Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinals sites), consider the Crimson Tide to be well equipped to handle whichever opponent it draws.

Related: Why Alabama Will or Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015

Here is a look at Alabama’s 12 regular-season games, ranked according to degree of difficulty from easiest to toughest:

12. Nov. 21 vs. Charleston Southern

By the time this game rolls around it should be nothing more than an opportunity for inexperienced players to receive live reps as Alabama will likely sit its starters early ahead of a matchup against in-state rival Auburn.

11. Sept. 26 vs. UL Monroe

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UL Monroe went 0-3 against the SEC (LSU, Kentucky and Texas A&M) in 2014. Alabama hosts the Warhawks before embarking on a brutal six-game SEC tilt. UL Monroe defeated Alabama 21-14 in Tuscaloosa in Nick Saban’s first season as head coach, but don’t bet on it happening again.

10. Sept. 12 vs. Middle Tennessee 

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Middle Tennessee finished 6-6 overall and 5-3 in C-USA play last season. Barring a major letdown after a Week 1 slugfest against Wisconsin, Alabama should cruise past the Blue Raiders and have plenty of time to rest its starters before the team’s Week 3 SEC opener against Ole Miss.

9. Oct. 17 at Texas A&M 

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To be frank, the Aggies under head coach Kevin Sumlin have underwhelmed on defense. This offseason Sumlin brought in defensive coordinator John Chavis to turn it around. Chavis, who previously coached at LSU and Tennessee, faces a tall order. ‘Bama lit Texas A&M up for 59 points and 602 total yards of offense last October in a shutout in Tuscaloosa. While Chavis will eventually make the Aggies formidable on defense, this isn’t the year.

8. Nov. 14 at Mississippi State 

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Expectations in Starkville remain high for school-record-setting quarterback Dak Prescott following his team’s 10-win season in 2014. But a mass exodus of talent will make it difficult for him to turn in an encore performance. ‘Bama defeated the Bulldogs by five points last season and should win by a larger margin this year.

7. Oct. 24 vs. Tennessee

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Butch Jones enters his third year as Tennessee’s head coach and many expect his young team to have a breakout season. The Volunteers coalesced as the year progressed and closed out the 2014 season winners of four of their last five games, including a 45-28 TaxSlayer Bowl victory over Iowa. The Vols return 18 starters from last year's team. This could be Jones’s signature win at Tennessee in what figures to be a competitive contest.

6. Sept. 5 vs. Wisconsin (at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas) 

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Alabama gets its first major test of the season Week 1 in Dallas against first-year Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst’s Badgers. The two teams meet for the first time since 1928, when Wisconsin won 15-0 in Madison. The 2015 Cowboys Classic will set this year’s expectations for the Crimson Tide fan base.  

5. Sept. 19 vs. Ole Miss 

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The Tide welcome a loaded Ole Miss team to Bryant-Denny Stadium in Week 3. Ole Miss, winners of nine games in 2014, returns 16 starters. The Hugh Freeze-led Rebels stunned the Tide 23-17 in Oxford last season, so Saban and company would love nothing more than to return the favor in 2015.

4. Nov. 7 vs. LSU 

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The Crimson Tide host LSU after a much-needed bye week. This one went into overtime last season before Alabama walked away with a 20-13 win. Since 2012, the Tigers are winless in four tries against the Tide, including the 2012 BCS National Championship Game. Heisman Trophy candidate running back Leonard Fournette could be the trump card the Tigers need for a victory.

3. Oct. 10 vs. Arkansas 

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The Crimson Tide was able to fend off Arkansas 14-13 in Fayetteville last year. This year, Alabama’s vaunted defensive line will get all it can handle from Arkansas' punishing ground game, led by Alex Collins (1,100 yards in 2014). Razorback signal-caller Brandon Allen returns for his third year as a starter on an Arkansas squad that is arguably head coach Bret Bielema's most talented since arriving in 2013. This one should be good.

2. Oct. 3 at Georgia 

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This one has all of the ingredients to make an SEC classic. Georgia suffered a heartbreaking 32-28 loss to Alabama in the 2012 SEC Championship Game, and Bulldog fans have waited three years for this rematch. Georgia head coach Mark Richt would go a long way in silencing his critics with a win. Alabama defeated Georgia 41-30 in 2008, the last time the two teams met in Athens.

1. Nov. 28 at Auburn 

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The SEC Championship Game picture should be pretty clear by the time these two teams meet, and the outcome of the Iron Bowl will likely have conference implications. Last year’s meeting was a barnburner, as the two teams combined for 1,169 yards and 99 points in a 55-44 Alabama win. While fans shouldn’t expect another shootout, they should definitely expect another exciting episode of one of the game’s most heated rivalries.

— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.”  Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.