TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s 2016 schedule features another season opener vs. a Power 5 opponent, along with trips to Baton Rouge, La. and Oxford, Miss.
Comparatively speaking, Alabama’s 2015 schedule looked tougher on paper prior to the season than this year’s slate does.
Alabama navigated that 2015 land field with only one loss, while winning its second straight SEC Championship and fourth national championship in seven seasons.
Overall, Alabama’s schedule sets up favorably this year, but a few key road games could make or break the Crimson Tide’s season.
Here are the dates you need to know:
Best matchup: Sept. 3 vs USC (AT&T Stadium)
This one is strictly written from a “fan of the game” standpoint. In terms of college football blue bloods, matchups don’t get much better than Alabama vs. USC.
There are so many storylines here, like SEC vs. Pac-12 and Lane Kiffin vs. the team that infamously fired him.
USC finished 8-6 last season, including losses in the Pac-12 Championship game to Stanford and a Holiday Bowl loss vs. Wisconsin.
Alabama finished the year 14-1 en route to winning the SEC and national championships.
Alabama has dominated in these big-time Power 5 matchups to open the season, and there’s no reason to think the Crimson Tide won’t take care of business this time around.
Toughest matchup: Nov. 5 at LSU
Going back to 2008, Alabama’s last four trips to Baton Rouge look like this: Overtime win in 2008, loss in 2010, last-minute victory in 2012 and overtime win in 2014. That’s a 3-1 record for the Tide, but all four matchups have been close, with Alabama needing late-game heroics to pull out those victories.
There’s no reason to think this one won’t be the same way. Since the 2011 national championship game, Alabama has owned LSU and Tiger fans are hungry for a win over their division rival.
Tiger Stadium is the toughest place to play in the SEC, and the noise levels seem to reach new highs when Alabama is in town. There’s also Leonard Fournette, who’ll be looking to show he’s better than last year’s 31-yard, 1.6-yards-per-carry performance.
Toughest stretch: Oct. 8-22
During these three weeks, Alabama is at Arkansas, at Tennessee and home vs. Texas A&M. That stretch is tough because it will be three straight SEC games, two of which are away from Bryant-Denny Stadium. The A&M contest will be Alabama’s eighth straight game of the season without a bye week (Alabama’s bye is after the Texas A&M game).
After back-to-back 52-0 wins for Alabama in 2012 and 2013, Arkansas has played Alabama extremely close over the past two seasons. Arkansas actually led the contest up until late in the third quarter last season, when Alabama’s offense finally turned it on. The Razorbacks have been extremely tough and physical under coach Bret Bielema so don’t be surprised if they give Alabama another tough matchup inside Razorback Stadium.
Last year, Tennessee turned out to be Alabama’s toughest regular season opponent, not counting the Ole Miss loss. The Volunteers caught Alabama on their eighth straight game, and Alabama need a late defensive play from Ryan Anderson to close things out for a 19-14 win in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
All signs point to Tennessee being improved this season. Volunteer quarterback Joshua Dobbs is heading into his senior year, and has some nice weapons around him. Tennessee hasn’t beaten Alabama since Saban stepped on campus, so their fans are hungry for a win. Neyland Stadium will be the second-loudest place Alabama will play this season (see: LSU).
There’s really no way to know what Texas A&M will be that week with the offensive turnover that took place this offseason in College Station. But the Aggies are Alabama’s eighth straight game without a bye, and chances are they could catch the Tide a little banged up and tired.
Revenge game: Sept. 17 at Ole Miss
Before Ole Miss defeated Alabama in Bryant-Denny last season for back-to-back wins in the series, the last team to beat Alabama in back-to-back games under Saban was LSU (2010-11 regular seasons). No team has won three straight games over Alabama during Saban’s tenure.
Ole Miss gets Alabama in Week 3 at home in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, meaning Alabama must bring its best early on.
Ole Miss returns arguably the best quarterback in the SEC in Chad Kelly, but the Rebels lost a lot of its talented juniors to the NFL Draft as Laquon Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche and Laremy Tunsil all moved on.
Despite turning the ball over five times, Alabama was still in last year’s contest late in the fourth quarter. If Alabama can clean up its mistakes, the Crimson Tide should be able to end the Rebels’ mini-win streak in this series.