The offseason is about speculation, but now is the time for definitive predictions. With fall camps open across the SEC, teams are starting to take shape.
The kings are in the building today. Alabama won the national championship in dominant fashion last season. But now the Crimson Tide must replace a Heisman Trophy winner, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and four consensus All-Americans.
Regardless, Nick Saban has built up a wealth of talent in Tuscaloosa. Here’s how we project every Alabama game this season.
Alabama Crimson Tide
2015 record: 14-1, 7-1 SEC; First place in SEC West
Southern Cal — Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas
This will be a perfect opportunity for the Crimson Tide to showcase a fully armed and operational battle station. USC has built a reputation for being somewhat soft on the lines, despite strong recruiting. Alabama might be losing major pieces on both lines, but the Crimson Tide have thrived developing these pieces. The quarterback might not be fully decided, but the Tide will roll on the strength of their run game.
Prediction: Alabama win (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
Western Kentucky — Sept. 10 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
WKU has been impressive the past few years under coach Jeff Brohm. Unfortunately, losing 5,000-yard passer Brandon Doughty right in time to play the greatest active dynasty in college football might be the worst-case scenario for any team.
Prediction: Alabama win (2-0, 0-0 SEC)
Ole Miss — Sept. 17 in Oxford, Miss.
No one has seen sustained success against Alabama under Nick Saban. No one. Of course, that would make it all the more entertaining to see “Swag” Kelly and the Rebels knock off Alabama for a third straight season. The Rebels lost plenty of talent, including three first-round NFL draft picks. However, Hugh Freeze has recruited well enough to keep things close in the trenches. Kelly will need to have the game of his life, but his confidence is obvious.
Prediction: Alabama loss (2-1, 0-1 SEC)
Kent State — Sept. 24 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Golden Flashes lost 52-3 to Illinois last season. Alabama will be fine.
Prediction: Alabama win (3-1, 0-1 SEC)
Kentucky — Oct. 1 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Wildcats have built nicely under Mark Stoops in Lexington. Kentucky hopes to boast a revamped defense led by linebacker Courtney Love and defensive tackle Matt Elam. Unfortunately, nothing will have prepared Kentucky to face off against Alabama.
Prediction: Alabama win (4-1, 1-1 SEC)
Arkansas — Oct. 8 in Fayetteville, Ark.
The last time these two teams played in Fayetteville, the Crimson Tide eked out a 14-13 win. In some ways, this season compares to that one. Alabama lost a couple of mainstays, while the Arkansas defense stepped up. The Razorback D will be its premier unit, especially along the line. Get to know two names — McTelvin Agim and Deatrich Wise. For Alabama to pull away, it likely will need whoever starts at quarterback to test a suspect secondary.
Prediction: Alabama win (5-1, 2-1 SEC)
Tennessee — Oct. 15 in Knoxville, Tenn.
After a physically grueling matchup against Arkansas, the Crimson Tide will have to travel to Knoxville and face off against a Tennessee team with SEC championship aspirations. The Volunteers return nine starters on offense and eight on defense, and a Tennessee win could be program-changing.
Prediction: Alabama loss (5-2, 2-2 SEC)
Texas A&M — Oct. 22 in College Station, Texas
After a rough couple of weeks, the Aggies will be the sacrificial lamb at the altar of Saban. Texas A&M has major questions up front offensively. Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen and edge-rushing linebacker Tim Williams will eat the inexperienced unit alive and force QB Trevor Knight into mistakes. The Aggies’ defense is improved, but the offense has little ability to give them a chance.
Prediction: Alabama win (6-2, 3-2 SEC)
LSU — Nov. 5 in Baton Rouge, La.
This has been the game circled on everyone’s calendar, and the Crimson Tide will deliver. LSU still remains a somewhat one-dimensional offense, despite the talent all over the field. Alabama will be able to get pressure on QB Brandon Harris and force him into mistakes. It’s unlikely Bama will be able to hold Leonard Fournette to 1.6 yards per attempt in Death Valley, as it did last season in Tuscaloosa. But keeping him to fewer than 100 rushing yards will be more than enough. Expect multiple running backs to have double-digit carries for the Crimson Tide.
Prediction: Alabama win (7-2, 4-2 SEC)
Mississippi State — Nov. 12 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Bulldogs haven’t beaten Alabama since the Saban era started in 2008. In fact, Mississippi State has scored more than 10 points against the Tide only once over that stretch. Things won’t get any easier after losing Dak Prescott to the NFL. Alabama will be able to grind down Mississippi State, even with its standout front seven.
Prediction: Alabama win (8-2, 5-2 SEC)
Chattanooga — Nov. 19 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Mocs were pretty good last season, but lost by 39 points against Florida State in their only matchup against an FBS team.
Prediction: Alabama win (9-2, 5-2 SEC)
Auburn — Nov. 26 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Iron Bowl has had national championship implications for the past decade. That should continue to be true this season. Auburn is a program in peril after struggling to a disappointing 7-6 record last season. By this point in the season, the Tigers hope to have the quarterback situation figured out, but Alabama has more options on both sides of the ball.
Prediction: Alabama win (10-2, 6-2 SEC)
Projected record: 10-2, 6-2 SEC; Third in the SEC West
Analysis: Alabama is an excellent team, but might not be the dominant force it was last year. There might not be a team in college football that can survive a schedule that includes road games against Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Arkansas. Though it will be a disappointing season by Saban standards, going 3-2 over that stretch is still to be commended. As a 12-2 2014 season did, this will set up Alabama for a revenge tour in 2017, with a returning quarterback, returning running backs and a whole bunch of defensive talent.