I would say “prognostication” or something more grandiose, but let’s face it. My thoughts are really nothing more than a wet finger in the air based on a certain amount of knowledge, but quite a bit of luck as well. It probably should be said that when it comes to Alabama football, I generally fall somewhere between realist and pessimist. I don’t tend to overestimate what Tide teams do. In fact, I wouldn’t have picked three of our teams to win the national title in the last seven years (the exception was 2012, if you’re interested; I, like almost seemingly everyone else, thought Ohio State would win it last year). But I thought it might be interesting to have this post for posterity once the season concludes and to see how close I came. So here’s a quick game-by-game breakdown of the season.
USC (at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas): since 2008, in season openers on neutral sites, Alabama has played Clemson, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Virginia Tech again, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. None of them have come within single digits of beating Alabama. Nick Saban is one of the absolute best in the business at preparing his team for the first game. USC has a lot of talent – they are finally back to a full complement of scholarships, and they get top-flight athletes – but they also have a first-year head coach, and Alabama still wins on depth and overall talent. I think this one will be close for a while, but Alabama pulls away a little in the fourth. 1-0.
Western Kentucky: trap game. An opportunity for revenge against the Rebels is next, and it would be easy to overlook this team. I’m not saying Alabama will lose. I’m saying it will be closer than you think for a while. The Hilltoppers are a really good team, and it might be here that we start seeing some of the cracks that concern me for Alabama’s long-term prospects this year. Nevertheless, the Tide gets it done here. 2-0.
@ Ole Miss: here’s the thing. Alabama lost a lot of talent last year. That happens every year; Saban has shown that he can reload. Ole Miss lost a lot of top-tier talent last year. They haven’t shown that they can reload yet. They have the better quarterback and the game is in Oxford; those are the only reasons that this one worries me. Alabama will be out for blood in this one, and I think they finally figure out the Rebels. 3-0.
Kent State: no discussion necessary, right? 4-0.
Kentucky: Kentucky is improving, but they’re not they’re yet. They’ll keep it close for a little while, but I’m thinking it’ll be a happy homecoming. 5-0.
@ Arkansas: this game scares the stew out of me. Arkansas has found its identity under Bielema. The game is in Fayetteville, and the Razorbacks gave Alabama everything they wanted and then some two years ago at Razorback Stadium. I was at that game, and I remember asking as we left the stadium, “how did Alabama win that game?” Arkansas didn’t know how to finish then. They do now. If this game stays close, Arkansas has shown they can find a way to win late. I’ll pick Alabama here, but if the quarterback situation hasn’t gelled by now, this game might very well be a loss. 6-0.
@ Tennessee: here it is: the game Butch Jones has worked up to since he arrived in Knoxville. The Volunteers have improved every year since he arrived, their recruiting has stepped up, their confidence is higher than it’s been in years. This is the time. If they don’t make the leap, it might not happen. I think they’ll have gotten the Florida monkey off of their back already. This is the last game of a really tough stretch, but if they’re undefeated going into this game, they’ll be playing for Atlanta. There’s no one else on the schedule that can touch them. And I hate to say it, but I think this is the year they get the Alabama monkey off of their back as well. A close, close, close game, but I think the Vols win it. 6-1.
Texas A&M: Trevor Knight is a familiar name to Bama fans, and he can put up points. If the Tennessee game goes as I expect it, the Tide will be down. But I am not picking against Alabama at home against a team that hasn’t yet proven it can consistently stop opposing offenses. 7-1.
@ LSU: the Tigers will be the toughest team Bama’s faced yet. Leonard Fournette might have a passing offense to go with him this year, and their defense will be salty as ever. I think LSU will be undefeated going into this game, and sadly, I think they’ll be undefeated coming out of it as well. It’ll be close, but I think Fournette is the difference this year. 7-2.
Mississippi State: State could barely score against Alabama at home with the best quarterback in their history. They won’t beat them on the road with a first-year starter. 8-2.
Chattanooga: best case scenario – starters out by halftime, no injuries. Worst-case scenario: still a win. 9-2.
Auburn: always a difficult game to predict for me (pessimism, remember); I’ll attempt to be realistic. Alabama should be the better team, and the better team generally wins this game. The game is at Bryant-Denny, which means no weird Jordan-Hare zaniness that always seems to benefit the Tigers. In the past two years, Alabama has shown they can both beat Auburn in a shootout and simply overpower them. I’m not sure which one this will be, but I think Bama gets it done for a third Iron Bowl win in a row. 10-2.
SEC Championship: sadly, Alabama won’t make it. LSU will be the Western Division champ.
Bowl Game: either the Outback Bowl or the Texas Bowl.
So there you go; my best guess at how it all turns out. 10-2 is a great season most places, but Alabama isn’t most places. The scary thing to me is the parallels I’m already starting to see to 2010, a season that saw a Bama team loaded with talent underachieve in a season after winning a national title. There are definitely a couple more loseable games in this schedule, so if the wheels fall off, the final record could be worse. Here’s hoping it’s a season more like 2012, where an Alabama team coming off of a national championship established its own identity and did it all over again.