Everyone has pointed to the Sept. 14 trip to Texas A&M as the Southeastern Conference’s game of the year, but the eligibility status surrounding Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel has that must-see contest on hold. The game last season hinged on for Alabama was the SEC championship showdown with Georgia, a thriller that was decided on the final play. Should the Crimson Tide do the expected and get back to Atlanta, they would face a strong challenger that in 60 minutes could ruin everything that had been accomplished. Anything less than a BCS title will be a bummer.
Green as in go
Sophomore receiver Amari Cooper set an Alabama receiving record last season with 11 touchdowns and became the first Tide freshman to amass 1,000 yards. He had the deciding score in the SEC title game before lighting up Notre Dame with six catches for 105 yards and two scores in the BCS championship game. Coming on just as strong defensively last season was current junior safety HaHa Clinton-Dix, who had an interception each in the rout of Auburn, the defeat of Georgia and against Notre Dame, when he also set a career high with seven tackles.
Uh, is there one? The offensive line would seemingly be an area with three new starters, but Arie Kouandjio and Austin Shepherd are in their fourth year in the system and Ryan Kelly is in his third. A better answer may simply be whether complacency ever sets in. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban battled entitlement with his 2004 team at LSU and his 2010 team in Tuscaloosa, but last season’s BCS champions had a target on them from the start yet opened with a rout of Michigan and closed with a trampling of Notre Dame to capture the crystal ball.
Dried and true
Fifth-year senior AJ McCarron already has made Alabama history by becoming the first starting quarterback to win two national championships, and he could make college football history by becoming the first to win three. McCarron may have attained elite status by earning MVP honors in the BCS championship win over LSU that clinched the 2011 national title, and there is no doubt last season cemented his legacy as one of the most efficient ever to play the sport. McCarron led the nation with a 175.28 efficiency rating after throwing for 30 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
If the troubles of Manziel render him unavailable for the Sept. 14 showdown in College Station, the Crimson Tide could be double-digit favorites in all 12 of their regular-season games. Alabama gets LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium after pulling an escape last season in Baton Rouge, and the opener against Virginia Tech in Atlanta does not pack the same punch it would have even three years ago. Facing Kentucky and Tennessee out of the East is a scheduling advantage, as are the open dates before the Texas A&M and LSU matchups. All signs are pointing to 12-0 by early December.He had a reputation of doing more with less at Cincinnati, and given the questions surrounding the Vols defense’s progress from last season’s disaster, all the new skill-position pieces, the schedule and UT’s overall talent level, reaching 6-6 and qualifying for a bowl might fall in line with his previous work. This season could be reminiscent of 2011, when the Bulldogs opened with losses to Boise State and South Carolina before reeling off 10 straight wins. Georgia’s two toughest games this year may be Clemson and South Carolina, in no particular order, with LSU and Florida being next in line. The Bulldogs should be solid favorites in eight games, and the pick here is that they will split the first two and run the table to go 11-1. If the lone loss is to the Gamecocks, then the Bulldogs may sit out a trip to Atlanta.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...