For the second installation in my season predictions for the SEC, I'm traveling up U.S. 280 and down I-59/20 to Tuscaloosa, to preview the defending SEC West champions. The Tide had a magical season in 2008, reaching the #1 ranking before bowing out to Florida and Utah in the SEC Championship Game and Sugar Bowl, respectively. 2009 would figure to be a reloading year for the Tide, but Saban has them in "We don't rebuild, we reload" mode in only his third year. So what does 2009 hold for the Elephants? Let's see...
Alabama Crimson Tide 10-2 (7-1)
The Tide loses a three-year starter at the most important position in quarterback John Parker Wilson. He may have completely sucked for the first two years he was a starter in Tuscaloosa, but he was rock solid for the Tide last season. Behind a veteran line he led Alabama to its first SEC Championship game in nine years. But he (and stalwart LT Andre Smith) are gone, and Alabama will be replacing two key members of its offense. They figure to take a step back as a new quarterback learns the system and SEC defenses adjust to Jim McElwain's offensive system. Let's get on to the schedule:
Sure wins: Florida International, North Texas, @Kentucky, @Mississippi State, Chattanooga
Sure losses: none
Toss-ups: Virginia Tech, Arkansas, @Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana State, @Auburn
Virginia Tech 24 Alabama 13: For the second consecutive season Alabama will travel to Atlanta to face an ACC foe in a neutral site game in Tha Dome. I don't think Alabama will fare quite as well as they did in their 2008 opener against Clemson. Virginia Tech will be a very good team in 2009 and will be ready for the Tide. Alabama will keep it close for three quarters, but the game will end similarly to Alabama's last trip to Atlanta. They start the season at 0-1 (0-0).
Alabama 37 Florida International 6: Not much to say about this game. Alabama overpowers FIU in a laugher. Maybe a brawl will break out and a dude on crutches will fight some Tide players. The Tide bounces back to 1-1 (0-0).
Alabama 41 North Texas 3: Seriously, can you think of a lamer first two home games than FIU and North Texas? This is worse than Auburn's first two of Louisiana-Monroe and Southern Miss from a year ago. Alabama wins another laugher, this time over the Mean Green, going away, improving 'Bama to 2-1 (0-0).
Alabama 21 Arkansas 17: Last season, Alabama pick-sixed Arkansas to death in Fayetteville, rolling to a huge road SEC win. However, they certainly will not be playing the same Razorback team in 2009. Bobby Petrino figures to have his Hogs ready to contend for the SEC West title. The Hogs play Alabama close in Tuscaloosa, before finally falling by four, as Alabama wins its first SEC contest, improving to 3-1 (1-0).
Alabama 30 Kentucky 10: This is a litle bit of a trap game for Alabama, between a home tilt against the Razorbacks and a road trip to the Grove. Fortunately for them, Kentucky will experience some growing pains in 2009 after successfuly 2007 and 2008 campaigns. Alabama should roll over the Wildcats in Lexington. The Tide moves to 4-1 (2-0).
Alabama 22 Mississippi 13: Ole Miss may be the trendy pick to win the SEC West in 2009, but I'm not buying it. I see Alabama rolling into Oxford and coming out with a solid, if unspectacular, victory over Houston Nutt's Rebels. This victory will thrust the Tide into the forefront of SEC West championship talks at 5-1 (3-0).
Alabama 26 South Carolina 8: This is the closest game of Alabama's "toss-ups" I came to putting in the "sure wins" category. **EDIT: Please forgive the horrid grammar of the previous sentence. I hope it makes sense to you.** People may think that the Gamecocks have underachieved under Steve Spurrier, but it has actually been (the other) USC's best four-year run. That tells you more about the Gamecock program than Steve Spurrier. Anyway, Alabama should come out with a reasonably easy victory in Tuscaloosa against the Cocks (tee hee). With the win, Alabama moves to 6-1 (4-0).
Alabama 28 Tennessee 7: Since Nick Saban took over in Tuscaloosa, Alabama has owned the two games against the Volunteers. Of course, UT has a new coach in Lane Kiffin, and the previous two victories were against Phil Fulmer, but the Vols should experience growing pains in 2009 and the game will be played in Tuscaloosa. Look for Alabama to roll over Tennessee once again in 2009. This will be the Tide's seventh consecutive victory after the season-opening loss to the Hokies, pushing their record to 7-1 (5-0).
Louisiana State 20 Alabama 13: In my opinion this game will determine the SEC West champion. That it's being played in Baton Rouge and the fact that the Purple Tigers will have a (slightly) more experienced quarterback make me think that they will come away victorious. Either way, Nick Saban's return to the Bayou will be a hard-fought, close affair, and I see Alabama dropping to 7-2 (5-1).
Alabama 20 Mississippi State 3: After an emotionally draining loss in Louisiana, Alabama returns home to face the Bulldogs from Starkville. Though Alabama should cruise to victory, I forsee this being closer than it could be because Alabama will be deflated after a close loss. Alabama sleepwalks through a 17-point victory, improving to 8-2 (6-1).
Alabama 45 Chattanooga 0: Nothing to say. Alabama beats the Mocs handily in preparation for the Iron Bowl. They now sit at 9-2 (6-1).
Alabama 20 Auburn 12: See my previous entry on Auburn's season to see a description of this game. Alabama finishes the season at 10-2 (7-1).
Honestly, I wanted to give the Tide a worse record than that. It may be the Auburn fan in me showing, but I couldn't find any other losses on the schedule. Yeah, they may lose to Ole Miss, or Tennessee, or even Auburn, but I just don't see it. Saban has Alabama in position to be an SEC contender for years to come, whether Auburn (or any other SEC team) fans like it or not.