Analyzing Alabama football’s toughest SEC opponents this season

LSU coach BrIan Kelly and Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban visit prior to playing each other at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA on Saturday, Nov 5, 2022.

By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Sam Thornton

TUSCALOOSA-As the Crimson Tide prepares for its upcoming football season, it’s easy to get excited about this fall’s scheduled SEC matchups.

In the final inner conference slate before Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC, Alabama looks to regain its throne as SEC West champion. That means conquering a slate of tough opponents.

Here are the five toughest SEC opponents Alabama is facing this season:

Week 11 @ Kentucky

Alabama’s first trip to Lexington, Kentucky, in a decade could wind up a trap for the Crimson Tide. Although Alabama has been dominant against Kentucky and holds a 38-2-1 all-time record, the Wildcats has revamped its identity under head coach Mark Stoops over the past two seasons.

Former Wildcats standout quarterback Will Levis oversaw a 10-win campaign in 2021 followed by another bowl appearance in 2022. His play propelled the Wildcats into the Top 25 through the first half of the season with a No. 7 peak ranking.

Another highly touted quarterback set to drive Kentucky this season is NC State transfer Devin Leary. Leary held a 17-4 record as starting quarterback with the Wolfpack through two seasons. He also set the school’s single-season record with 35 passing touchdowns, eclipsing former NFL Pro-Bowler Phillip Rivers in 2021.

Alabama struggled last season against deep threat quarterbacks on the road, and Leary is in the same category of talent as former Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker and LSU quarterback Jaden Daniels.

Week 4 vs. Ole Miss

It’s always gonna be a challenge when former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is on the calendar. In what might’ve been Alabama’s most forgotten victory of 2022, Kiffin fell to Saban 30-24 in November. The road woes were glaring for Alabama in 2022, and a loss that day would’ve added to the narrative.

When the Rebels traveled to Tuscaloosa in 2021, any doubt about the Crimson Tide’s roster was erased with its 42-21 victory. Despite that outcome, in 2022 Kiffin was as confident as ever, proclaiming fans to get their “popcorn ready” before kickoff. He had the right to brag with a then-undefeated record and Heisman favorite quarterback Matt Corral.

This season is different on both sides, highlighted by another familiar face at Ole Miss in former Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding. Ole Miss promoted Golding as its new defensive coordinator during the off season to aid the team’s defensive struggles over the second half of last season.

Alabama has to configure against Golding’s Ole Miss defense that finished the season 1-5 after ripping off seven straight wins. A refurbished offense for the Tide under newly hired offensive coordinator Tommy Rees will promote a riveting battle in Tuscaloosa.

On the other side, Alabama’s new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will have to deplete production from predicted Rebels starting quarterback Jaxson Dart and All-SEC running back Quinshon Judkins.

Week 6 @ Texas A&M

Alabama’s first taste of redemption will be at Kyle Field in October. Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fischer delivered his first win against Saban in 2021 with a 41-38 victory. That also marked the first time a former Saban assistant defeated him in a head-to-head match.

While revenge is on the minds of Alabama players, the Aggies gave the Tide trouble last season. Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe struggled against the A&M defense, throwing for just 111 yards with an interception.

The Alabama defense barely hung on against Aggies backup quarterback Hayes King, where they got timely stops at the tail end of the contest owed to the Tide’s front seven pressure. Despite four turnovers and two missed field goals from Alabama, the Tide escaped with a suspect victory.

It was an odd assortment of key second team players on the field that night, but assuming Milroe will be Alabama’s starting quarterback this fall, there must be an established pass game along with ball security to stretch the margin of victory.

The hostile environment that College Station brings will make that objective more strenuous, and it’ll be Alabama’s toughest road environment all season. When Texas A&M defeated the Tide in 2021, they had recently dropped two contests in a row and fell out of the AP Top 25 poll.

Even if a similar pattern happened this season, Fischer will have the locker room ready to fight despite stalled momentum.

Week 8 vs. Tennessee

College football analysts will have this matchup circled on their calendars all season. Recent payback still lives in the minds of Alabama players who saw their 15-game winning streak against the Volunteers collapse last year in Neyland Stadium. While fans painted in orange and white carried goalposts into the Tennessee River, Tide players slunk back to the locker room with their eyes glued to the ground.

It was arguably the most entertaining game of the season. This year, it will be one of the most competitive as Tennessee returns talent on both sides of the field under head coach Josh Heupel. Most notably, Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton looks to continue Hendon Hooker’s success against the Crimson Tide defense.

Milton comes into the season as one of the most intriguing players in the country. His arm talent was on display against Clemson in the Vols 31-14 Orange Bowl victory. Milton threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Volunteers complete its best season in over two decades.

The combination of Alabama’s beefed secondary during the offseason along with the hiring of Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator will be looked upon to slow down Tennessee’s offense that was throttled in Knoxville. Heupel exposed Alabama’s secondary with deep routes and ultimate protection for Hooker throughout the contest.

Seasoned leadership across the Crimson Tide defense will throw something new at Milton and Tennessee as they’ll look to decrease last years 52 point total. Putting up 49 points should almost guarantee a road victory, but it was cut short after an offensive explosion.

Victory cigars in Bryant-Denny Stadium will be anticipated the whole week, but it certainly won’t be guaranteed.

Week 10 vs. LSU 

A completed 2-point conversion called by LSU head football coach Brian Kelly sent Alabama home in the first of its two road losses since 2010. With that, LSU took home the SEC West title. It wasn’t the housewarming gift Saban hoped for, and the LSU matchup is Alabama’s toughest SEC test this year in Tuscaloosa.

The two programs are expected to rank inside the preseason Top 5, with LSU quarterback Jaden Daniels headlining potential Heisman hopes. By week 10, the stakes could be as high as they were when LSU visited Alabama in the infamous 2019 matchup.

The last outing was all about momentum. Former Alabama quarterback Bryce Young drove all the way down the field on the first drive before misfiring to his receiver at the goal line and handing over an interception. After that, the game belonged to the Tigers.

Expect another back and forth matchup, but if Alabama can dictate play early, a victory will fall into their hands like it could have last year in Death Valley. Although LSU strung together an impressive win over Alabama in 2022, the toughest road test LSU faced under Kelly resulted in a loss to a then-struggling Texas A&M team.

However, Kelly proved that his team doesn’t bend the knee easily, even against a dominant Georgia team last year in the SEC championship game. A sustained game plan from Saban will be in store to complete a season driven by deafening national doubt.

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