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July 15, 2013

Auburn Season Preview: Scouting Alabama

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On the sixth and final day of our series, we conclude with the two-time defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide. The Tigers will host their arch-rival in the regular season finale for both teams on Nov. 30.

Who: Alabama

When: Saturday, Nov. 30alabamalogo

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.

All-time series: Alabama leads 42-34-1

When last they met: Gene Chizik probably couldn’t have scripted a worst ending to his four-year tenure on the Plains if he had tried. Entering the game 0-7 in SEC play, and not scoring a point against Georgia in their previous outing against a league foe, few expected the Tigers to be able to inflict much damage upon their arch-rival in the annual Iron Bowl matchup. And as it turns out, they didn’t. It was all Alabama from start-to-finish, as the Crimson Tide played with a resolve determined not to show any semblance of weakness as they prepared for a showdown with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game. The Crimson Tide won going away in a 49-0 victory over the Tigers, which was the second-most points Alabama had ever scored in an Iron Bowl and the second-largest margin of victory in the series for either team. Only the 1948 contest was more lopsided, when Alabama won 55-0. Alabama was up 42-0 at the half, led by Eddie Lacy’s two scores on the ground and Amari Cooper’s two receiving touchdowns. Alabama pulled its starters after its first series of the third quarter, with the victory well in hand. One day later, Chizik was fired.

The coach: Nick Saban (159-55-1 record overall in 17 seasons; NOTE: NCAA adjusted Saban’s record to 154-55-1 after Alabama had to vacate its first five wins of the 2007 season due to NCAA violations relating to players illegally obtaining free textbooks for other students; went 9-2 in one season at Toledo in 1990, 34-24 in five seasons at Michigan State 1995-99, 48-16 in five seasons at LSU from 2000-04 and 68-13 in six seasons at Alabama since 2007; four national titles, one at LSU in 2003 and three at Alabama, coming in 2009, 2011 and 2012)

2012 record: 13-1, 7-1 SEC (won SEC Western Division title; beat Georgia 32-28 in SEC Championship Game; beat Notre Dame 42-14 in BCS National Championship Game)

Total offense: 445.50 ypg (31st in Division I, 4th in SEC)

Scoring offense: 38.71 ppg (12th, 2nd)

Total defense: 250.00 ypg (1st, 1st)

Scoring defense: 10.93 ppg (1st, 1st)

2012 Year-in-Review: Alabama got the season started off right, crushing Michigan 41-14 in its season opener at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide’s next seven opponents offered little resistance, winning those games by a combined score of 284-51. Alabama was finally tested when it visited Baton Rouge, La., to take on LSU. Thanks to some last-minute heroics from quarterback AJ McCarron and freshman tailback T.J. Yeldon — the two hooked up for the go-ahead 28-yard score with 51 seconds to play — the Crimson Tide left Tiger Stadium with a 21-17 victory and their undefeated season intact. That changed a week later versus Texas A&M. Dazzling redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, the eventual Heisman winner, helped the fifth-ranked Aggies upend the Crimson Tide in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama was no longer in control of its own destiny in the BCS title chase, but got help when both Kansas State and Oregon lost on the same Saturday just one week later. Closing out the regular season with identical 49-0 victories over Western Carolina and Auburn, Alabama met Georgia in the SEC Championship, in what was a de facto semifinal for the right to face Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game. In one of the most memorable games the Georgia Dome had ever seen, the Crimson Tide punched another ticket to the national title contest after Georgia receiver Chris Conley caught a tipped pass at the 5-yard-line on the game’s chaotic final play. With no timeouts left, the Bulldogs had to watch the Crimson Tide celebrate as confetti streamed down to the Georgia Dome’s turf. And Alabama sucked any drama the BCS title tilt might have had in the early going, scoring three touchdowns by the opening minute of the second quarter. The Crimson Tide tacked on two more touchdowns before the Fighting Irish ever got on the board, romping to a 42-14 win — the second-largest margin of victory in a BCS title game — to earn their second national championship in a row and third in four years.

Biggest area of concern: Concern may not be the right word. Slightly apprehensive, maybe? A tad uneasy? Yes, they have to replace three fantastic offensive linemen in center Barrett Jones, left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker (All-Americans, all), but does anyone really think the Crimson Tide weren’t prepared for this? Anyone who doubts Alabama’s ability to reload, regardless of the amount of talent lost, does so at their own peril.

Key returning player/unit: The Crimson Tide are filled to the brim with NFL-ready talent at nearly every position. You name it, and they probably have it. But when you’re a team chasing the kind of history that Alabama is after this season, it helps to have a quarterback used to playing in high-pressure situations. McCarron certainly fits the bill. Cooper will return as McCarron’s go-to target in what should be one of the best receiving corps Alabama has had under Saban. And when McCarron feels like handing the ball off — which he should do quite often this fall — he’ll have an almost-unfair number of options who can ably handle the job. Even with Lacy moving on to the NFL, Yeldon leads arguably the deepest unit on the team, joined by fellow returnees Kenyan Drake (a speedster), Dee Hart (another burner who moved to defensive back in the spring but could still get carries in some situations) and the bruising Jalston Fowler, a short-yardage extraordinaire. Then, since they didn’t have enough talented tailbacks already, the Crimson Tide signed four of the best in the 2013 class in Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, Tyren Jones and another member of the “all-cool name first-team,” Altee Tenpenny. McCarron has lost only two games in as many seasons as Alabama’s starting quarterback (against 25 victories), and it seems unlikely many defeats will be added to his total in the coming year, barring some (very) unforeseen circumstances.

Extra point: With its win in the national title game, Alabama (2009, 2011, 2012) became only the third school in the “wire service era” (since 1936) to capture three titles in a four year span, joining Notre Dame (1946, 1947, 1949) and Nebraska (1994, 1995, 1997). No team in the aforementioned “wire service era” has won three consecutive national championships, which the Crimson Tide are gunning for this season.

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Washington State

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Florida Atlantic

Arkansas

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