It’s Rankings Week at TideNation. Every day we’ll rank Alabama's opponents in some form or fashion. Today we turn to the Football Bowl Subdivision teams on the Tide’s schedule. Tomorrow we’ll rank the offensive players Alabama will face.
Ranking the schedule
1. Texas A&M (Sept. 14 in College Station, Texas): It may not be the Alabama-LSU Game of the Century Trilogy, but the Week 2 date with Texas A&M will be the Tide's Game of the Year in 2013. Why? If for nothing other than revenge. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies had the ball bounce their way in a thrilling finish last season, and Alabama will be eager to prove the loss a fluke. Kevin Sumlin's squad might take a step back after losing its franchise tackle (Luke Joeckel) and best defensive player (Damontre Moore), but don't doubt the talent assembled in College Station. Alabama might have been favored at home, but on the road it's anyone's guess.
2. LSU (Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.): If these two teams are undefeated at this point in the season, we could be talking about extending the Trilogy of classics between SEC rivals. But having lost so much on both sides of the ball, it's difficult to imagine the Tigers making it through the likes of Georgia and Florida without a loss. Les Miles is a magician, but even his tricks have their limits. Replacing seven starters on defense won't be as easy task, and the offense will need time to adjust under new coordinator Cam Cameron.
3. Virginia Tech (Aug. 31 in Atlanta): If the Hokies are going to challenge in the opener, it will be have to be because of Logan Thomas. The senior quarterback turned down the NFL, and after watching him in the Hokies' spring game, his stock doesn't look so solid. He threw three interceptions against what will be a good but probably not spectacular defense. Thomas is one of four returning starters on an offense under the direction of coordinator Scott Loeffler, who struggled mightily at Auburn last season.
4. Ole Miss (Sept. 28 in Tuscaloosa): Give Hugh Freeze credit. What the Rebels did holding Alabama to its lowest offensive production of the season in 2012 was impressive. And given what Freeze's offense can do with Bo Wallace at quarterback pushing the tempo, it's easy to see Ole Miss giving the Tide fits again. The flow of talent coming into Oxford, Miss., is starting to level the playing field.
5. Mississippi State (Nov. 16 in Starkville, Miss.): Unlike last season, we'll know just how good the Bulldogs are before they face Alabama. (See dates with LSU, South Carolina, Texas A&M). And maybe some toughening up is exactly what they'll need to get ready for a challenge. But the loss of their top two cornerbacks (Johnthan Banks, Darius Slay) and the No. 1 receiver (Chad Bumphis) might be too much to overcome. The good news is Tyler Russell is back under center and LaDarius Perkins returns at tailback, and they'll be helped by an offensive line with four returning starters.
6. Arkansas (Oct. 19 in Tuscaloosa): Bret Bielema might be regretting his comments about Alabama when he travels to Tuscaloosa to face Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide. It's probably not wise to poke the bear in your first season, even if you're supposed to be doing it behind closed doors to like-minded fans.On the field, Bielema and his new staff have their hands full, replacing 11 starters.
7. Auburn (Nov. 30 in Auburn, Ala.): It's the Iron Bowl, which means anything can happen. And it will be on Auburn's home turf, which means a Super Bowl atmosphere for a program that will likely have nothing to lose. Gus Malzahn should fare better than his predecessor after cleaning house, but the cupboard was left pretty bare. Cam Newton is on campus, but only for classes. Making him eligible might be the only thing that could save what will be a rocky season for Auburn.
8. Tennessee (Oct. 26 in Tuscaloosa): Butch Jones has re-energized the program, but much like Malzahn at Auburn, he wasn't left with much to work with. Tyler Bray is gone, as is core of the offense with Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Mychal Rivera out the door as well. The defense isn't in much better shape, as it returns a secondary that finished 111th in pass defense. The good news is the Vols should have one of the best offensive lines in all of college football. It's a start.
9. Kentucky (Oct. 12 in Lexington, Ky.): Mike Stoops is building from the ground up in Lexington, and that hard work is showing on the recruiting trail. But it will take time before it shows up on the football field, where it counts. Until the Wildcats start bringing in SEC talent on a consistent basis, they won't compete in big games like Alabama. It will be a while before Kentucky can make the climb from last in scoring offense and next to last in scoring defense in the league.
10. Colorado State (Sept. 21 in Tuscaloosa): Jim McElwain has familiarity with Alabama. Give him that much. He'll try to prepare his players for what to expect in Tuscaloosa, but nothing he can say will truly get his team ready for the dramatic change of scenery. Colorado's four wins last season came against dreadful competition (Colorado, Hawaii, UNLV, Mexico), but the silver lining is McElwain returns a whopping 19 starters.