Alabama Crimson Tide: Bret Beliema

SEC Friday mailbag: Week 3

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
4:30
PM ET
From Matt Freeman (@Onearmbird): How slow will Tennessee look this [Saturday] at Oregon?

I'm afraid the Vols will look a little sluggish in Eugene, and not just because of the jet lag from the cross-country trip. Oregon runs a play every 17 seconds or so. I get lightheaded just watching it. While I applaud the job Butch Jones has done in Knoxville thus far, injecting life into what was a downtrodden program, I just don't see him having the bodies on defense to keep up with Oregon's attack. Keeping the Ducks under 50 could be seen as a victory. In this case, Tennessee's 2-0 start may be misleading. Austin Peay was a pushover, and Western Kentucky all but gave last week's game away with five turnovers in a span of six plays. The Vols defense gave up almost 400 yards that game, and I don't see Marcus Mariota and Co. giving the ball away and failing to capitalize like that.




From Jeremy Garcia (@theFAKEJeremyG): How would you rank Texas A&M's depth at RB, compared to the rest of the conference?

It's among the best in the conference with Ben Malena, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams. Oh yeah, and Tra Carson is no slouch either. All four backs have the skill to start at other programs, and playing alongside Johnny Manziel, they're made even more lethal. I came across an interesting stat on Malena while researching Saturday's game against Alabama: Malena is 10th nationally (minimum 20 carries) with 61.9 percent of his carries going for 5 or more yards. Compare that to All-ACC tailback Duke Johnson, who came in at 47.5 percent.




From Matt Siggelow (@CFBPOexpert): How is it possible that [Alabama] never travels outside of their region or the U.S. to play BCS programs in their stadiums?

Simply put, they don't have to. The sudden rise in popularity of neutral-site games have allowed Alabama to stay away from nonconference games in road environments. Traveling to Texas last year was big, but it was a mostly 50-50 crowd against Michigan. And against Virginia Tech this year, the crowd wasn't too far in Alabama's favor even though Atlanta is much closer to Tuscaloosa than it is Blacksburg. I think it's hard to blame Alabama for the lack of road nonconference games, though. I don't see schools wanting to schedule more than a one-off neutral-site game much these days, whether that's against Alabama or another school. That said, there is a home-and-home scheduled between Alabama and Michigan State in 2016 and 2017 to look forward to.




From Ryan W. Tyler (@ryanwtyler): One-loss [Georgia] that beat undefeated Alabama in SEC champ over either undefeated Oregon or OSU?

Based on Georgia's schedule, it would be hard to keep them out of the championship game. Beating ranked opponents South Carolina, LSU and Florida is more than enough on a one-loss résumé, especially when that one loss came on the road in a close game against a ranked opponent in Clemson. That said, I can see conference fatigue setting in, and the two teams you brought up might be the only ones who could come in ahead of a one-loss SEC team like Georgia. While their schedules aren't spectacular, Ohio State and Oregon will have high profile games to showcase themselves to national voters: the Buckeyes play Michigan, and the Ducks face Stanford.




From Levi Weeks (@Weemsy_1): How do you think Alabama's defense will contain the multi-threat QB Johnny Manziel this Saturday?

Playing gap assignment football will be the key for Alabama's defense. That means the the defensive line must avoid going after the sack and instead maintain its lanes in order to not give Manziel too much room to run when the pocket does break down. C.J. Mosley is a good spy to keep on Manziel at Mike linebacker, but he'll need help up front. Alabama doesn't have a dominant pass-rusher, but in this game it doesn't need one. Pressure is important, but it's even more important that the defense not get out of position and allow the big play. As we all have seen over the past year or so, Manziel is his best when the play breaks down and he can improvise in space.




From Jeremy Davis (@JT_Dav): Which Arkansas team will show up for SEC play? Week 1 or Week 2?

I may be skirting the question a little here, but I think the Razorbacks team that show up for SEC play will be the once that plays Southern Miss this weekend. Back-to-back wins were a nice way to kick off a new era in Arkansas football -- however uninspiring last week's win against Samford might have been -- but we'll see what kind of team Bret Beilema has assembled this weekend against a program that mimics a lot of the size and speed of the SEC. Southern Miss averages right around 300 yards through the air per game, which could be a problem for an Arkansas defense that's had trouble in pass coverage. Having a good game defensively and continuing to establish the running game with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams would be a good way to work toward the start of SEC play in a few weeks.




From Brandon Truett (@do_it_truett89): Do you think the latest allegations are true about Alabama? Also who wins #BAMAvsTAMU?

It's not my place to comment on another story, but I will give my game prediction since this is the last question of the post. Alabama wins by two scores -- I'm thinking 34-21 -- if the offensive line plays better than it did Week 1 against Virginia Tech and limits the pressure in the backfield. Getting the running game going early will be huge for Nick Saban and the coaching staff. Moving the sticks with T.J. Yeldon and Co. will help control the tempo of the game and allow AJ McCarron to do what he does best -- work off play-action. With an entire offseason to prepare, I think Alabama's defense builds off last year's game, in which it held the Aggies to nine points over the final three quarters, and keeps Manziel in check, for the most part.
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.

SEC spring preview: Western Division

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
3:05
PM ET
Here are a few storylines to watch this spring in the Western Division. Edward took a look at the Eastern Division on Monday.

ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE

Start date: March 16

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Battling complacency: Alabama is gearing up for yet another title defense. Will complacency finally rear its ugly head? Not if Nick Saban has anything to do with it. The head coach will no doubt remind players of the targets on their backs and what little they've accomplished as presently constituted.
  2. Opening up the passing game: The return of AJ McCarron, coupled with a talented, deep crop of receivers, could mean a more wide-open passing game in Tuscaloosa. If true freshman tight end O.J. Howard develops as some expect, the offense could become even more dynamic.
  3. Offensive line makeover: Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are gone. And with them the best offensive line in college football has vanished. Veterans Cyrus Kouandjio and Anthony Steen return, but few experienced players are waiting in the wings for Alabama.
    -- Alex Scarborough, TideNation
ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS

Start date: March 10

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Bielema’s stamp: They won’t remember 2012 very fondly in Arkansas. It started with Bobby Petrino’s embarrassing ouster last spring and ended with a forgettable 4-8 season. The Hogs are starting all over with Bret Bielema, who led Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowl appearances. This spring will be Bielema’s first real chance to put his stamp on the program and introduce the Hogs to his brand of power football.
  2. Offensive overhaul: Bielema was known at Wisconsin for running the football behind big, physical offensive lines. His offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney, has more of a passing pedigree. It will be interesting to see how it all comes together offensively for the Hogs, who are losing their top passer, top two rushers and top three receivers from last season. Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell will vie for the starting quarterback job.
  3. Defense takes the lead: The Hogs won under Petrino thanks to their high-scoring offense, and at times, in spite of their defense. But in 2013, the defense may have to carry a lot more of the load. First-year coordinator Chris Ash inherits a veteran front, some young talent at linebacker and a secondary that also should be much improved. It’s a unit that will need to mesh quickly, and that starts this spring.

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