After the Tigers face off South Carolina, they will return home for to close the regular season against hated rival Alabama. The Tigers are seeking revenge for last year’s loss against the eventual national champions.
The Tide will be looking to continue their dominance over the SEC while Auburn intends to end that reign. In 2020, Alabama ran through its SEC slate, winning every matchup, before beating Notre Dame in the College Football Playoffs and then Ohio State for the national championship.
For Alabama’s offense in 2021, the name of the game will be how well they can reload. Alabama’s top quarterback, running back, and Heisman-winning wide receiver are all gone to the NFL. For many teams, this would be devastating, but few expect Alabama to suffer much.
Quarterback Mac Jones will be replaced with the highly touted Bryce Young, who has not taken any meaningful snaps but has high expectations as many expect him to be a dynamic playmaker.
The second-leading receiver, John Metchie, is returning, and while he had fewer receiving yards than Smith, he actually had more yards per catch.
While Brian Robinson may not be able to match Najee Harris’ nearly 1,500 rushing yards, he has plenty of experience. Robinson finished second on the team in rushing last season, with 483 yards and six touchdowns.
The Crimson Tide offense will also be revamped as former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian left for the head coaching job at Texas. As Sarkisian exits, former Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien enters, looking to continue the massive offensive success Alabama is used to experiencing.
Alabama’s defense will be a unit to be feared in 2021. The Tide do not lose as many key players as the offense, and with many starters returning from a defense that allowed only 19 points per, look out. Top linebacker Dylan Moses is gone, but second-leading tackler Christian Harris returns. Harris had only one fewer tackle than Moses last season, 79 to Moses’ 80, so expect the linebacking corps to be locked and loaded for the season.
The Tide also added Tennessee transfer linebacker Henry To’o To’o, who should add great depth to a stacked position group. DJ Dale is expected to lead the defensive tackle group after having 21 tackles and a lone sack last season. The secondary will be loaded still as the team’s third, fourth, and fifth-leading tacklers from last season return.
With a lot of the talent returning from a national championship defense, expect points to be few and far between for any opposing offense.
The key player on offense will be junior offensive lineman Evan Neal. Neal, who stands at 6-foot-7, 360 pounds, will be leaned upon heavily to start the season with a new quarterback feeling his way through the trials of his first season. He will be moving from the right side to the left as he is set to anchor the trenches.
On defense, keep an eye on junior linebacker Christian Harris. Harris is touted as one of the best linebackers in the nation and was second on the team in total tackles and total sacks last season. For the defense to get better to take a step forward, Harris and the linebacking corps need to be the ones to lead the charge.
For Alabama to have success on offense this season they need to continue dominating the passing game. The Tide led the nation in second-down passing, and as a result of a solid aerial attack they were able to shut teams down before they had a chance. Najee Harris may be gone, but Alabama still returns solid running backs as well as quarterback Bryce Young, who is expected to contribute heavily in the running game.
With opposing defenses keying in on Harris, expect there to be more opportunities to air the ball out. On defense, the Tide need to improve on their third-down defense. The 2020 third-down defense was Saban’s worst in a decade, and while they were still a dominant force, they will be nearly unstoppable if they begin crushing teams on third-down.
There is no football game bigger than the Iron Bowl and this year’s 83rd edition promises to be another battle. Alabama has the talent to steamroll through their schedule, but leave it up to the Auburn Tigers, under the lights of Jordan-Hare Stadium, to try to derail their train once again.