Tide schedule preview: Chattanooga

Editor's note: The season is nearly upon us and TideNation is taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular season opponents. Every Tuesday and Thursday we'll go through each week of the Crimson Tide's schedule, starting with the season-opener against Virginia Tech and closing with the finale against Auburn.

Chattanooga Mocs

When: Saturday, Nov. 23 (time and TV to be determined)

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium

The rundown

2012 overall record: 6-5

2012 record: 5-3, sixth in the Southern Conference

Record all time against Alabama: 0-11

Last meeting: Alabama 45, Tennessee-Chattanooga 0 in 2009

Starters returning

Offense: 9; Defense: 10; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

LB Wes Dothard, QB Jacob Huesman, DB D.J. Key, DT Derrick Lott, WR Terrell Robinson, DE Davis Tull, TE Faysal Shafaat, DB Kadeem Wise

Key losses

RB Chris Awuah, LB Shane Heatherly, RB J.J. Jackson, OL Adam Miller, DE Josh Williams

2012 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Huesman* (904 yards)

Passing: Huesman* (1,712 yards)

Receiving: Robinson* (489 yards)

Tackles: Dothard* (94)

Sacks: Tull* (12.5)

Interceptions: Key* (2)

What they're saying:

"I've said this before, nobody wants to hear this, but I was in the NFL for eight years where every team you played was in the NFL. So if somebody wants to take the leadership and say, OK, here are the five conferences that are the top conferences, and we're going to play all our games amongst those people, I'd be fine with that. But until somebody says that, it's going to be impossible to schedule all your games with those teams," Alabama coach Nick Saban said of scheduling Chattanooga.

Three things to watch:

1. A strong defense: The Mocs are expected to have one of the top defenses in the FCS this season with 10 starters returning to a squad that surrendered 307.9 yards per game. Linebacker Wes Dothard and defensive end Davis Tull are back, and both are up for the Football Championship Subdivision National Defensive Player of the Year Award. It's the second consecutive year that Dothard, a two-time All-American, has been a candidate for the award.

2. Generating high expectations: Coach Russ Heusman likes the team he saw on the field this spring. With 18 players with at least 10 starts, he'll have plenty of experience to work with. The Mocs have been on the verge of making the FCS playoffs for each of the past three seasons, and this promises to be the breakout year with 21 starters returning and the playoff field expanding from 20 to 24 teams. And with traditional powers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern ineligible for postseason play, the chances of Chattanooga breaking through are all the more likely.

3. Final cupcake for the Tide?: Saban knows that no one wants to see Alabama play a non-FBS school like Chattanooga, but he says it's nearly impossible to schedule more than 10 games with quality opponents these days. Money is the No. 1 reason why it's difficult because BCS-caliber programs want a home and home or neutral site game as part of the agreement. "So you're going to have less home games," Saban said. A nine-game conference schedule would make that task easier, he'd argue, but there's no possibility of that happening until at least the 2016 season. An across-the-board rule against playing non-FBS teams from the SEC may be coming one day, but until that day comes, expect the Tide to continue putting at least one cupcake on its plate every season.