The SEC doesn't shy away from calling itself the toughest conference in which to play in all the land. There's a lot of bravado in the SEC, but it's hard to ignore how tough of a league it is. Calling it the best isn't a stretch by any means, and the fact that it's produced eight of the last 10 national champions is nothing to ignore.
That brings us to scheduling talk and a look at the toughest three- or four-game stretches for all 14 teams. Today, we start with the defending SEC and national champs.
Toughest stretch: Oct. 8-Nov. 5 (at Arkansas, at Tennessee, vs. Texas A&M, at LSU)
Why: September treats Alabama to games away from Tuscaloosa against USC and Ole Miss, but the October slate for Alabama would spook anyone. This all-SEC gauntlet features road trips to two schools that will enter the season ranked and will make or break Alabama's chances of three-peating as SEC champs and returning to the College Football Playoff for a third consecutive season.
The last time Alabama traveled to Fayetteville to battle Arkansas, it left with an ugly 14-13 win in a game in which the Tide looked up at the Hogs for the majority of the time. We don't know what to expect from Arkansas, but Bret Bielema will continue to have his guys ready to take on the conference's best in his own backyard.
A week later, Alabama heads to Knoxville to play one of the SEC's most talented and experienced teams. Tennessee is the early popular pick to win the SEC Eastern Division this fall, and there's no way this team is remotely close to being over last year's 19-14 loss inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. Neyland Stadium will no doubt be electric for the Tide's arrival. If things work out for Tennessee -- and there are no excuses for them not to this fall -- this game could have major playoff implications and set up a rematch in Atlanta in December. Quarterback Josh Dobbs is improving as a passer, but what could really test the Tide is his mobility. Remember, running quarterbacks still give Nick Saban-coached teams fits -- and Dobbs is the SEC's best mobile QB.
The Tide then return home to face a Texas A&M team that has us all perplexed as to what it will look like. The Aggies haven't really been competitive against the Tide since 2013, but this is a program with its back against the wall. So much silly drama surrounds A&M, and you had better believe folks there are anxious. Coach Kevin Sumlin's seat is getting warmer, but he has Trevor Knight on his side now. Alabama fans know him well, as he torched the Tide's defense for 355 yards of offense and four touchdowns with Oklahoma in the Sooner's 45-31 upset of Alabama in the 2013 Sugar Bowl.
After a much-needed bye week, Alabama travels to Baton Rouge to take on another experienced and talented team in LSU. Although the Tigers have underachieved of late and have lost five straight to the Tide, this LSU team is out to win the West this year. A ton of talent returns on defense, and something tells me Leonard Fournette is counting down the days until he meets the Tide again after he ran for an embarrassingly low 31 yards (1.6 yards per carry) against them last November. This is another program with its back against the wall and thirsty to take down the Tide.