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Monday, August 22, 2011
Key stretch: Alabama

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

This is the first installment of our series examining the stretch of games that could make or break the season for each SEC team.

We kick it off with the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Key stretch: LSU (Nov. 5), at Mississippi State (Nov. 12)

Breakdown: The truth is that Alabama doesn’t have any treacherous three- and four-game stretches, at least not on paper, which is one of the reasons I like the Crimson Tide to win the Western Division. In fact, they’re one of only two teams in the league (with Tennessee being the other) that doesn’t have to play back-to-back games away from home this season. It’s a given that LSU will be an extremely physical game. The Tigers will be really good up front defensively and have outstanding speed in the secondary. So to come off that game and then have to go on the road to face Mississippi State the next week will be a major challenge for Alabama. The Bulldogs have Tennessee-Martin the week earlier, so they will be rested and ready.

Prediction: The Alabama-LSU contest has been one of the games of the year in the SEC each of the last three seasons, and I expect nothing less this season. It’s a game that will be won on defense, and with the Crimson Tide playing at home, they get a slight nod. This should be Dan Mullen’s best team at Mississippi State, but the Crimson Tide have had the Bulldogs’ number the last three years, winning by a combined 93-20 margin. In the end, I’m just not sure Mississippi State will be able to block Alabama. Nothing will come easy during either game, but I see the Crimson Tide getting through unscathed with a 2-0 record and remaining in the thick of the national championship race.