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Previewing Each of Alabama's Nonconference Games in 2024

Alabama Crimson Tide Football
© Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Alabama has a new football coach for the first time in more than a decade. Legendary coach Nick Saban stepped down, and Kalen DeBoer has stepped up after a successful stint with the University of Washington Huskies. The Crimson Tide, known for their ability to navigate the Southeastern Conference, face a question: Will DeBoer be allowed the same grace as Saban, who was given a mulligan after Alabama experienced a rare nonconference loss to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007?

The Tide's 2024 schedule features four non-conference games. Here is a preview of those games and their relative significance.

No. 4: Mercer Bears (2023 9-4, 6-2 Southern Conference)

The Mercer Bears come to Bryant Denny Stadium for a mid-November clash. The Bears are coming off an impressive year in the SoCon, finishing 6-2 in the conference and making it to the FCS playoffs, where they lost to the eventual national champion, South Dakota State University.

After being announced as the program's 21st head coach, Mike Jacobs takes over the Bears. The former Ohio State Buckeyes offensive lineman looks to bring his toughness and success to his new team.

Carter Peevy was thought to be the starter at quarterback before he hopped into the portal and committed to the Maine Black Bears. The only quarterback returning on the roster who threw a pass last year is Hess Horne, who only threw three passes on the season. With a very young team across the board, the Bears have almost zero chance of pulling off this huge upset. Alabama will get their backups in early and prepare for the season's final two regular-season games.

No. 3: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (2023 8-5, 5-3 Conference USA)

Tyson Helton heads into his sixth season as the coach for the Hilltoppers. Helton boasts a 40-26 record in his time at Western Kentucky. He has led the team to bowl game appearances in each of his first five seasons, winning four of those contests. Last year, in the Famous Toastery Bowl, the Hilltoppers were down 28-0 against Old Dominion before coming back to prevail. That marked the fourth-largest comeback in bowl game history.

QB Caden Veltkamp, a 6-foot-6 sophomore, is the likely starting signal caller for WKU in 2024. His predecessor, Austin Reed, was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Chicago Bears. The Hilltoppers feature a pass-happy offense with explosive skill-position players, and some of WKU's playmakers might test the Crimson Tide secondary. However, the Hilltoppers need to get better between the tackles. The WKU offensive linemen will have their hands full with the Crimson Tide defense when the teams meet on Aug. 31.

Last years' CUSA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Jaques Evans is looking to get the WKU defense back on track after finishing 108th in total defense last season.

Ultimately, the size and physicality of Alabama's men in the trenches will likely prove decisive. The game should be on cruise control for Alabama fairly early on.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
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No. 2: South Florida Bulls (2023 7-6, 4-4 American Athletic Conference)

The Bulls travel to Tuscaloosa in a rematch of last year's game in Tampa that had Tide fans sweating. The score was 3-3 at halftime. Eventually, however, Alabama pulled out a 17-3 victory over a very game Bulls squad. During the game, USF's Byrum Brown was establishing his footing as a college quarterback, while Alabama was going through some quarterback issues of its own. Jalen Milroe did not play, and the South Florida defense looked to play spoiler. In the end, the Bulls' offense was unable to match the intensity and execution of the defense.

In the rematch on Sept. 7, Brown will have better command of the USF offense. Thus, coach Alex Golesh, one of the youngest and brightest coaches on the college football scene, will look to unleash his offense with a more controlled and experienced quarterback. However, the road atmosphere in Bryant Denny Stadium will be unlike anything Brown has ever experienced.

South Florida Bulls
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No. 1: Wisconsin Badgers (2023 7-6, 5-4 Big Ten Conference)

After taking the University of Cincinnati football program to new heights, second-year coach Luke Fickell looks to have his Badgers in position to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Fickell is trying to replace a system in Wisconsin that has long featured a ground-and-pound-style offense with a more up-tempo toss-it-around-the-yard style.

The Badgers have former Miami Hurricane Tyler Van Dyke at quarterback this season and hope to frequently inspire Badgers fans at Camp Randall Stadium to "Jump Around."

The matchup with the Badgers in Madison is the most important nonconference game on the 2024 schedule for the Crimson Tide. It figures to be the first true test that DeBoer and the new-look Tide will face, and it will be in a rowdy environment. Alabama is used to big-time games in big-time atmospheres, but this is the Tide's first major nonconference clash in the post-Saban era. The game, which will be nationally televised, takes place on Sept. 14.

Outlook for Alabama's Nonconference Schedule

Although this is a new venture, the Crimson Tide will be fine. DeBoer is taking over a team in far better shape than when Saban took the reigns in 2007.

The Mercer game is a cakewalk, and the Tide should not be tested in any way. The Hilltoppers can give some people fits, however, the powerful Alabama squad is likely to coast through most of the matchup with the Hilltoppers. If the Tide were to somehow lose either of these two games, DeBoer might not get a mulligan.

The South Florida game is an intriguing contest, featuring a battle of wits between the offensive-minded DeBore and Golesh. Despite the offensive expertise of the two coaches, the game is likely to be decided by the defenses, and the Tide have a significant advantage over the Bulls on the defensive side of the ball.

The most important nonconference game on Alabama's schedule is the nonconference matchup in Madison. It is also likely to be the most competitive. If the Badgers pull off an upset, or even if the game is closely contested like the game last year against South Florida, there may be some grumbling from Tide fans, but DeBoer would probably be given a mulligan.

Alabama will be favored to win all its nonconference games. Indeed, Alabama is ranked No. 7 in ESPN's preseason top-25 poll. None of the Tide's nonconference opponents are ranked in the poll. However, ESPN notes that Wisconsin received some votes and barely missed falling within the top 25.


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