Crimson Tide travel into uncharted waters in trip to Columbia, Mo.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Barrett Jones sifted through the reports last year, wondering what his conference would look like when the season kicked off in 2012. Alabama's senior center knew the SEC was set to expand, he just wondered who it would be to join the league that has won six straight national titles.
"I'm a sports fan so I was paying attention to it," Jones said. "I love the SEC so I was very interested to see who we'd pick up."
When news broke that Missouri and Texas A&M were the two schools entering the league, Jones was pleased.
"It seems like we picked up two good teams," he said.
On Saturday, Jones will get to see just how good the Tigers are. It will be the first time he, his teammates and the coaching staff will travel to Columbia.
"This is an important game to us," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "It's an SEC game. We're playing a game in a place where nobody on our team has ever been before, including me."
Said Jones: "It's exciting for us to be able to go into a place like Missouri where we've never been before, who are new to our conference, and play there. It would just be neat to play against another team."
1. No huddle, no problem: Alabama saw some of it against Ole Miss, Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky. The no-huddle has the potential to get Alabama's defense out of whack, but it hasn't been successful yet. The difference at Missouri could be the number of receivers the Tigers employ, utilizing empty sets with no one but the quarterback in the backfield.
2. Winning the line of scrimmage: The battle between the Alabama defensive line and Missouri's offensive line could end up being a one-sided affair, as the Tigers have two freshmen and little experience among the front five. Missouri's defensive line is in better shape, led by Sheldon Richardson. The twists and stunts coach Gary Pinkel likes to call could cause communication problems for the Bama offense.
3. Walking wounded: DeAndrew White and Dee Hart are out for the season. Deion Belue is a question mark as he recovers from a shoulder injury. The status of Brandon Ivory is unclear, too. The bye week has helped work out some of the dings for Alabama, but depth might become a concern if more players go down.
Alabama players to watch
1. S Vinnie Sunseri: As Missouri sends out four and five receivers at a time, the work of the star becomes a little more complicated. Throw in the no-huddle, and the potential for alignment issues comes into play. How Sunseri handles the Tigers' scheme and defends the pass will be put to the test Saturday.
2. NG Jesse Williams: The Missouri center is a redshirt freshman, the guard to his left a true freshman. Williams ought to be licking his chops.
3. WR Amari Cooper: Time to find out whether Cooper's two-touchdown performance was a fluke or a sign of more to come. The true freshman receiver looked like AJ McCarron's go-to target for 60 minutes against the Rebels.
Missouri players to watch
2. QB Corbin Berkstresser: Good thing he got to start against Arizona State, because facing Alabama's defense for a first career start is not an enviable position. The redshirt freshman has purported himself well in James Franklin's absence, but Saturday will be a test unlike any he has faced in his young career.
3. RB Kendial Lawrence: A young line, an inexperienced quarterback and an offense struggling with inconsistency. Sounds like the right time to hand the ball off to a tailback averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
Barrett Jones vs. the Missouri D-line: With so much movement and scheming on the Missouri defensive line, the responsibility falls on Jones to sort out the mess and call out the right protection. "The nightmare in all that is when I make my calls and then I put my head down and they move and then I put it back up and it's different," Jones said Wednesday. "That's really when it gets very difficult when you're not able to see."
By the numbers
90: McCarron has no career turnovers in 90 career red-zone plays.
1-2: If Alabama beats Missouri on Saturday afternoon, the Tigers would cease to be the only SEC team with a winning record against the Tide.
70: Like Ole Miss, Missouri will attempt to run 70-plus plays on offense, making the most of its no-huddle attack. The Rebels fell two plays short of the 70-play mark in Tuscaloosa.