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USATSI

Since Missouri joined the SEC in 2012, the Tigers and Alabama have played just three times and they weren't originally scheduled to play this season either. But the No. 2 Crimson Tide and the Tigers will meet for the fourth time Saturday as SEC members after the conference adopted a 10-game, conference-only schedule amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the case of Alabama, it will be an easier beginning than its originally-scheduled opening game against USC. But for Missouri and first-year coach Eli Drinkwitz, this contest will be an intense early measuring stick after the Tigers were originally supposed to open with Central Arkansas.

Alabama has won all three meetings by at least 29 points since these two became conference foes, and the Crimson Tide are 27-point favorites on Saturday as they enter with a 13-0 record in openers under Nick Saban. Missouri, meanwhile, remains somewhat mysterious. The Tigers have not announced who their starting quarterback will be and expect to have several players absent due to COVID-19 protocols.

As the SEC kicks off, this game should provide an interesting early barometer of Alabama's power while also offering a glimpse of what Drinkwitz will bring to the league after just one season of head coaching experience at Appalachian State.

Storylines

Alabama: The Crimson Tide begin their road to redemption after missing out on the College Football Playoff last year with Mac Jones under center at quarterback. The redshirt junior and former backup to Tua Tagovailoa will have plenty of playmakers around him in running back Najee Harris and receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Jones has thrown 154 passes in his career, and with an experienced offensive line to protect him, Alabama's offense should be great again. Expect freshman quarterback Bryce Young to get some reps, too. The No. 2 overall player in the 2020 recruiting class is too talented to be buried on the bench. Defensively, the Tide have no shortage of talent but are short on senior leadership. The unit is hoping for a rebound season after finishing 20th nationally in total defense last season.

Missouri: Missouri's original schedule started with Central Arkansas, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Eastern Michigan. The Tigers could have easily won three or four of those games and eased Drinkwitz into life in the SEC. Instead, Mizzou begins with Alabama, Tennessee and LSU thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be a rude awakening for Drinkwitz, who last worked in the SEC in 2011 when he was a quality control assistant at Auburn. He's developed a reputation as an offensive guru since then, but that reputation will be challenged Saturday. Missouri has not announced a starting quarterback yet and is replacing a ton of production at receiver. Expect the Tigers to lean on senior running back Larry Rountree III, assuming he is not one of the players expected to be sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols.

Viewing information

Date: Saturday, Sept. 26 | Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium -- Columbia, Missouri
TV: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)

Game prediction, picks

The Crimson Tide must use every possession in this game to prepare for what's ahead as they enter the teeth of their 10-game SEC gauntlet next week against Texas A&M. For that reason, you can expect Alabama to throw the ball more than it typically would in the second half of a blowout victory and to score at least one touchdown in the fourth quarter. Under normal circumstances, Missouri could cover this spread. But the Crimson Tide will be trying to rev this unique season up to full speed in a hurry and should cover easily. Pick: Alabama (-27)

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