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Toughest stretch: Alabama Crimson Tide

In the era of the College Football Playoff, one loss won’t ruin your season.

But go on a bad run, and you’re done.

With that in mind, we’re examining the most challenging stretches of games for all 14 teams in the SEC.

First up in our series is Alabama.

Toughest stretch: Sept. 23-Oct. 21

Alabama’s early nonconference slate is nothing to sneeze at. Opening with Florida State is one of the most challenging Week 1 games in all of college football. And while Fresno State and Colorado State aren’t Goliaths in the sport, they’re not cupcakes either.

But let’s face it: None of those games will determine whether the Crimson Tide will find their way into the SEC Championship Game for a fourth consecutive season. That comes next when league play begins.

There will be no weeks off as Alabama goes on the road to Vanderbilt and Texas A&M and hosts Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee. While those games are all very winnable, when you combine them, they’re a much bigger challenge.

Vanderbilt, for instance, has improved mightily over the past year or so. Coach Derek Mason’s defense should once again be solid, and quarterback Kyle Shurmur will certainly benefit from 18 starts in his young career. Going into Nashville will be a test for an Alabama offense that will be adjusting to a new coordinator and a defense that’s replacing the bulk of its starters.

Then Ole Miss speaks for itself. Because for whatever challenges face coach Hugh Freeze’s program, he has two key ingredients in place: talent at the quarterback position (Shea Patterson) and belief that he can beat Alabama (2-1 over the past three seasons).

Going into College Station, Texas, will be a tough test no matter who the Aggies have at quarterback, and returning home to face Arkansas and Tennessee will be a marathon finish.

With a bye week and the prospect of facing LSU on the horizon, it won’t be easy to make it through those five straight weeks of SEC games.

Survive and it's a sprint to Atlanta for the SEC title game and, possibly, the College Football Playoff.