If not Alabama, who?
Five teams that could end the Crimson Tide's title run
It’s Alabama’s world, and right now, all the other teams are just trying to catch up to what Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has done in Tuscaloosa. Many are ready to hand Saban his fourth title in the past five seasons, but there are those teams lurking, ready to take down the kings.
Will somebody rise up to stop -- or at least momentarily derail -- Alabama’s dominance? That’s for the football gods to decide. But if they decide that they’ve had enough Crimson Tide for a year, these are the teams most likely to do something about it.
• Key returns: Kevin Hogan (QB), Trent Murphy (LB), Shayne Skov (LB), Ty Montgomery (WR), David Yankey (OL)
• 2012 record: 12-2, defeated Wisconsin, 20-14, in Rose Bowl
• Key stat: School-record 57 sacks in 2012
• Potential roadblocks: vs. Washington, Oct. 5; vs. UCLA, Oct. 19; at Oregon State, Oct. 26; vs. Oregon Nov. 7; at USC, Nov. 16; vs. Notre Dame, Nov. 30
How it gets to Alabama: Find enough offense to support a strong defense.
Stanford has been to three consecutive BCS bowl games and getting to another one in 2013, let alone the title game, is a daunting task for head coach David Shaw. Thanks to a defense that returns nine starters from last year’s dominant squad, Stanford is once again in the national title picture.
Whether the offense can score enough to sustain the Cardinal’s strong defense is the big question for Shaw. The quarterback position is solidified by Hogan’s emergence last season and a stout offensive line, but Stanford lost many of its playmakers. Gone are tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo along with running back Stepfan Taylor and receiver Drew Terrell, leaving the Cardinal without four of its top-five receivers from last year. Oft-injured receiver Montgomery (26 catches, 213 yards in four starts) will be counted on by Hogan as a go-to receiver in his junior year.
How it knocks off Alabama: Treat the game like a spelling bee.
Yes, Stanford is one of the best academic schools in the country, so why not treat the biggest football game of the year like the biggest academic competition of the year? Slow and steady will win this game. On offense, take methodical drives down the field wear down the Alabama defense with its strong offensive line. Not only should that pay dividends later in the game, it will also keep sack master Trent Murphy and the rest of the blitz-happy Stanford defense fresh and attacking Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron all game long.
• Key returns: Marcus Mariota (QB), De’Anthony Thomas (RB), Colt Lyerla (TE), Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB), Taylor Hart (DT)
• 2012 record: 12-1, defeated Kansas State, 35-17, in Fiesta Bowl
• Key Stat: 48 rushing touchdowns in 2012 (tied with Georgia Tech for most in FBS)
• Potential roadblocks: at Washington, Oct. 12; vs. UCLA, Oct. 26; at Stanford, Nov. 7; vs. Oregon State, Nov. 29
How it gets to Alabama: Make as much noise on the field as its locker room and uniforms did during the offseason.
Oregon drew national headlines this offseaon with its renovated football facility, but that doesn't hide the fact the mastermind behind Oregon’s crazy-fast offense, Chip Kelly, has left for the NFL. But the good times should still be rolling in at a near-record pace with former offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich taking control. He debuts with one of Oregon’s most-balanced offenses in recent history thanks to how well Mariota played in his freshman year. Speed is still the Ducks calling card with Thomas now the featured back, and he will be spelled at times by the do-it-all, 6-foot-5 Lyerla (13 rushes, 77 yards, one touchdown to go with 392 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2012).
Big plays will help out this Duck defense. Last year’s leader in sacks, Hart (not Dion Jordan), returns to anchor the defensive line. Ekpre-Olomu intercepted one pass and forced six fumbles last year. Linebacker may be the Ducks’ weakness on defense this year as senior Boseko Lokombo is the only returning starter.
How it knocks off Alabama: Remember its title game from two years ago.
When the Ducks played Auburn for the national title, it was the exact same storylines: a strong SEC defense trying to contain a fast-paced offense. Oregon fans don’t need to be reminded of how that game turned out, but reminding the players about it may be a good thing. The Ducks have the speed on offense to tire out Alabama’s defense, but it will need to get more than the 23 first downs it had against Auburn.
• Key Returns: Braxton Miller (QB), Devin Smith (WR), Ryan Shazier (LB), Bradley Roby (CB), Carlos Hyde (RB)
• 2012 Record: 12-0, ineligible for a bowl game
• Key Stat: 10th in rushing yards per game in the nation last year (242.3)
• Potential Roadblocks: at California, Sept. 14; vs. Wisconsin, Sept. 28; at Northwestern, Oct. 5; at Michigan, Nov. 30
How it gets to Alabama: Change all the calendars in the Buckeye locker room to 2012.
Dual-threat Miller not only threw for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns, but also ran for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns. As long as the Buckeye defense can reload, rather than rebuild after losing seven starters, Urban Meyer’s squad should terrorize Big Ten opponents once again. That’s a possibility with standouts Shazier and Roby back.
How it knocks off Alabama: Watch a ton of Texas A&M tape.
Miller may not be the passer than Johnny Manziel is, but they have a similar skill set. Meyer went 1-2 against Saban while with Florida – the only win came in their first meeting (2008) – but they last met in 2010. That’s plenty of time – and motivation -- for Meyer to stew about consecutive blow-out losses, and come up with an offensive game plan that gives the Crimson Tide defense fits.
• Key returns: Aaron Murray (QB), Todd Gurley (RB), Malcolm Mitchell (WR), Keith Marshall (RB), Armarlo Herrera (LB)
• 2012 record: 12-2, defeated Nebraska, 45-31, in Capital One Bowl
• Key Stat: Second in passing efficiency in 2012 (172.77)
• Potential roadblocks: at Clemson, Aug. 31; vs. South Carolina, Sept. 7; at Vanderbilt, Oct. 19; vs. Florida, Nov. 2
How it gets to Alabama: Defeat Alabama.
Georgia could face Alabama in consecutive weeks to end the season. If the Bulldogs make the SEC championship game, the Crimson Tide will most likely being there waiting to make sure that the Bulldogs don’t pull off another near-miracle upset. Win that meeting, and if things break right, it could be another Georgia-Alabama meeting in the BCS championship game. Add two possible Alabama games to an already tough schedule, and it will be no easy task to make it through all that unscathed. But Georgia has the talent to do just that.
Murray returns for his senior year with another outstanding supporting cast. Gurley and Marshall form one of the best 1-2 tandems in the country, and Mitchell should step up to be the No. 1 receiver that Tavarres King was last year. The big question is whether the defense, which lost seven starters from last year, can hold up through a tough schedule.
How it knocks off Alabama: Shut down the Crimson Tide running backs.
In last year’s SEC championship game, Georgia did almost everything right to defeat Alabama except for two things: catching the final pass to run out the clock and stopping Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. One of those things was just a reflexive action, the other was something that needed to be fixed. The Georgia defense allowed 6.9 yards per attempt in that game, and gave up three rushing touchdowns. Head coach Mark Richt must replace seven of those starters, but if the new guys step up, Georgia could do the nearly impossible and beat Alabama in consecutive weeks.
• Key Returns: Teddy Bridgewater (QB), DeVante Parker (WR), Senorise Perry (RB), Calvin Pryor (S), Lorenzo Mauldin (DE)
• 2012 Record: 11-2, def. Florida, 33-23 in Sugar Bowl
• Key Stat: Ten of the 11 defensive starters from the Sugar Bowl return in 2013
• Potential roadblocks: vs. Rutgers, Oct. 10; at USF, Oct. 26
How it gets to Alabama: Avoid any slip ups.
What’s a good recipe for a perfect season? Well, start with a fairly easy schedule, combine it with a potential No. 1 overall draft pick (Bridgewater), add in some BCS bowl experience and top it off with coach (Charlie Strong) who turned down an SEC job to sign a lucrative extension with the school. Fortunately for the Cardinals, that’s exactly what they have.
As long as the Cardinals can avoid a slip up like it did last year at Syracuse, they could find themselves in another BCS bowl against another SEC opponent. And just ask Florida how much fun it is to play them in that circumstance.
How it knocks off Alabama: Put the best against the best.
Louisville has possibly the best quarterback in the nation with Bridgewater and shouldn’t be afraid to turn him loose. A good day by Bridgewater will help loosen up the defense for Perry and former Auburn BCS hero Michael Dwyer, allowing the Cardinals to score enough. If Mauldin can get pressure on McCarron, that should give Pryor at least one or two chances for a big pick. As long as the defense can make a couple of big stops, the game could go to the Cardinals.