Five teams that could crash the BCS and end Alabama's run
Sometimes it’s the quiet ones you have to watch. While Alabama may get its biggest threat from teams currently in the top-five of the polls, there are others outside the top 10 that could just sneak up on the Crimson Tide and steal its crown.
• Key returns: James Wilder (RB), Rashad Greene (WR), Christian Jones (LB), Timmy Jernigan (DT), Lamarcus Joyner (S/CB)
• 2012 record: 12-2, defeated Northern Illinois, 31-10, in the Orange Bowl
• Key stat: Defense gave up 2.7 yard per rush attempt in 2012
• Potential roadblocks: at Clemson, Oct. 19; vs. Miami, Nov. 2; at Florida, Nov. 30
How it gets to Alabama: Run by the competition.
This Seminole team is fast. The speed is led on offense by Greene, who after posting 741 receiving yards and six touchdowns, could break out as the ACC’s best receiver as a junior. Throw in (or in this case, hand the ball) to Wilder and his 4.5 40-yard dash time and the offense has two fast playmakers. Even the defense in Tallahassee, led by Jones, Jernigan and Joyner, has speed to it. It will need to replace the 24 combined sacks by last year’s duo of Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner but if Mario Edwards Jr., Dan Hicks and Giorgio Newberry can come close to that number, Florida State’s defense should do just fine.
How it knocks off Alabama: Don’t hold back.
A potential end-of-season showdown with the Crimson Tide would be putting a lot of pressure on redshirt freshman Jameis Winston. But considering it would have to take a perfect record for the Seminoles to make the BCS title game, the early pressure of having to replace E.J. Manuel would be long gone and Winston would be ready to show to the nation what he can do. He has the personality to embrace the spotlight so facing the Alabama defense shouldn’t daunt him too much. If the Seminoles get this far, let him show what he can do.
• Key returns: Casey Pachall (QB), Waymon James (RB), Jason Verrett (CB), Devonte Fields (DE), Brandon Carter (WR)
• 2012 record: 7-6, lost to Michigan State, 17-16, in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl
• Key stat: Went 3-6 without Pachall in 2012
• Potential roadblocks: vs. LSU, Aug. 31; at Oklahoma, Oct. 5; at Oklahoma State, Oct. 19; vs. Texas, Oct. 26; vs. Baylor, Nov. 30
How it gets to Alabama: Keep Pachall on the field.
The Horned Frogs struggled when Pachall missed the final nine games of the 2012 season following an arrest. He’s taken care of his off-the-field issues and is ready to lead the Horned Frogs back to the BCS for the first time since the Rose Bowl in 2010. Before taking a leave from the team, he threw for 10 touchdowns against only one interception. Compare that to 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions from backup Trevone Boykin and it becomes clearer why the Frogs dropped from 32 points per game with Pachall to 26 with Boykin. Pachall loses key receivers Josh Boyce and Skye Dawson but Brandon Carter (590 yards, six touchdowns) looks to be the No. 1 receiver this year.
Last year was also TCU’s inaugural year in the Big 12 after spending the previous seven in the Mountain West. The Frogs should have an easier time in the conference this year, after going 3-5 last year with tough losses against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Oklahoma. Two of those losses were by a touchdown or less (not including its one-point loss to Michigan State) so the experience of playing every play at a Big 12-level should pay dividends this year.
How it knocks off Alabama: Give Verrett the opportunity to make a big play.
TCU has one of the nation’s best cornerbacks in Verrett. As TCU has demonstrated in the past, all it takes is one or two big plays to turn the momentum of a game and help spring the upset. Of course, the chances of that happening are better if Fields and the rest of the Frogs defensive line can beat the Alabama offensive line and cause McCarron to make a bad decision.
• Key returns: Jeremy Hill (RB), Zach Mettenberger (QB), Kenny Hilliard (RB), Odell Beckham (WR), Lamin Barrow (LB)
• 2012 record: 10-3, lost to Clemson, 25-25, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl
• Key stat: 94th in passing yards per game in 2012 (200.5)
• Potential roadblocks: vs. TCU, Aug. 31; at Georgia, Sept. 28; vs. Florida, Oct. 12; at Alabama, Nov. 9; vs. Texas A&M, Nov. 23
How it gets to Alabama: Act older than its age.
The Mad Hatter may have to have some patience with his squad early. Les Miles saw 11 underclassmen declare early for the NFL draft, including four defensive starters. As fall practice began, Miles has said as many as three freshmen could start for his defense. That’s not exactly a reassuring sign, especially against one of the SEC’s toughest schedules. But the Tigers get a tough early test with a neutral-site game against TCU, and if the defense avoids making freshmen mistakes, the offense should score enough to put the Tigers at the top of the conference.
How it knocks off Alabama: Unleash Mettenberger.
New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been praising Mettenberger, who struggled along with the rest of the offense at times last year. Now, with a potential matchup against Alabama looming to decide the BCS champion, it’s time to see how far he’s come. Mettenberger played OK when these two teams met last November (298 yards, 1 touchdown, no picks), but to beat Alabama, quarterbacks need to be on their best. If Mettenberger can take that next step and thrive in the face of Alabama’s tough defense, the Tigers could geaux past the Crimson Tide, all the way to the title.
• Key returns: Devin Gardner (QB), Fitzgerald Toussaint (RB), Taylor Lewan (OT), Jeremy Gallon (WR), Jake Ryan (LB)
• 2012 record: 8-5, lost to South Carolina, 33-28, in Outback Bowl
• Key stat: Gave up 19.8 points per game last year – 20th in the nation
• Potential roadblocks: vs. Notre Dame, Sept. 7; at Michigan State, Nov. 2; vs. Nebraska, Oct. 9; at Northwestern, Nov. 16; vs. Ohio State, Nov. 30
How it gets to Alabama: Survive November.
The past few seasons in Ann Arbor have been about watching what Denard Robinson could do at quarterback. Gardner got a taste of the starting job last year, but his biggest test will be in November with two tough games. By that time, though, some key players who are questionable for the start of the season should be back. Toussaint should be fully recovered from his broken leg suffered last season and Ryan should be back leading the defense after a torn ACL sidelined him in March.
Get through November unscathed, and the Wolverines could find themselves on the doorstep of a meeting with Alabama.
How it knocks off Alabama: Play Big Ten football.
Think back to all the best Michigan teams in recent history, and see one common factor: they all have a good running game. From Anthony Thomas to Mike Hart, the best Wolverine teams have leaned heavily on the run. If Michigan can find itself squaring off against Alabama for a shot at the title, it will have to get back to those roots. In their season-opening meeting in 2012, Michigan only ran for 69 yards. Lewan is one of the best offensive linemen in the nation -- use him to open up holes for Toussaint and ride that to a championship.
• Key returns: Taylor Martinez (QB), Ameer Abdullah (RB), Kenny Bell (WR), Spencer Long (OL), Ciante Evans (CB)
• 2012 record: 10-4, lost to Georgia, 45-31, in the Capital One Bowl
• Key stat: 58th in points allowed in 2012 (27.6)
• Potential roadblocks: vs. UCLA, Sept. 14; vs. Northwestern, Nov. 2; at Michigan, Nov. 9; vs. Michigan State, Nov. 16
How it gets to Alabama: Get back in black.
Except for the years the Ndamukong Suh was terrorizing the Big 12, the Nebraska defense has been far removed from its famous days as the Black Shirts. Last year’s team was more of the same, finishing in the middle of the pack in points per game allowed (27.6). The pressure is on head coach Bo Pelini to take the final step with the Cornhuskers and turn them into a national contender. The schedule is set up with mostly favorable matchups, the offense took steps forward with Martinez and Abullah last year but it’s up to the defense to turn that into a title contender.
How it knocks off Alabama: Keep the black shirts.
It’s not hard to see why Nebraska lost four games last year. In those games, the defense gave up 36, 63, 70 and 45 points in each – making it a struggle for them to even be competitive in those games. If the defense can rise up and shut down enough Big Ten offenses to reach the BCS title game, the defense will be in for one of its biggest tests of the year. The Cornhuskers are replacing eight defensive starters this year so there is room for improvement from this team. Last year’s defense only recorded 23 turnovers (13 interceptions) so some new faces in the defense could be just what this defense needs to take down Alabama.