1 area of concern that could keep these 4 SEC West contenders from reaching Atlanta
We, the media, don’t always get it right.
Just seven times, in fact, have we correctly predicted the SEC champion since 1992. Usually, though, we don’t get it backward.
With that in mind, Alabama once again will be the overwhelming favorite to win the West. I expect LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn to be the next 3 teams, in some order, when we reconvene in Birmingham in July for SEC Media Days.
Could any of the 4 make it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game? It’s certainly possible. But each has an area of concern that could wreck their dreams, too.
Alabama: Down goes Tua …
It’s really that simple. The Tide have NFL-caliber backups at many positions. They overcome juniors leaving early for the NFL better than any team in America. The only position where they absolutely have to have the starter remain the starter all season is at quarterback.
Tua Tagovailoa makes this Tide team a national championship contender. A backup makes them vulnerable because there is no Jalen Hurts to turn to in 2019.
Alabama typically has been able to keep its quarterback healthy and upright. Injuries haven’t destroyed championship dreams. Except last year, perhaps, when Tagovailoa battled leg injuries throughout the postseason.
Auburn: The SEC road schedule
The Tigers play 3 road games against SEC teams with division title aspirations. They don’t ease into it, either.
They open SEC play in Week 4 at Texas A&M. Two weeks later, they travel to Florida. Later, they visit LSU.
That’s not an easy road to navigate with a veteran QB, and it’s downright harrowing with a first-time starter. Presumably, it will be redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood, but it’s still possible that true freshman Bo Nix could line up under center in College Station, The Swamp or Death Valley.
LSU: The aura of Alabama
I might be in the minority, but I think LSU puts way too much emphasis on this game. It’s a big game, obviously. But LSU builds up Alabama to be this unbeatable machine in which anything less than a perfect effort won’t be enough.
Since LSU last beat Alabama, the Tide have lost 4 games to other teams ranked in the teens; they’re not immune to off days or mediocre performances. Yet they’ve beaten 4 LSU teams ranked in the top 5 and 4 other LSU teams ranked in the teens.
You could argue that LSU gets Alabama’s best effort every time, whereas maybe Texas A&M or Ole Miss didn’t. That’s a plausible position, but several of these games haven’t even been competitive. Six of the past 8 Bama victories in the series have been by double digits, including 3 by 21 or more.
There’s a difference between respecting your opponent and believing you have to play perfect football to win. Maybe watching the ease with which Clemson dismantled Alabama in the national title game will alter LSU’s perception. Clemson didn’t play a perfect game. It gave up a big-play TD. Clemson’s DBs certainly aren’t on par with LSU’s. Clemson’s offense certainly is better and more lethal, but more than anything, Clemson went into the game believing it was the better team. I’m not sure LSU believes that. Until that changes, the scoreboard won’t, either.
Texas A&M: At Georgia? Of all the years …
Every year, the crossover schedule kicks somebody in the shin while patting others on the back.
This year, Texas A&M’s schedule rotated to Georgia. In Athens. That’s on top of playing at Clemson (which obviously doesn’t impact its path to Atlanta) and at LSU (which certainly might). It’s a bad time to draw the Dawgs, especially in a year in which Alabama gets South Carolina and LSU gets Vanderbilt.
I’ve been on record for years that these permanent and rotational crossover games are fine for traditionalists, but because the schedules are imbalanced, they shouldn’t count in the standings.
Texas A&M has a roster capable of contending, but there’s next to no chance the Aggies can survive this schedule unscathed.