If Alabama is going to lose, these 3 teams have the best chance to pull off the upset
That’s how many regular season games I have Alabama losing in our annual Crystal Ball series. Zilch. Zippo. None.
The schedule lines up extremely well for the Tide to run the table into the SEC Championship, a perfect 12-0. Alabama should be favored to win every game in 2018, and if I were a betting man, I’d bet on that to happen.
But that’s why they play the games.
While I believe that Alabama wins every game on its 2018 schedule, I do think there are 3 teams who are at least capable of pulling off an upset. Considering the Tide have lost a conference game in 7 of the past 8 seasons, there’s nothing crazy about suggesting that an upset could happen in 2018.
Here are the 3 teams I believe have the best chance of taking down the Tide in the regular season:
Let’s start really basic here. The team that beat Alabama last year is definitely one of three teams who has a chance to do so again. Gus Malzahn is the only active coach who has 2 wins vs. Nick Saban at his current school. That’s worth something. Well, according to Auburn’s athletic department, that’s worth $49 million.
While I’ve outlined multiple times why I think the Tigers struggle on the road, they do possess plenty of things that have given Alabama problems in the past. They have a mobile quarterback who can stretch the field and they have a front seven loaded with NFL players who won’t be dominated for 60 minutes. In that way, 2018 Auburn has some 2015 Ole Miss similarities.
What if it turns out that Stidham just has Alabama’s number? That’s not inconceivable. The guy is a Heisman Trophy candidate coming off an Iron Bowl in which he completed 75 percent of his passes for 237 yards with 51 rushing yards and a score. And that was against an Alabama secondary loaded with NFL talent.
The Tide’s inexperienced secondary isn’t considered much of a question mark because after all, it’s Saban. That’s what he does. By late November, one would think he’d have things figured out. Perhaps the same could be true for an Auburn running game that has to replace Kerryon Johnson.
It’ll be a different story than last year at Jordan-Hare, but Auburn is always a threat to Alabama’s reign until further notice.
I hear you, Alabama fans. This is always going to be the year for LSU to get over the hump, and it never is. Seven consecutive wins doesn’t suggest that the Tigers are much of a threat.
But Joe Burrow could be just what the doctor ordered.
I’m a believer in the Ohio State transfer. I’m not saying he’s going to be an All-American, but I think he’s plenty capable of rising above the ridiculously low bar that LSU quarterbacks set during this 7-year Alabama winning streak. Quarterback play has been holding the Tigers back, so by default, a better quarterback would theoretically be the great equalizer, right?
Ed Orgeron basically said at SEC Media Days that LSU was some quality quarterback play from winning in Tuscaloosa last year. Whether you think that’s true or not, some quality quarterback play plus a night game in Baton Rouge should at least make this a close game. LSU is still loaded on defense, though that hasn’t really been a problem against Alabama. It’s somewhat baffling that the Tigers have lost 7 in a row to Alabama despite allowing just 23 points per game in that stretch.
Having said all of that, I expect the Tide to also get a significant upgrade in the passing game with Tua Tagovailoa. Both teams should be able to stretch the field better than they’ve been able to do against each other in recent memory. A couple of balanced offenses should create a more balanced game.
Orgeron would surely put any hot seat chatter on the back burner with a win against the Tide. Nobody is firing the coach who stops the streak at LSU.
If you’ve read anything I’ve written this offseason about the Bulldogs, surely you knew this was coming. I actually have them finishing second in the West to Alabama. That’s not crazy considering they return more production than anyone in the SEC from a 9-win team. Oh, and they got Joe Moorhead, who just might be a better offensive mind than Dan Mullen.
The thing that separates Moorhead from Mullen is the tweaks he’ll make in the passing game. Moorhead’s offense will take far more shots downfield than Mullen’s. Whether Nick Fitzgerald makes some needed strides in that area remains to be seen, but a former safety recruit (Trace McSorley) did turn into arguably the best returning quarterback in the country thanks to Moorhead.
You don’t beat Alabama with a 1-dimensional offense. You beat Alabama by being able to stretch the field vertically and cash in on the occasional big play. Unlike the MSU teams of old, that’s exactly what it’ll try and do under Moorhead.
Don’t forget that MSU was a heroic Jalen Hurts drive from knocking off the Tide in Starkville last year. Yes, this year’s game is in Tuscaloosa. History points to Alabama’s 10-game winning streak continuing.
But MSU is more than capable of capitalizing when a team doesn’t bring it. Alabama could be coming off an extremely physical game at LSU, and perhaps this one stays a little too close for comfort. And while many (including myself) believe in the upside of Tua Tagovailoa, he could be prone to a few more mistakes than Hurts. We did see that even in overtime in the national championship.
Maybe just once in 2018, Tagovailoa won’t have a 2nd-and-26 in his back pocket.