Debate: Which SEC team is the biggest threat to Alabama?
Alabama has played five games and been tested exactly once — at Ole Miss.
Alabama has played five opponents and allowed exactly one — Ole Miss — to reach the end zone twice.
In the past two weeks, Alabama’s special teams did enough to outscore one opponent, and its defense did enough to outscore another.
The Tide are 5-0, universally ranked No. 1 and somehow look more unbeatable than last year.
The next five weeks will be telling. Their four-game gauntlet starts Saturday at No. 16 Arkansas, continues with a Third Saturday showdown at No. 9 Tennessee and returns to Tuscaloosa for an Oct. 22 date with No. 8 Texas A&M.
The Tide will pause in Week 9 so Nick Saban can enjoy his 65th birthday before continuing with a Nov. 5 trip to resurgent LSU, which likely will be ranked by then. Auburn, of course, looms at the end of the season.
The question is: Which of those SEC teams poses the biggest threat to beat Alabama?
We debated that all weekend.
Answer: I don’t think LSU is there, yet. I could change my mind depending on how the Tigers do against Florida on Saturday.
But I think the answer is Texas A&M and that might still be true even if LSU plays well against Florida. The Aggies have stockpiled some pretty good recruiting classes and have upgraded their defense both in terms of coaching with defensive coordinator John Chavis in his second year and the personnel on the field. This is a more physical version of A&M than we’ve seen in the past, as the Aggies will beat you up along the defensive front and run the ball on you. They lead the league with 15 rushing touchdowns and outpace even talented LSU in yards per carry (an SEC-best 6.7 yards).
The stockpiling of talent has been happening for a few years now. What knocked it off track was the attrition at quarterback. But Trevor Knight has stopped that bleeding, at least for now, and he has A&M exactly where it would be if one of the departed studs would have stayed in College Station.
They are better on offense than Tennessee and comparable on defense. They are more complete than Auburn, which I think has an elite defense, but lacks offense. They are better than Arkansas and that played out on the field. And they are more proven, particularly on offense, than LSU, which may have snuck up on Missouri a little bit with looks Mizzou was not expecting.
Is A&M as good as Alabama? I wouldn’t go that far. But I think the Aggies, at this point, are still the second best team in not only the West, but the entire SEC.
— Gary Laney, LSU beat writer for SDS
Answer: LSU will probably be the popular answer after a 42-7 beatdown of Missouri in the first game post-Les Miles, but Mizzou wasn’t much competition.
There are arguments to be made for Arkansas, Texas A&M and Auburn. An upset by one of them would make things very interesting in the West, where Alabama has dominated more often than not under coach Nick Saban.
However, I’m going with Tennessee. Clearly, ending that 11-game losing streak to Florida lifted a gator-sized weight off that program’s collective shoulders. And then with a Hail Mary victory at Georgia this past Saturday, it’s time to start making the requisite team-of-destiny argument. It was apropos for Auburn in 2013.
A season or two ago, the Volunteers didn’t have the belief necessary that they could win big games against elite opponents. You could see it in their eyes, which were usually glancing up at the clock in the fourth quarter.
Following that miracle finish in Athens, the Vols just might convince themselves that they can take care of business against Alabama.
— John Crist, senior writer
Answer: The biggest threat to Alabama is Texas A&M.
Nothing has changed with Alabama’s defense — other than it’s insanely athletic, and dual-threat quarterbacks will always pose the biggest threat. That’s not LSU, and it’s not Arkansas; it’s Texas A&M. You can’t out-Alabama Alabama. Pro-style offenses are bottled up against the Crimson Tide’s defense, and at least some running game production has to be had with the quarterback.
The Aggies have a different edge this year as far as physicality, and with a speedy quarterback and a running game (not to mention an awesome cast of receivers), Texas A&M is the biggest threat to Alabama.
It’s not out of the question the Aggies finish 11-1, losing to either Alabama or Tennessee, and still have a shot at the College Football Playoff.
— Jon Cooper, director of operations
Answer: I think right now it’s Texas A&M, and I have a few reasons for believing that.
If you look at Alabama’s seven losses over the past six seasons, they’ve come against teams that have a quarterback who is at least a threat to run. One of those defeats just so happens to be against the Aggies’ current quarterback, Trevor Knight.
This season, Knight has arguably been more impressive with his legs, ranking ninth in the SEC with 392 rushing yards and fourth in the SEC with 7.8 yards per rush. He’s also tied for the SEC lead with 6 rushing touchdowns. That’s made Texas A&M one of the most balanced offenses in the country. Other than the Tide, the Aggies are the only SEC team to rank in the top five in rushing and passing.
The Aggies’ Achilles heel in past seasons has been stopping the run, but the team ranks in the top five in that department this season also. Even against the SEC’s top rushing team, A&M was respectable by allowing Auburn to gain 4.4 yards per carry despite rushing it 54 times.
Texas A&M is also getting in opposing backfields more than any team in the country with 50 tackles for loss. The Aggies aren’t on the Crimson Tide’s level, but they’re the next-most complete team in the SEC with elite talent on both sides of the ball.
— Talal Elmasry, managing editor
Answer: I wrote in January that Texas A&M was the dark horse pick to win the West. I picked LSU and Tennessee to win their respective divisions.
So clearly I like all three.
I wasn’t sold on Alabama because I wasn’t sold on Cooper Bateman or Blake Barnett and I was convinced Nick Saban wouldn’t turn The Process over to a true freshman, even though it was obvious that Jalen Hurts was the best option he had. Well, Hurts is exactly who I thought he was — and so are the other two.
If Hurts gets injured, Alabama won’t get through this unscathed. I thought they’d go 6-2 in the SEC anyway with one of the other two QBs because it didn’t have a proven running game to lean on. They still don’t. Now, Barnett is gone and not even Alabama is good enough to go undefeated in this league with a third-string quarterback.
If Hurts is healthy, I don’t think anybody beats Alabama, but he likes to run, which means Alabama is one hit from serious trouble. Texas A&M and LSU get after the quarterback, much more so than Tennessee, which is still banged up and without key defenders.
The Vols host the Tide, and there’s no denying there’s magic in the mountains this year. There’s also no denying the Vols stood toe-to-toe last year in Tuscaloosa; they should have won, actually. But those injuries offset their homefield advantage.
I’m pretty sure Saban is sick of hearing about how Trevor Knight took him to the wood shed while at Oklahoma. If that game were in College Station, I’d lean toward the Aggies. But it’s not and it’s also worth remembering: No full-time quarterback has beaten Saban twice during his decade of dominance at Alabama.
That leaves LSU.
The Tigers, with all of their athletes and modified formations that — shock! — put said athletes in space, pose the biggest threat.
The Tigers also get the Tide at the tail end of this stretch. Attrition is always key. Leonard Fournette should be healthy and plenty motivated. The offense will have had six weeks of reps under Ed Orgeron (above) and Steve Ensminger. Tiger Stadium will be at full throttle.
Everything for LSU has pointed toward Nov. 5. This game, this opportunity, is why everybody came back. And that’s why this game is the most dangerous to Alabama’s bid at a perfect season.
— Chris Wright, executive editor
Chris Wright is Executive Editor at SaturdayDownSouth.com. Email him at email@example.com.