Alabama comes into the 2013 season as the reigning national champion and the favorite to win the SEC title. Who will be Alabama's biggest challenger in the conference this season?
A&M beat 'Bama last year, LSU can do it this seasonLSU remains the biggest threat to Alabama. Yes, 'Bama must travel to College Station, and gets to host the Tigers in November. Yes, it was Texas A&M, not LSU, that knocked off the Crimson Tide last season. But while there might be few answers for defending Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, there are no answers for getting beaten on the line of scrimmage. And the Tigers are probably the only team on Alabama's schedule with a legitimate chance to do that. Manziel might be the best player in the league, but there is more overall talent on the Bayou than there is in Aggie Land.
LSU always gives Crimson Tide fitsLSU is always Alabama's biggest competition in the SEC. Les Miles has assembled a deep and talented roster that matches up well with the Tide. The Tigers are among the fastest and most athletic defenses in the country, which allows them to overwhelm opponents despite a conservative offense. Additionally, the Tigers have been successful against the Tide, so they aren't in awe of 'Bama when they step on the field. Although Zach Mettenberger and Co. play with enough consistency to pose a credible threat on offense, I believe the Tigers' talent, athleticism and swagger gives them a legitimate shot to knock off 'Bama in the SEC.
It wouldn't be shocking if 'Bama didn't win SECAlabama is not unbeatable; the Tide has lost a game in each of the past two seasons, and I don't think this season's team is better than last season's. While there is ample skill-position talent, the offensive line is not going to be as good as it was last year, and the secondary will miss cornerback Dee Milliner; there is no one close to Milliner's talent level at corner this season. The Tide also is missing an elite pass rusher. Georgia was one play away from winning the SEC title game last season, and Alabama didn't even win the SEC in 2011. All that said, there's a reason the Tide is preseason No. 1: There is a lot of talent and Nick Saban is a great coach. But LSU and Texas A&M in the SEC West can hang with the Tide, and Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in the East can do likewise. I think Alabama again wins the SEC, but I certainly won't be shocked if the Tide doesn't win it.
Alabama could fall, and that fall could come soonMeet the new threat, same as the old threat. Texas A&M beat Alabama last season with ruthless efficiency on offense and timely takeaways. Johnny Manziel was basically flawless, completing 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 92 yards, as the Aggies converted 11 of 18 third-down attempts. But it was the Texas A&M defense that triggered the upset in Tuscaloosa, with two sacks, three turnovers and limiting the Alabama rushing offense to just under four yards per carry. That same formula can work again, especially against a rebuilt Crimson Tide offensive line that has to deal with a true road environment for the first time on Sept. 14.
Georgia could emerge among a host of SEC title contendersAlabama's biggest SEC challenger is likely their own complacency, but when it comes to rival teams within the conference, there are a few to consider.
First up is West division foe Texas A&M. Yes, the discussion right now is all about reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel's off-field issues, but this is a very good team overall that beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa last year.
Staying in the division, do not sleep on LSU. Yes, they lost a wealth of underclassmen to the draft (11 players), but there is plenty of talent still on campus, and for once, the Tigers might do it on offense with QB Zach Mettenberger taking center stage. In the SEC East, Georgia came within five yards of beating Alabama in last year's SEC title game, and it has QB Aaron Murray, and running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall return. South Carolina has QB Connor Shaw returning, and of course, DE Jadeveon Clowney gives offensive coordinators night terrors. And finally, Florida seems to be the school that gets overlooked, and it only played in a BCS game last year.
Press me on who will be the main challenger, and I'll say Georgia, in the SEC championship game.