Can Anyone Stop Alabama From Third Straight BCS Title?
In the era of the Bow Championship Series and the increasing number of underclassmen leaving early for the riches of the National Football League, it was thought to be nearly impossible for any College Football program to create a "dynasty" of sorts. The closest thing we had seen in the BCS Era was the Miami Hurricances from 2000-2003, which should have won 2 championships if it weren't for Willis McGahee's knee getting torn to shreds and official Terry Porter making a questionable call in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Before that, you'd have to look at Nebraska from 1994-97 under head Tom Osborne, when the Huskers won 3 National Titles in a 4-year span.
That was until 2009, when we met Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide - 3 BCS Titles in the last 4 seasons, including each of the last 2 seasons. This run from the Crimson Tide is bringing back memories of Bear Bryant walking the sidelines from 1961-66, when his Alabama teams won 3 National Titles and had 2 undefeated seasons. A decent chunk of Bear Bryant's success came with a future Super Bowl MVP at quarterback named Joe Namath (I wonder if Mike Lindsley has heard of him). Meanwhile, under Saban, the team won their 1st championship with Greg McElroy and their last 2 with beauty queen-dating AJ McCarron.
Despite their losses on both sides of the ball due to the NFL Draft (8 players, including All-American cornerback Dee Milliner, running back Eddie Lacy and 3 starters from their offensive line), the Crimson Tide look like they still won't miss a beat with their senior quarterback McCarron looking to pull off the rare "three-peat" with viable weapons in emerging star RB T.J. Yeldon and sophomore standout WR Amari Cooper. One would be crazy to not make Alabama the odds-on favorite to win a 3rd consecutive BCS National Championship Game, so the question now becomes this - who stands a chance at preventing another celebration for the men in crimson and white? The question is simple, but the possible answers are very difficult to feel confident about:
- #2 OHIO STATE: the Buckeyes and head coach Urban Meyer are coming off an undefeated season, but were not bowl-eligible as punishment for the Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor era. Starting quarterback Braxton Miller is entering his junior season as a more vocal leader and a possible candidate for the Heisman Trophy, as long as he can settle his issue of having "happy feet" in the pocket. However, I can't put too much faith in the Buckeyes because their defense has too much of a "bend, don't break" mindset, and well... they're a Big Ten team.
- #3 OREGON: the Ducks have been widely known for their amazing zone-read running game, led by preseason Heisman candidate quarterback Marcus Mariota and the running back tandem of De'Anthony Thomas and Byron Marshall. It can be exhausting and challenges the opponent's depth on defense. However, we saw what happened when Oregon met a tough SEC defense like Auburn in the BCS Title Game a few years ago - a whole lot of nothing. Also, while the Ducks' secondary is suffocating, the front 7 leaves something to be desired. This means if your team has a physical running game with a punishing offensive line (i.e. Stanford), the Ducks can be easily beaten.
- #4 STANFORD: David Shaw is entering his 3rd season as head coach and the Cardinal haven't missed a beat, with seasons of 11 and 12 wins respectively, as well as back-to-back BCS Bowl berths. Their big advantage is a veteran offensive line, which opens up holes for their dual-back running game with Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson. They also have a confusing defensive scheme that provides a variety of pre-snap looks. But in my eyes, they lack the much-needed experience at the quarterback position to be a serious contender for the National Title, carrying 3 sophomores and 2 freshmen on their roster.
- #5 GEORGIA: I have been riding this team's bandwagon since last August, and I almost was proven why in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, when the Bulldogs came up a few yards short of what many would have called an "upset." They have a powerful running game with backs Keith Marshall & Todd Gurley (he runs very manly, though). The offensive unit is led by preseason All-SEC quarterback Aaron Murray, whom I would consider an outside candidate for the Heisman Trophy. And oh yeah, there's also the amazing speed outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and James DeLoach provide off the edge to pressure unfortunate opposing SEC quarterbacks. However, the Bulldogs have two glaring issues - their vulnerability to giving up too many big plays and the early part of their schedule. The first 4 games on their schedule are Clemson, South Carolina, their lone "cupcake" North Texas and LSU. While the only road game from the quartet is their opener against Clemson, those are still some daunting foes, as well as Florida on November 2.
- #6 SOUTH CAROLINA: this Gamecocks team is kind of tricky for me to get a pulse on regarding their National Title potential. On one hand, they have a pair of terrific defensive ends that get to the quarterback with great ease in Jadaveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton. They also carry a running back named Mike Davis, who is a serviceable replacement for the unlucky departing star Marcus Lattimore. But on the other hand, I can't begin to put into words how much I hate multi-quarterback systems - Connor Shaw prefers run-first sets, while Dylan Thompson prefers the throw-first sets. Until "the ol' ball coach" finds a quarterback who proves to be the "total package," I won't be a firm believer in South Carolina being a definitive contender, especially when they play Georgia, Clemson and Florida on their schedule.
- #7 TEXAS A&M: Anytime you can give me the incumbent Heisman Trophy winner with the skills set that Johnny Manziel has, combined with a relatively easy SEC schedule (no Georgia, South Carolina or Florida), I would usually consider that team as an odds-on favorite to reach the BCS Championship Game. However, there could be a couple of problems down the road - another story about Manziel that lands him on the radar of the NCAA, a suspect defensive line and a meeting against a vengeful Crimson Tide squad on September 14.
So what kind of conclusion can be drawn from all of this? While we must remind ourselves that College Football is a crazy sport, it seems like a near certainty that Alabama will at least make a 3rd consecutive National Championship Game appearance. However, we all know what assuming does...