Alabama sits atop the heap of teams this college football season, and while its date with LSU still looms large in November, there are three other teams also pressing towards the top as we look around the nation. Oregon, Florida State and Georgia join the Tide and Bayou Bengals in the Top Five and each team brings quite a unique approach to the game.
Do any of them have what it takes to topple the Tide? We'll find out what LSU brings to the table first. Then, if both teams make it to the SEC title game, we'll see how the Tide looks against the Bulldogs' balanced attack and aggressive defense. As for Oregon and Florida State, both teams have a long way to go, but they are certainly on a path to run to sparkling records.
There's a recipe, a formula if you will, to beating Alabama, as we've hit on before at Your Best 11. That formula does not revolve around a lot of points, rather it centers on toughness. Toughness on offense and toughness on defense. The toughness to stand up for four quarters against a physical assault by the Crimson Tide. Along with the toughness comes the need for blending of the run and pass game.
No one-dimensional team is going to sink Nick Saban's squad and over the course of the last four-plus seasons, five of the Tide's six losses have come to opponents with a run-threat at the quarterback position. Jordan Jefferson was adequate enough as a threat to get the Tigers two wins over Alabama. Stephen Garcia was able to change the Tide defense with his early rushing efforts in order to give Alshon Jeffrey the ability to get on top of the defense.
And of course Tim Tebow and Cam Newton. The 2008 and 2010 quarterbacks extraordinaire who were able to get victories over the Tide.
Which brings us to our current Top Five and how they match up with the Tide.
First up is an LSU team that just limped to victory over a bad Auburn team. Many are picking the Tigers to win it all as they replaced the Jarrett Lee-Jordan Jefferson experience with Mr. Cannon-for-an-Arm Zach Mettenberger. For many folks, they think this is the key to beating Alabama; I am not one of those folks.
Yes, LSU will be focused on running the football. Yes, LSU has some dynamic playmakers. Yes, LSU has a suffocating defense. Yes, LSU has been the only team to beat Alabama more than once during this four-plus-year stretch.
However, LSU has lost something that has helped propel them in those victories: the run-pass quarterback threat. Instead of a zone-heavy Alabama team working to contain Jordan Jefferson, what the Bayou Bengals are going to see is a wide open pass rush looking to put Mettenberger in the ground. Beating LSU with a quarterback like Mettenberger is not something that's going to be easy, especially as the defensive backs reroute receivers to disrupt timing.
These teams will square off in Baton Rouge in just over a month and until LSU introduces a game-changer, like Russell Shepard or perhaps Rob Bolden getting touches at quarterback, put your money on the Tide to win on the road.
We'll look at the Bulldogs next as they have an opportunity to play the Tide in the SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs are one of those teams that epitomizes a pro-style, balanced attack. They use their run to setup the play-action pass and the Dawgs feature two emerging stars at the running back position. On the defensive side of things, Todd Grantham's unit is adept at getting pressure and disrupting plays in the backfield.
For Georgia, like LSU, it has a stationary target at the quarterback position, although Murray is far more athletic than his former teammate Zach Mettenberger. The Bulldogs have a defense that can cause problems at the mesh point for the run game, and if they can force 3rd-and-longs, turning Jarvis Jones loose will be a problem for Alabama.
If the Dawgs play the Tide, the edge still goes to Alabama. The Bama playbook on defense will be wide open with a stationary target at the quarterback position and Georgia has given up some big plays. Having their complement of players back in the boat will help, but the depth of the Tide likely breaks the game open late.
Oregon's a team that's intriguing because it does have a run-pass threat and the ability, with De'Anthony Thomas, to put pressure vertically on the Alabama defense. The real question mark for the Ducks will be if they can move the bodies around to create the running seams they live off of and how their defense stands up to four quarters of smashmouth football.
The Crimson Tide is a big step up from Stanford, a power team that Oregon has handled well the last two seasons. Alabama's defense is more athletic than the Cardinal's and stocked with kids who can run to the edge in an effort to stop Oregon.
Should we get this game, it will be quite an exercise in juxtaposition. The speed of the Ducks against the speed and power of the Tide. Can Oregon beat Alabama? Sure, it can, but if we get this game, don't count on the Ducks walking out with a W.
Which brings us to Florida State. Run threat at the quarterback spot? Check. Balanced attack that can run the ball and stretch the defense vertically? Check. Defense that has depth, power and speed? Check.
This team, built by a Nick Saban disciple, is built eerily similar to the Crimson Tide. The Seminoles rotate bodies on defense, they are physical at the point of attack and they run the ball well. Jimbo Fisher also has a very interesting piece should this game come to fruition: EJ Manuel. The quarterback from Virginia is a senior now and Fisher is finally letting him stretch his legs. That means options, designed quarterback runs and combo play calls that freeze defenses because of the run-pass threats.
The edge in this game? Still Alabama, but this is the game that, at this point in the season, that looks like the best matchup. A quarterback that can freeze the Alabama linebackers and secondary. A defense that can play man-to-man and put plenty of bodies in the box to stop the run. A coach and a team that wants to be every bit as physical as the Tide.
Would Florida State win? I don't think so; it's got some offensive line youth that could still be exploited. However, if I'm looking around the nation at teams built to beat the Crimson Tide, this year's Florida State squad holds that title currently.