Power Ranking Alabama's SEC Competition in 2013
The Alabama Crimson Tide is on top of the college football world right now; there’s no denying that. The program just won its 15th national championship (the third under current head coach Nick Saban) and pulled in the country’s top recruiting class.
It’s easy to see why the Tide has a giant target on their chest. The rest of the country is trying to catch up with what Alabama seems to be accomplishing with ease. But are there teams that actually stand a chance at dethroning Saban and Co.? Look no further than the Southeastern Conference.
The SEC possesses three teams that could put an end to the Tide’s reign on college football and the conference, and one of those teams defeated Alabama in 2012.
Here, we rank the teams that have the strongest cases to take down the Tide.
1. Texas A&M
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As the only team to defeat Alabama last season, Texas A&M has the upper hand over the rest of the league in duplicating the feat in 2013. The Aggies surprised many in their first year under head coach Kevin Sumlin, but expectations are high for the team’s second year in the SEC.
Second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel will have to play at the same level he did in his unstoppable Heisman Trophy-winning year of 2012 without his blind-side protector, Luke Joeckel, and feisty pass-rusher, Damontre Moore. Both are projected as first-round talents in this year’s NFL draft.
However, the Aggies did manage to persuade junior offensive tackle Jake Matthews to stay in College Station for his senior season. He will fill the giant void Joeckel left behind, and that should be comforting for Manziel. Matthews was considered by many to be a first-round pick after starting 33 consecutive games since his freshman year.
With Manziel and Matthews back in the fold, the Aggies will look to continue penetrating defenses with its high-octane offensive attack. The dual threat of Manziel bothered Alabama’s defense in last year’s game, allowing Texas A&M to jump out to a 20-0 advantage in the first quarter.
This year, Sumlin added some fuel to the already hot fire with the signing of a big in-state recruit, Ricky Seals-Jones. At 6'5", 230 pounds, Jones will provide Manziel with a monster target against the Tide’s restructuring secondary.
There’s no doubt that the Aggies will be ready for their date with the Tide next season, and they will likely have an overwhelming home-field advantage in College Station. Out of all the teams on Alabama’s 2013 schedule, the Aggies have the greatest chance of stopping the Tide’s quest for a third straight national championship.
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Alabama narrowly escaped the SEC Championship Game with a 32-28 win over Georgia, jolting the Tide into the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame. The Bulldogs were literally yards away from defeating Alabama and playing for a national title, but fell just short.
Head coach Mark Richt will have to rebuild his defense as Georgia will lose several key contributors on the defensive side of the ball. Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, John Jenkins and Bacarri Rambo are all headed to the NFL and the Bulldogs will need their replacements to step up.
But Richt does have senior quarterback Aaron Murray back for his last hurrah. Murray completed several clutch throws in the final minutes of the SEC Championship Game, finishing the contest with 265 yards and a touchdown. The final outcome may have factored in his decision to return for another year.
The Bulldogs also have freshman-standout running back Todd Gurley in the backfield in 2013. Gurley rushed for 122 yards and two scores against Alabama last season and set the school freshman running back record with 17 rushing touchdowns.
With Murray and Gurley accounting for 387 of Georgia’s 394 yards of offense in the SEC Championship Game, the Bulldogs already have the blueprint to run with the Tide in hand. They will need to retool the defense and protect Murray to have another opportunity to take down Alabama in 2013.
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The Gators did not face Alabama in 2012, but a meeting between the two SEC schools was not out of the question last season. If Notre Dame had fallen at any point in the season, we would have seen a second consecutive de facto SEC "National Championship Game."
Florida cruised through the regular season except for a blemish to then-No. 10 Georgia on Oct. 27. The Gators put together a solid resume by defeating Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State before its postseason thumping from Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
But head coach Will Muschamp will have to find replacements for a couple of star performers on both sides of the ball. Senior running back Mike Gillislee and junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd are no longer in Gainesville. Gillislee rushed for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012. Floyd is the No. 2-ranked player in the draft and the top-rated defensive tackle, according to ESPN.
However, quarterback Jeff Driskel will return to the Swamp with a year of experience under his belt. He started every game last season for the Gators.
A highly-ranked recruiting class could be just what Florida needs to get back to Atlanta and have a shot at defeating Alabama.