If you are looking for teams to end Alabama's stranglehold on the crystal football, look no further than UCLA, Oregon, Stanford, Clemson and Florida State. Each team possesses the ingredients on both sides of the ball to put the pressure on the Tide and possibly walk away with a win.
It has become accepted that Nick Saban's Crimson Tide will sit atop the heap of the coming BCS rankings, lording over the college football world. Alabama has its eyes set on a third straight title and its fourth in five seasons. For fans of other teams, it would be a welcome sight if the Tide's reign came to an end.
Obviously, LSU and the SEC East's candidate, Georgia, will have the first shot of taking down Alabama. However, should the Tide arrive in Pasadena, the five listed teams have the formula to push for success against them, most notably an elite quarterback that can pressure Alabama with the run.
Yes, playing defense is paramount to any effort to beat Alabama. Getting pressure on the quarterback, forcing turnovers and playing tough against the run are a must, and all five of these squads are capable of doing these things in a ballgame.
Defense has to come through in big spots, but the most instrumental element to giving the Tide a game is the quarterback. Time and again, Alabama has proven its Achilles' heel is the quality passing quarterback who is also a legitimate run threat. Whether it was Tim Tebow or Stephen Garcia, Cam Newton or Johnny Manziel, a quarterback who had the ability to alter Saban's defense with his legs, and arm, is a major problem.
Even in a loss, Manziel showed what the run-pass duality can do to the Crimson Tide defense. The reigning Heisman winner put up 562 yards of offense, 98 on the ground and 464 through the air as he taxed the Bama defense.
Defensive football is rooted in the act of balancing dedicated run and pass defenders in an effort to counteract tendencies in scenarios and ultimately take away what the offense does best. Having a quarterback who can turn any play from any set into a run play creates more problems for the defense.
Issues such as playing man-to-man become serious decisions. While man coverage can provide more pass rush and dedicate more defenders to the run, it runs the risk of back-end players' backs being turned and giving up a big play when the quarterback breaks containment.
Zone coverage leaves holes and areas for receivers to get open, and while defenders are primed to react to quarterback run, an adept passer can manipulate zone coverage for big gains. A high-level signal-caller that is also an accomplished run threat creates big problems for the rigid defensive structure in Tuscaloosa.
UCLA's on the list because of its quarterback, Brett Hundley. Still a less-than-discovered commodity, Hundley has shot up draft boards with his blend of size, speed, arm strength and accuracy. The redshirt sophomore is a patient quarterback that picks his running spots carefully but maximizes the value, as he's picked up 15 first downs on the ground through four games.
As a passer, Hundley is showing an ability to get through a progression and make quality reads. His ball placement is stellar and his talents allow the Bruins to spread opponents out, threaten with the play-action run, then find receivers down the field. Freezing a safety and then hitting a receiver in the void is a skill Hundley has in spades.
Prior to Marcus Mariota, Oregon was a run-heavy team that did little in the passing game. This season, the redshirt sophomore from Hawaii has had a part in expanding the offense. The unit is taking the next step in its evolution: throwing the ball down the field.
Oregon has long been able to spread teams side to side and create vertical run lanes with its zone-blocking scheme. The Ducks also used the screen game to pressure perimeter defenders and get athletes out in space quickly. However, in 2013 Oregon's playbook has expanded to include more intermediate and vertical passing as Mariota rapidly improves.
That element makes the Ducks capable of giving Alabama issues. Side-to-side play will not beat the Tide, but stretching Saban's defense horizontally and vertically is a recipe for success in creating big plays down field. Adding Bralon Addison and Josh Huff as legitimate vertical threats improves the potency of De'Anthony Thomas, Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall on the ground.
Oh, and Mariota has some scoot as well. Out of the pocket—by design and ad-lib—Mariota adds another element to Oregon's ground game.
Kevin Hogan, the quarterback for Stanford, makes the Cardinal the wild card of sorts on this list. He's not as explosive as Hundley or Mariota, but he does bring the ability to move in the pocket and can get himself out of trouble if pressed. Stanford even utilizes his athleticism on the zone read to force defenses to respect the keeper.
The redshirt sophomore is a lot like 2010 'Bama beater Stephen Garcia in his ability to use the run to his advantage. It is not his first move, but he is more than capable when pressed into action on the ground. If Hogan can find early success with designed quarterback runs, and scrambles, a la Garcia in 2010, Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste can find space to do damage in the back end.
In Tajh Boyd, the elder statesman of the group, you have the most accomplished passer. Boyd's grown immensely comfortable in Chad Morris' offense and, like Manziel, he works the quick packaged plays to perfection. Boyd is not a run-first quarterback, but a guy who has shown more willingness to run over his career as he realizes how much more effective it makes him in the passing game.
Packaging zone read with screens to Sammy Watkins is part of what make Clemson so dangerous; asking a defense to defend multiple plays in the course of one play, with a quick-reading quarterback like Boyd, places real strain on the defense. Unlike the early years where Boyd waited in the pocket too long, he now takes off when necessary and keeps on the zone read in an effort to tax the defense.
Last but not least is Jameis Winston at Florida State. Winston is also a pass-first quarterback, but he weighs in at 240 pounds and is a load to bring down if he gets loose. Winston has shown an advanced understanding of the pass game. He gets through progressions and reads in quick fashion and puts footballs into tight spots to help his receivers.
On the ground, Winston is capable, and against Alabama, he would have to get out of the pocket to be effective down the field. Florida State has plenty of weapons in the run and pass game; the added element of Winston moving safeties around with the threat of run would only serve to create more problems for the defense.
Beating Alabama is not going to be easy, as Texas A&M found out earlier this season. LSU boasts a roster that will allow it to run with the Tide, athlete for athlete; unfortunately most teams lack that superior talent and depth. In that case, it takes a very specific plan to tax the Tide's defense, a plan centered on a quarterback run threat.
It is not about a running quarterback. Braxton Miller and Devin Gardner do not evoke the same problems for a defense that accomplished passers who can run, like Boyd and Hundley, conjure up.
These five teams have the ingredients, but as Bama showed on September 14, just having the supplies does not mean a team has the recipe to complete the upset.
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