It may not matter who Alabama faces, but it doesn't hurt to wonder.
With Alabama rolling towards a second straight appearance in the SEC title game, it’s never too early to begin thinking about potential matchups.
As it stands, Missouri leads the SEC East by one win over South Carolina. However, due to a victory over the Tigers last weekend, the Gamecocks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. Therefore, a single loss by Missouri—along with winning out—is all South Carolina needs to wrap up the division.
Given that both teams seem to be the front-runners for a berth in the conference title game, it begs the question: Would the Crimson Tide rather face the Tigers or the Gamecocks?
Let’s take a closer look at both teams.
Breaking Down Missouri
The Tigers may be coming off their first loss of the season, but that doesn’t take away what the team has accomplished thus far.
Entering Week 10, Missouri has moved the ball with the best of them. The team ranks No. 12 in scoring (41.8 PPG), No. 16 in total offense (499.8 YPG), No. 19 in rushing (224.5 YPG) and No. 32 in passing (275.3 YPG). Furthermore, the Tigers have also been solid on third down, converting a little over 45 percent of their opportunities.
Through eight games, the team has scored 36 or more points seven times. That includes a 36-point, 500-yard effort against a stout Florida defense that ranks No. 4 in total defense (273.1 YPG) and No. 8 in scoring (16.3 PPG).
It becomes even more impressive when you consider redshirt freshman Maty Mauk threw for 295 yards in his first career start—making him the only quarterback to throw for more than 160 yards against the Gators secondary.
On defense, it only gets better.
Thus far, Missouri ranks No. 36 in scoring (22.8 PPG), No. 66 in total defense (395.6 YPG), No. 16 against the run (111.4 YPG) and No. 114 against the pass (284.3 YPG). The team has allowed just six scores on the ground and 14 through the air.
But while the Tigers’ secondary may bend, it doesn’t break.
The unit has already tallied 15 interceptions on the year—the third-most in the nation. It all adds up to helping Missouri rank No. 42 in pass efficiency defense (121.4 RAT).
Senior defensive lineman Michael Sam (10 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, one fumble return for touchdown) has also helped bring along a fierce pass rush. The Tigers rank No. 9 in sacks, with a total of 25.0.
Overall, Missouri is a team that is strong on both sides of the ball. The team is smart on offense and lethal on defense—No. 4 in turnover margin (plus-12).
Just imagine how much better the Tigers will get with the return of dual-threat quarterback James Franklin (67.7 CMP%, 1,867 TOT YDs, 17 TDs, 3 INTs, 156.2 RAT).
Does Alabama really want to face this team?
Breaking Down South Carolina
After a shocking 23-21 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 19, the Gamecocks rebounded in fashion, toppling previously unbeaten Missouri, 27-24, in double-overtime.
Through eight games, the team has boasted a solid offensive unit. South Carolina ranks No. 50 in scoring (31.9 PPG), No. 27 in total offense (475.1 YPG), No. 31 in rushing (205.9 YPG) and No. 40 in passing (269.3 YPG). Furthermore, third down has rarely been an issue, as the team has converted 46.6 percent of its opportunities this season.
Running back Mike Davis (151 CAR, 930 YDs, 10 TDs) has been the most impressive aspect of the offense.
Already this year, the sophomore has shown consistency, rushing for over 100 yards in six of eight contests and finding the end zone in seven of them. He’s also been vital in the passing game, bringing in 27 grabs for 300 yards.
But most recently, quarterback Connor Shaw (64.4 CMP%, 1,897 TOT YDs, 17 TDs, 1 INT, 162.6 RAT) has stolen the show.
That’s because the senior single-handedly brought the Gamecocks back from a 17-0 deficit in the fourth quarter against the Tigers last weekend. After missing the first half, he returned to throw for 201 yards and three touchdowns on 20-of-29 passing.
Defensively, the team has been better than expected.
Thus far, South Carolina ranks no. 38 in scoring (22.9 PPG), No. 32 in total defense (350.3 YPG), No. 44 against the run (144.8 YPG) and No. 23 against the pass (205.5 YPG). The team has conceded 10 touchdowns on the ground and 12 through the air.
But while the Gamecocks may limit opposing quarterbacks production, they do very little to force turnovers—the team ranks No. 85 in interceptions (six) and No. 80 in turnovers gained (11).
Not to mention, the unit has given up 23 or more points six times already this year.
It’s hard to tell which South Carolina team the Tide would see in the SEC title game.
Summing It All Up
After looking at both teams, it’s clear to say that Alabama would much rather face the Gamecocks.
Sure, the team has proven it can be difficult to beat in a close contest. However, nothing has suggested that South Carolina has what it takes to slow down the Tide.
On the other hand, Missouri has proven it can be productive on both sides of the ball. Not to mention, the team has done so without its starting quarterback.
The Tigers have been on a mission to prove they belong in the SEC. It all seems a lot like the run Texas A&M made last year in the conference.
We all know how Alabama fared in that one.
If the team wants a clearer path to a third consecutive BCS title game appearance, it would be in the Tide’s best interest to avoid the Tigers.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of NCAA.com
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