After Saturday’s 29-0 defeat of No. 3 LSU, top-ranked Alabama remains unbeaten at 9-0 and has already clinched a berth in the SEC Championship game. Now 9-0, head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide appear headed for a second consecutive national championship. Not only did Alabama shut out LSU on Saturday, but the Tide also dominated the Tigers limiting their offense to just 196 total yards while racking up 576 of their own. With just three regular-season games remaining, an SEC title game, and a likely College Football Playoff berth, can anyone beat Alabama?
Remaining Schedule Alabama faces another challenge – or at least it would appear to be a challenge – next week when the Tide hosts No. 18 Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are 6-3 and, like LSU, have one of the country’s best defenses as evidenced by their points allowed per game, 12.3. In a series of three straight games in October, Mississippi State went 2-1 with wins over then-8th-ranked Auburn and then-No. 16 Texas A&M and a 19-3 loss to LSU.
If the Tide gets past Mississippi State, they will face FCS Citadel before closing the season with rival Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl. The Tigers (6-3) appeared left for dead after consecutive losses to Mississippi State and Tennessee but rebounded with consecutive wins over Ole Miss and last week over No. 20 Texas A&M.
The way Alabama has torn up opponents this season don’t expect them to go down in the regular season…unless they beat themselves.
Who Could Beat ‘Bama? Well, LSU looked to have the best shot at knocking off the Tide and we know how that ended up. Georgia, whose only loss is to LSU, would appear to have a good shot at beating Alabama. They gave the Tide everything they could handle in last year’s national championship game. The Bulldogs have an offense built around the run and a quarterback that completes 68 percent of his passes. Plus, a Georgia win is the only way the Bulldogs will make the CFP.
If Alabama captures another SEC title, another rematch with Clemson would likely occur in either the national semifinals or the national championship. The second-ranked Tigers are also 9-0 with the nation’s seventh-best rushing attack and an NFL-bound front four on defense. Clemson holds opponents to just 13.3 points per game and may have the talent to slow down Alabama’s 51-points-plus per game offense.
Other than Clemson and Georgia, is there anyone else that could pull off the improbable? Probably not. Oklahoma can score points, but the Sooners give up way too many points. West Virginia? The Mountaineers are actually adequate on defense for a Big 12 team, but they would have problems offensively against the Tide. Notre Dame? Too inconsistent. Michigan has the defense, but their offense is simply too predictable.
How Can It Be Done? Alabama has won 90 percent of its games over the past decade. Beating the Tide takes an almost perfect game. Offenses cannot turn the ball over and must avoid bad down situations. If an offense is repeatedly put in 3rd-and-longs, they don’t stand a chance. Controlling the football also keeps Alabama’s outstanding offense off the field.
The Alabama offense is highly efficient even on third down. Putting the Tide offense in bad situations isn’t a guarantee of stopping a drive. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been nearly magical on third down. The offense is very balanced. If you take away the pass, Alabama will gash you with running backs, Damien Harris and Najee Harris. To beat Saban and company, it will take some outstanding red zone defense that allows field goals on more possessions than touchdowns. A couple of turnovers would be nice too.
The Tide’s last loss was in last year’s Iron Bowl. Auburn stifled the Tide passing game and controlled the football for over 36 minutes. That may be the only way to beat Alabama in 2018.