What more can be said about a college football program that has won five of its seven games this year by at least four touchdowns?
Not to be terse, but: there’s just not many glaring deficiencies with the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference), which routinely buries its opponent before the final quarter begins.
Nick Saban’s juggernaut is humming along, having just recently wrecked Tennessee, then the No. 9 team in the country, by a staggering 39 points. It’s the largest margin of victory in the series in 110 years. The Tide owns a nation-leading 19-game winning streak dating back to last season, occupies the top spot in every major poll, and ranks in the top 20 in offensive and defensive and efficiency.
However, as with any team in this notoriously fickle sport, Alabama should be vigilant of its remaining regular season schedule, even if it is projected to roll the rest of the way. Here are Alabama’s two toughest remaining matchups this regular season, and reasons why the opposition shouldn’t wave the white flag just yet.
vs. No. 6 Texas A&M, Saturday
The Aggies unquestionably have one of the best defensive prospects in the country, Myles Garrett, a staple in virtually every mock draft and metric-focused Pro Football Focus article.
“Myles is one of the premier players in the U.S., no doubt about that,” Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin said Monday.
To bear witness to Garrett is to watch a defensive lineman dispatch a double-team like a piece of tiramisu. Some think he should be included in the Heisman conversation, a rarity for an award race dominated by offensive players. He is returning from injury to play this weekend, so he’ll have a national stage to lay his claim.
While Lane Kiffin’s offense has been notably better than expected in 2016, it has coughed up seven fumbles, tied for 109th nationally and ranked in the bottom three in the conference.
The Aggies lead the SEC and rank second nationally in fumbles recovered (10), lead the SEC and rank third nationally in team tackles for losses (9.7), and average the 13th-most sacks of any FBS program (3.33). In total, the Aggies have gained more turnovers (17) than any other Power Five program.
Additionally, the Aggies tout the fourth best red-zone defense in the country, which should bode well when facing Alabama’s red-zone offense, which ranks outside the top 60.
So while Alabama is favored this weekend, perhaps Sumlin summarized his team’s outlook best: “Somebody said to me, ‘Nobody gives you a chance.’ I said, ‘Good thing nobody isn’t playing.'”
at No. 25 LSU, Nov. 5
The Tigers have been a team reborn since longtime coach Les Miles was fired following the team’s 2-2 start to the season.
Since Ed Orgeron took over, LSU has outscored its two opponents 87-17, and did so without the services of onetime Heisman hopeful Leonard Fournette, who is expected to return to action this weekend.
Aside from the Tigers’ painful era-ending last-second loss to Auburn, LSU rarely beats itself, ranking in the top 35 in fewest penalty yards per game. Alabama conversely ranks 59th in penalties per contest and 81st in total penalties accrued. Considering that four of the teams’ meetings since 2010 have been decided by seven points or less, an ill-timed penalty could prove pivotal.
True freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has understandably garnered heavy attention this season — he ranks in the top 25 in completion percentage (63.5) and points responsible for (102), while also ranking in the top 20 in rushing touchdowns (eight). Despite losing Heisman winner Derrick Henry to the NFL, as The Washington Post’s Chuck Culpepper noted, Alabama has more rushing yards this season than it did at this time last year.
However, where Hurts unravels is, like many, under pressure. His completion percentage drops from 75.4 percent to 25.6 percent when defenders are bearing down on him. The Tigers have little problem dialing up pressure, ranking 17th in team sacks per contest (3.0) and 11th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate. Pressure, then, will be critical in determining whether LSU can beat Saban for the first time since 2011.
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