Coach Nick Saban has had some amazingly talented teams at Alabama. Could this year's group be his best? The top-ranked Tide look nearly invincible and remain NCAA title favorites at the NCAAF Odds.
Back on Oct. 1, I wrote a story here at SBR Forum with the headline: 'Is Texas A&M A True SEC Contender For Alabama?' At the time, the Aggies were 4-0 with solid wins over then-No. 16 UCLA, Auburn (ranked now) and over No. 17 Arkansas. But my conclusion about Coach Kevin Sumlin's team was this:
I'm not buying the Aggies yet. I think they lose to the Vols and Tide but can finish 10-2 and get a potential New Year's Six bowl game. That would be enough for Sumlin to keep his job.
Well, I was half right thus far. The Aggies beat Tennessee 45-38 in double overtime on Oct. 8 to improve to 6-0. A&M came off its bye week on Saturday and traveled to No. 1 Alabama. The Tide were 18-point favorites and just covered in a 33-14 victory. It was Alabama's 20th straight win overall and its 10th game in a row with a score on defense or special teams. The Tide have a total of 12 non-offensive touchdowns this season. That's just absurd. And here some people thought the team would miss defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who left after last season to take the Georgia head coaching job. The Alabama defense held an A&M team that had at least 200 yards in every half this season to 278 total yards and had five sacks against dual-threat QB Trevor Knight.
The Aggies did lead deeper into the game than any other `Bama opponent this year at the 6:33 mark of the third quarter. But then Alabama took control. So now A&M has just about no shot to win the SEC West as it would lose any tiebreaker with Alabama, and I don't see the Tide losing twice. The Aggies can definitely make a New Year's Six Bowl, however. They will be favored in every remaining regular season game: Saturday vs. New Mexico State (Aggies are biggest favorites on board at -42.5 on college football odds), Nov. 5 at Mississippi State, Nov. 12 vs. Ole Miss, Nov. 18 vs. Texas-San Antonio and Nov. 24 vs. No. 19 LSU.
Jackson Loss Will Hurt Tide
The news wasn't all good for Alabama on Saturday. Star safety and return man Eddie Jackson fractured his leg and is done for the season. He moved from cornerback to safety as a junior and tied for the SEC lead in interceptions (six) last season, returning two for scores and being named first-team All-SEC.
Jackson thought about turning pro but opted to return and try for back-to-back national titles. This year, he had an interception return for a touchdown and two punt returns for touchdowns. Jackson's average of 23 yards per punt return ranks first nationally. He was on many midseason All-America teams.
Alabama is off this week, which is always the case these days before its annual first Saturday of November matchup with LSU, which is in Baton Rouge this year. That game suddenly looks tougher. The Tigers have been a much-improved offensive team since firing Coach Les Miles and promoting assistant Ed Orgeron to interim head coach. He promoted Steve Ensminger to offensive coordinator. In Saturday's 38-21 win over No. 23 Ole Miss, Leonard Fournette returned from his ankle injury and had a school-record 284 yards, including three touchdowns of 59 yards or more, on just 16 carries.
If the Tide beat the Tigers, and they will surely be double-digit favorites on college football picks, they should cruise past Mississippi State (Nov. 12) and Chattanooga (Nov. 19). But the visit from No. 15 Auburn on Nov. 26 also looks tougher than it did a few weeks ago. Those Tigers were the most impressive team in the SEC in Week 8 with a 56-3 destruction of No. 17 Arkansas. It was Auburn's biggest margin of victory over a ranked opponent. Auburn ran for 543 yards, a school record for a SEC regular-season game, even though starting running back Kerryon Johnson sat out.
Sorry, I just don't see any team beating Alabama before the College Football Playoff -- if then. The Tide will win out in the regular season and then stomp the SEC East champion in the conference title game.