Commentary

Can any SEC team stop Alabama?

Originally Published: June 26, 2013
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

T.J. YeldonAP Photo/Gerald HerbertT.J. Yeldon and Alabama have left SEC teams grasping for air, and aren't slowing down.

Alabama has won back-to-back national titles and three of the last four BCS national championships.

Under coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide has gone 61-7 during the past five seasons, including a 35-5 mark against SEC opponents in the regular season. Even more impressive: Saban's teams at LSU and Alabama are 8-1 in conference or national championship games.

Can anyone in the SEC slow down the Crimson Tide anytime soon?

"Not unless Saban retires," said an assistant coach at a rival SEC school. "He has everything in place at Alabama: recruiting, facilities and support from the administration. People ridicule him for always talking about the 'process,' but there isn't a better blueprint for winning anywhere out there. It's been a perfect plan so far. I don't see Alabama slowing down unless he retires."

Is there any other program out there that can stop Alabama's dominance in the SEC, which has captured each of the past seven BCS national championships?

With apologies to Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman, who joked recently that the Aggies and the moon control the Tide, the only thing controlling Alabama's future might be Saban's desire to coach. How much longer will Saban, 61, stay motivated to win championships?

Here's a look at five SEC programs that might be next in line to knock off Alabama:

Florida Gators: No one in the SEC knows Saban as well as Gators coach Will Muschamp, who worked as Saban's defensive coordinator at LSU from 2001 to 2004 and was his assistant head coach/defensive coordinator with the NFL's Miami Dolphins in 2005. The Gators made tremendous strides in Muschamp's second season as a head coach, improving from 7-6 in 2011 to 11-2 in 2012. The Gators were as good as anybody in the league on defense last season, allowing an average of only 14.5 points, fifth fewest in the country. But Florida's offense scored only 26.5 points per game (78th among FBS teams) and 146.3 passing yards (118th). Worse, the Gators lost many of their defensive stars, including defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, linebacker Jon Bostic and safety Matt Elam. The Gators are going to have to be much more potent on offense to emerge as a threat in the SEC East this season.

Georgia Bulldogs: The Bulldogs came painfully close to knocking off the Crimson Tide in last season's SEC championship game, losing 32-28 after Chris Conley caught a tipped pass inside Alabama's 10-yard line as time expired in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. With quarterback Aaron Murray and tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall coming back, UGA is equipped to score a lot of points this season. But defensive coordinator Todd Grantham must replace seven players who were drafted by NFL teams, including star linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree. After a 20-year title drought, the Bulldogs have now won two SEC championships and six SEC East titles under coach Mark Richt in 12 seasons, but they haven't won an SEC title since 2005. UGA has won 10 games or more in four of the past six seasons.

LSU Tigers: The Tigers have won two of their past four games against the Crimson Tide and nearly pulled off a huge upset last season. LSU had a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter of last season's game in Baton Rouge, La., until Alabama tailback T.J. Yeldon caught a screen pass and ran 28 yards for a touchdown with 51 seconds left in a 21-17 victory. The Tigers have won 43 games in the past four seasons under coach Les Miles, who has won 80 percent (85-21) of his games in eight seasons as LSU's coach. The Tigers will have to replace a boatload of talent that departed for the NFL draft, but they annually tap into one of the country's most fertile recruiting bases. Miles hired former NFL offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to revamp the Tigers' inept passing game.

South Carolina Gamecocks: It might be argued that what Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier has accomplished at South Carolina is equally as  impressive as what he did at Florida, which he guided to the 1996 national championship. Over the past eight seasons, Spurrier has a 66-37 record, captured the school's first SEC East title in 2010 and has guided the Gamecocks to five consecutive bowl games. The Gamecocks will have the league's best player in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney this season, and Spurrier has recruited enough talent to win the SEC East again. If quarterback Connor Shaw stays healthy, his mobility might give Alabama's defense problems -- if the Gamecocks reach the SEC championship game.

Texas A&M Aggies: The Aggies' signature moment in their first season in the SEC was a 29-24 upset of No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Nov. 10. The Aggies punched the Crimson Tide in the mouth early, taking a 20-0 lead in the first quarter, then held on for a surprising victory. Texas A&M rolled up 418 yards of offense, and quarterback Johnny Manziel passed for 253 yards with two touchdowns and ran for 92 yards. The Crimson Tide never really adjusted to Texas A&M's spread offense and seemed particularly bothered by its rapid pace of play. The Aggies figure to be more efficient in their second season in coach Kevin Sumlin's spread offense. The Aggies will get the first crack at Alabama in SEC play this season, as they host the Tide on Sept. 14. Manziel is back after becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, but the Aggies will have to replace left tackle Luke Joeckel and a plethora of starters on defense.

Mark Schlabach | email

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