Can Anyone Dethrone Alabama?
The college football season opens in less than a month and all eyes will be on the SEC once again, especially two-time defending national champion Alabama. Can anyone dethrone the Crimson Tide?
The SEC will be loaded once again. Head coach Mark Richt at Georgia will have 10 returning starters on offense, including four-year starting QB Aaron Murray, who already holds a slew of Bulldog school records. Georgia returns just three starters on defense but looks to have the advantage in the East.
Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel returns to lead Kevin Sumlin’s Texas A&M squad to a repeat of last year’s 11-win season. Six starters return to the nation’s No. 4 scoring offense, and the defense will be much improved. However, neither the Aggies nor Tide rival LSU will unseat Nick Saban and company in the West. Look for a ‘Bama-UGA rematch in the SEC title game. Florida and South Carolina are two other teams that are potential top ten teams, but won’t be able to take care of Georgia in the East.
Outside of the SEC, the two biggest threats to Alabama’s hold on the national title are Ohio State and Oregon. The Buckeyes went 12-0 last year while under NCAA probation related to the Jim Tressel saga. Head coach Urban Meyer has the nation’s best dual-threat QB in Braxton Miller and nine starters returning on an offense that scored 50 or more points four times last season.
Out west, Pac-12 favorite Oregon will have a new coach in Mark Helfrich but will feature the same high-octane offense that the Ducks’ ran under Chip Kelly. QB Marcus Mariota has a year of experience under his belt and a wealth of weapons including speedster De-Anthony Thomas and tight end Colt Lyerla. The Ducks’ defense returns seven starters. Look for Oregon to run the table in the conference and get revenge on Stanford. The Ducks lost a shot at a national title last year thanks to a 17-14 loss in overtime to Stanford late in the season.
Outside of the SEC, Oregon, and Ohio State, the only other real contender might be Louisville, who should win the inaugural American Athletic Conference title. The problem for head coach Charlie Strong and the Cardinals will be their weak schedule. A one-loss SEC team, or even the Ducks or Buckeyes, would probably get the nod over Louisville who will have beaten up teams like Connecticut, Houston, and Memphis.
A team that may have a shot at breaking into the national title picture is Clemson. The college football world will find out quickly if the Tigers belong in that class when they take on Georgia in the first week of the season. Head coach Dabo Sweeney’s club should win the ACC and, if it can run the table, could find itself playing for a national championship.
The year’s big surprise will be the resurgence of Auburn football. New head coach Gus Malzahn returns to the school where, as offensive coordinator, he guided an offensive juggernaut led by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton to a national title. Malzahn will have 12 returning starters, six each on offense and defense, but must find the triggerman for his up-tempo offense. If the Tigers can get their offense rolling and win a few early, they may surprise the nation in 2014.