This week's round-table includes ErikRBR, Joe27 and Jtadpole. As always, feel free to interject your own answers in the comment section below.
1. The college football season is officially halfway over [insert sad face .gif] and we have our first BCS rankings of the season, who out the top 10 are pretenders and who may be a sleeper?
Erik: While not official, we have the polls and sims, and there are few surprises there. For pretenders, one need only look to the bottom teams: Louisville and Baylor. Louisville has been pedestrian against mediocre-to-bad teams -including Kentucky and Rutgers, and will not improve that either in a conference that includes the Memphises and USFs of the world. Baylor has played one team that is even passably respectable, 2-4 Kansas State, and was in a dogfight. In a down Big Twelve, and with that abominable out of conference schedule, this team is as illusory as West Virginia last season. Neither should be in this discussion.
My two sleepers are an undefeated UCLA team sitting 8th, with a regular season tilt versus Oregon (and very probably a PAC 12 championship rematch twelve days later). I also love Miami here. They have some wins over Florida and Georgia Tech under their belt, with games against FSU and Virginia Tech in a few weeks. Win out, and it is this team, not Clemson, who has the best resume.
Joe: I have been calling out Louisville as pretender since the beginning of the season. It is infuriating that this team struggled to put away such powerhouses as Kentucky and Rutgers, but when they go undefeated into the bowl season their fans will be going crazy about getting left out of championship talk. If all the big names go down and UL does make it to the big one, they will get slaughtered Notre Dame style, maybe worse.
I would really like to pick UCLA as a sleeper, but their upcoming schedule won't allow them to make any noise this season. Bruin DE Anthony Barr may be the best player in the nation, and early bold prediction: He will get taken ahead of Clowney in the draft next May. So if I can't take them, I will go with written off A&M, who I think goes undefeated the rest of the way and goes to the Sugar Bowl.
JTad: I'm probably stating the obvious by calling out the Buckeyes and Louisville as pretenders. It's pretty clear at this point that Ohio St. is only slightly better than the Northwesterns and Wisconsins of the world, and Louisville's offense has now been limited significantly by both Rutgers and Kentucky. If either of those teams played Alabama in the big game we would have a replay of the Notre Dame bloodbath. My sleeper is UCLA. The Bruins look like a pretty complete team right now with one of the best QBs in the nation.
2. Out of the remaining undefeated teams who would you most want Alabama to play in a National Title game and why?
Erik: It's cheating because they're not undefeated, but an Alabama-Stanford game would tickle me to no end. So many TE sets, big-man-on-big-man smashmouth, and two great coaches in a game that would be chock full of some serious big boy football.
Now, to answer the original question, you have to say the Oregon Ducks. Not that I think the Ducks are the second best team (I would say an undefeated Clemson, FSU or Miami would be), but because it's time to once again pit the timeless themes of ball control, defense, and winning the line of scrimmage against the hyperspeed flavor du jour. Also, I think it would be very fun to see our wide receivers absolutely demolish their undersized (and very often, out of position) secondary. The Ducks speed rushers would give us problems, sure. But, you can hit them in the middle. More importantly, the PAC12 doesn't have anyone with the linebackers of an elite SEC team. That would be the biggest difference in the game, as the freebies and cheap yards would be replaced with driving the field and earning their drives.
Honorable mention would be tOSU. It would be gratifying to run Urbz out of the building, and reaffirm the reason he wimped out of the SEC. Also, you can just plain tell that he and Saban do not care for one another.
Joe: Oregon. Period. With all the quacking the past few years from west coasters about how good the Ducks are, seemingly reaching a crescendo this season, I would love a chance for the Tide to put that to bed. Any other matchup besides Alabama-Oregon would seem unsatisfying at this point.
JTad Oregon. Seeing the contrasting styles on display would be interesting.
3. Out of the remaining undefeated teams who would you NOT want Alabama to play in a National Title game and why? (Basically, who scares you the most?)
Erik: Clemson probably scares me the most. Chad Morris is an excellent OC, and he would find ways to exploit our secondary, particularly in the star and money packages. The Tigers can run the ball well enough, and Tajh Boyd is deadly accurate. We won't talk about the thought of Sammie Watkins running free in the secondary. On the other side of the ball, the Tigers' fast, deep defensive line would cause problems in the pass rush. Still, you have to like Alabama's chances in a Dabo-Saban chess match and overall game of attrition.
Joe: Florida State. The Seminoles have been a sleeping giant for it seems like a decade now. They have kept racking up talent at every position, so in any given year, if they could have found a rallying point, they inevitably would have made waves. Though only a true freshman, Jaboo Winston looks like he is already miles ahead of where Ponder and EJ Manuel left off. He has seemingly given that entire team a swagger that its been missing since the 90s. If they get by Clemson on Saturday, the Noles will have their eyes on Pasadena.
JTad I think I would have to say Oregon again. While I believe that Alabama is more talented than anybody in the country, Oregon plays a style of ball and pace that we don't see every day.
4. If Alabama is clearly the best team in the SEC, who is #2 and why?
Erik: This is a no-brainer: LSU. Miracle worker Cam Cameron has a great feel for the game, and the Tigers have integrated his concepts with their long-standing paleoball offense seamlessly. He has done a great job putting Mett in positions to win, and adjusts in-game very well. While the defense is not very good, and I think we could have success against them, I retain a healthy respect for their DL, which has shown flashes of brilliance, and of course the overall talent level in general. There's also the Miles factor: No one, literally no one, gets up for a Saban game, or gets in Saban's head, like Les Miles. It's the weirdest thing I've ever seen.
Joe: A&M. Even with the defense lacking an ability to stop anything, Manziel will keep this team in every game, and he is getting more comfortable in close games where he needs game winning drives. I believe they will cruise until November 23rd against LSU, and I think that will be a shootout ultimately won by the Ags.
JTad After this weekend, I think it has to be LSU. Of course, I am rather partial to teams that win with a punishing running game and stout front seven.
5. Six games into the 2013 season, what is your general feeling about this Alabama football team?
Erik: Save seven minutes of one quarter in the Hate Barn, this young team has handily owned the first half of its schedule. More importantly, the team improves every week: The offensive line, for instance, has gotten better every single week. The defensive line is impenetrable: you are not running on Alabama. The corners, while no one is truly that lock-down guy, have some quality depth and generally play very well. And, with AJ and Mosely, Sunseri has emerged as an on-field leader of this team. Is the Tide as dominant as past iterations of Saban's Alabama? No, but no one could expect that either. There are some hiccups and teaching moments to be sure in every game, but the depth, a forgiving schedule, and the variety of ways this team finds to ways to comfortably win has to make you feel good.
Joe: This team is beginning to come together and form an "identity", as Coach Saban would say. I don't believe they are completely there, but with the turnover on the offensive line and a couple key losses on D, it was always going to be a goal that would require real game time to achieve. Every game seems like another stepping stone towards peak performance, and I think that this team has a real chance to being even better than the '11 or '12 teams. If you think that is blasphemy, think about the upgrades at TE with OJ Howard progressing into a real mismatch for defenses, at DT with A'Shawn Robinson getting better every game and giving the Tide a pass rushing threat from the interior which they haven't had since Dareus, and at Linebacker with CJ playing every down this season.
JTad While it may not be the best Saban has had, I do believe it's the best in the nation. The defense looks excellent to me right now, particularly against the run, and the offensive line seems to be improving. This team will be favored in every game it plays and I see no one right now who is likely to knock them off.