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RBR Roundtable: Can Alabama run the table?

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The writers and editors weigh in on the 2016 season.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

No SEC team has finished undefeated since 2010, and the odds are good Alabama drops one game this season. What game (or games) represent the best chance for a Tide loss and why.

Josh Chatham

Alabama will lose a game if they fumble fart around with the ball again, and nobody knows when that might occur. Sans big mistakes, I truly believe this team runs the table, schedule be damned. Too much athleticism on defense and at the offensive skill positions, and the O-line will be just fine.

Brent Taylor

It might be a little bit of a cliche answer with many sportswriters and publications already picking these two teams to meet twice in the regular season, but I think that the biggest game will be against Tennessee. Every year, we hear how "this will be the year Tennessee gets back on track." And every year, it doesn’t happen. Well, this time around, I believe it. Their team is solid across the board, and quarterback Josh Dobbs just keeps getting more experience. Not only is he athletic and a solid passer, but he is a player that can learn his opponent’s tendencies and adapt his play throughout the course of the game.

There’s a solid chance both teams enter the Third Saturday of October undefeated. With the huge win streak pointing towards the Tide, the fans in Neyland Stadium will be hungry for that first win.

I seriously considering coming out of left field and choosing USC here. The lack of quarterback, running back, and a disjointed offensive line could lead to some terrible offensive issues in the first game of the season. However, Nick Saban has not lost a season opener yet, so I won’t bet on it.

Instead, my pick is Ole Miss. Again. You wouldn’t think Alabama would lose to the same team three years in a row, but I think the Rebels have gotten into our heads. And that could lead to all kinds of execution issues.

Chad Kelly is one of the top returning quarterbacks in the nation, leading a high-powered passing offense. On top of that, Ole Miss always plays an aggressive defense that will cause all kinds of issues in the backfield for an offensive line that probably will not have gelled yet.

Three losses in a row seem unbelievable, but I don’t see another team with a better shot at it.

Ole' Whistlebritches

While I think that the game against Ole Miss in Oxford is Alabama’s biggest game in terms of how a win or loss would resonate throughout the rest of the season (and possibly, beyond), it’s a little more difficult to pick a potential loss when looking at the Tide’s schedule.

If I’m shooting straight with you folk, I don’t think Bama loses to Ole Miss this season. The odds of the Akbars beating Bama two years in a row were quite low, and the chances of them winning a third consecutive contest could be categorized as astronomically low. Like Gene-Simmons-winning-the-presidency-as-a-write-in low (though in this election cycle, he could arguably be the most qualified candidate.)

Ole Miss will be in rebuilding mode, and one can’t help but think there will be distractions a-plenty after Tunsil-gate/ Bong-gate/ Pay-for-Play-gate. I can’t help but think Saban has figured out that offense, and this Tide defense is primed to knock the "swag" clean out of Chad Kelly. This year’s Alabama squad has the firepower at wide receiver to dissect a depleted Rebel secondary, and without the Nkemdiches, the power running game will ground-and-pound that lightweight Ole Miss D. Barring a turnover-palooza, I just don’t see Bama dropping a third game to the Fightin’ Faulknerians.

So mark Ole Miss off the list. Who’s next?

Tennessee? To hear the pundits tell it, Butch Jones will finally break through this season, and with a senior Josh Dobbs and former Crimson Tider Alvin Kamara on the roster, one could be led to believe that. To hear the Vols tell it, they beat Alabama everywhere but the scoreboard last year (the folk on the Plains aren’t the only one who revel in moral victories, apparently). The Vols do get the Tide in Knoxville this season…though in the past decade, the result has been the same whether the two teams met at Bryant Denny or that Erector-Set of a stadium there in Knox-Vegas.

Can the Vols do it this year? Where Jones and UT are concerned, I’m in see-it-to-believe-it mode. There’s been big talk about the program since Jones arrived on campus to salve the wounds to the Big Orange psyche following the Derek Dooley debacle. But have those postulations of a return to glory come to fruition in Fulmerville? Not really. Sure, they’re better than Dooley’s UT teams, but good God, there’s hardly a lower bar one could set for comparison. UT under Dooley was a meth-addled, butt-chuggin’ Dumpster full of pallet fires. It seriously couldn’t have gotten much worse. Jones has improved upon that level of ineptitude, but the Vols are hardly world-beaters (one could insert a tasteless joke here if one were so inclined…however, I’m choosing to take the high road.)

UT may indeed contend to win the East, but that isn’t saying a lot at this point. There’s no reason to believe, short of a mistake riddled effort, that Alabama will falter against a team like Tennessee that late in the season.

Who is left? The 500-pound corndog in the room would be LSU. Indeed, LSU should be fearsome in Baton Rouge, and the Tigers are one of the few teams in the regular season that can match talent with the Tide across the starting 22. In fact, if there’s anyone on the schedule who can legitimately threaten the Tide this year, it will be the Bayou Bengals, especially if they can materialize some sort of workable play at the quarterback position.

That, my friends, is the real question. The Tigers return a ton of talent on defense, and the secondary should be second only in the SEC to the one fielded by the Tide. There are questions in regard to depth at linebacker and along the defensive line, but there’s enough freakish talent there to have gelled into a formidable force by the time the Tigers bare their teeth against the Tide. There’s also the Dave Aranda wildcard, as the new defensive coordinator on the sideline in Baton Rouge is the real deal. His prior work at Wisconsin leads me to believe the Tiger D will be a different beast this season, and a much more aggressive and fearsome one at that.

Offensively, there’s little reason to believe the offensive formula in Red Stick will be much different than it has been. Maul with a large offensive line, and run inside zone/ outside zone with Leonard Fournette, who with Derrick Henry gone, can finally stake claim to being the top running back in the conference (at least for now.) That said, Alabama’s defense is built to attack that scheme, as has been evidenced by Fournette’s ridiculously unproductive outings against Alabama in the last two seasons.

The Tigers won’t win over Alabama with the running game alone…which brings me to Brandon Harris. Quite honestly, he is the same kind of quarterback who has started for the Tigers since the departure of Jamarcus Russell: hyped, seemingly talented, multi-dimensional…and at best workmanlike under the brightest of lights. This spring, the same old narrative is leaking out of Baton Rouge, namely that Harris (or in the past, Jordan Jefferson or Anthony Jennings, or whatever-quarterback-come-lately) has dramatically improved as a passer and is ready to lead the Tiger team to a championship. Again, I’ll believe it when I see it.

If there’s a team that could beat Alabama in the regular season, it’d have to be LSU. I mean, look at the Tide’s schedule. Sure, it’s difficult when viewed on the whole, but where is the team that will be the favorite heading into game week against the Tide? We’ve already covered Ole Miss and Tennessee. As good as LSU could be his year, history has proven what happens when these two teams (and two coaching staffs) clash. Alabama has generally gotten the upper hand in Saban’s time at the Capstone when facing his old employer. The stats don’t lie.

Look at the remainder of the schedule. The game against USCw will be fun, but is there a chance Bama can lose the opener? Yeah, I know, the Tide will have a new starting quarterback, a new set of running backs, a rebuilt offensive line, yada-yada-yada. The same was true against Virginia Tech and Wisconsin, and the outcome was the same: Tide victory. That game against the Trojans will be a W.

Kentucky? Surely you jest.

Is Arkansas the team that will beat Alabama? Nope. Brandon Allen and Alex Collins are gone, so that simply isn’t happening.

Texas A&M? No quarterback. No running game. No defense. Dumpster fire. Not happening.

Mississippi State? Uh, no. They couldn’t get it done with the Dak Attack and his eleventy-billion passing yards and a senior-laden defense, and I don’t see it happening this year when Cousin Eddie (Dan Mullen) has to start from scratch, Dak-less.

Should we waste any time discussing Auburn? Or should we just put another tally in the "Nope" column? Let’s be safe and go with the latter. Maybe I’m being harsh, but the wheels have come off of that dipsy-dunk offense, and they have Kevin Steele as a defensive coordinator. Kevin Steele. Despite Steele’s assertion that he’s building a "championship-type defense" (whatever the hell that means), let’s just understand that Auburn’s defense will likely be less effective than last year’s unit (and yes, that is indeed possible).

So until the Tide meets whomever represents the East in the SEC title game, LSU probably has the best chance of beating Alabama, simply because of the talent on the field, the high likelihood of voodoo chicken-blood ceremonies and the possibility of injury attrition to the Tide’s key playmakers following a long, tough haul through much of October.

That said, Alabama’s greatest challenge to an undefeated season may come in the SEC Championship Game. I’m guessing the team to beat in the East is either Florida or Georgia, with that being decided by the winner of the World’s Biggest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Both teams feature coaches who know Saban’s thought process and defensive mindset inside and out. Coach Jim McIlwain will likely field a more cohesive squad in Gainesville in 2016. Kirby Smart represents quite a foe at Georgia, as that roster is stocked with talent, and I see Smart being a fantastic fit for the Bulldogs. He exactly what they were lacking under the tenure of Mark Richt: namely, some fire and intensity.

I originally intended to avoid Gumping in this article, but it is definitely Gumpish to predict that Alabama’s first loss could come in the SEC Championship Game. All of this conjecture is, of course, premature, given the fact that Alabama still hasn’t named a quarterback, may be without its starting left tackle for a few games, and will be breaking in a new offensive line and running attack.


CB969

On June 16, we celebrated the 1979 Alabama football team. In that season, the Crimson Tide battled LSU in a soggy rainy quagmire and came out with a slim 3-0 win. While I cannot predict the weather in Baton Rouge five months from now, I could see a tight low-scoring defensive battle that is decided on which way a ball bounces.
But seriously? Who is going to beat Alabama? They’ll be the favorite in every game, unless something horrible happens along the way.