The season has kicked off now, and there are only two teams left in our preview—the two I see playing for the championship in Atlanta the first Saturday in December. Nothing that occurred in their openers did anything to change the perception. As you probably know, the two teams remaining are the Alabama Crimson Tide, and the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Do not make the mistake of calling Alabama the defending national champions, or especially not the two-time defending national champions. To do so would be to deviate from ‘The Process,’ the name Coach Nick Saban gives or attributes to nearly everything. Each team is its own, each season is its own. ‘The Process’ says so, and it has worked quite well.
For the record, the Tide has won the last two BCS championships, and three of the previous four. Alabama won their opener, 35-10 over Virginia Tech in Atlanta, but Saban was far from satisfied. The Tide managed only 206 yards of offense and scored only two offensive touchdowns. Christion Jones returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns, and Vinnie Sunseri scored on an interception giving ‘Bama the breathing room it needed.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron returns. He will play far better than he did in the opener. He’d better. Sophomore T.J. Yeldon will get most of the carries in a loaded but largely unproven backfield, which gets to run behind (likely the best lineman in college football) Cyrus Kouandjio. Jones joins returners Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood as targets in the passing game for McCarron.
On defense, Alabama returns eight starters including all four linebackers giving the Tide a better linebacking corps than half the NFL will have this season—half the secondary returns, including one of the best names ever in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Steve Spurrier has his best team at South Carolina as he embarks on season nine in Columbia. This is a team that would rival most he had at Florida. Recruiting speed and feasting on local talent in recruiting has put the Gamecocks squarely in any legitimate national title discussion. South Carolina was far more impressive in their opener with a 27-10 victory over North Carolina.
As with Alabama, there are few weaknesses here. Grabbing most of the headlines and all of the opposing quarterbacks is the man considered the finest player in college football, DE Jadeveon Clowney. Regarded as a guaranteed #1 overall pick in next year’s draft, Clowney is the rare defender who can dominate a game all by himself. I encourage anyone who has not seen it to go look up his play against Michigan RB Vincent Smith in the 2013 Outback Bowl. You will have no more questions about Clowney.
Offensively, Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson will share QB duties. Spurrier is perhaps the only coach who can make an offense thrive using multiple quarterbacks. In the backfield is a great tandem in Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds with a tremendous combination of power and speed. Carolina has a dynamic playmaker from the receiver position in Shaq Roland.
I believe Alabama and South Carolina are the two best teams in the nation this year, not just the SEC. Each has massive September tests, with Alabama at Texas A&M on the 14th and Carolina at Georgia on 7th. After those, each has their toughest at home. There is a chance each could be 12-0 heading to Atlanta. In the end, I must give the edge to the Crimson Tide. But if anyone other than Alabama can beat Alabama, it will be South Carolina.