Among all the incredible facts about Alabama football in 2018, this one stands out: Through eight games, the Tide is averaging 38.75 points in the first half alone. That’s higher than every other SEC team for the entire game.
Georgia is second in the conference, with a scoring average of 38.6 points per game, more than 15 points less than The University of Alabama’s full-game mark of 54.13 per game.
In the first quarter alone Alabama is averaging 20.6 points per game, which would equate to 82 points per game if Nick Saban decided to keep his foot on the gas throughout the game.
There is no doubting Alabama’s greatness, particularly on offense. But beyond the numbers is the cold, hard fact that Alabama has faced a very weak schedule so far.
If this Alabama team is going to become Saban’s second undefeated squad and be in the conversation for the best college football team of all time, there are seven more games to navigate. It’s reasonable to assume six of those seven games are going to be against teams that are better than any the Tide has beaten so far.
In other words, the real challenge for Alabama doesn’t begin until this Saturday night in Baton Rouge.
The best team Alabama has beaten is Texas A&M, which just lost to Mississippi State. To go undefeated the Tide must still face Mississippi State, Auburn, probably Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and two quality teams in the playoffs. All that comes after what could prove to be the most challenging game of the season Saturday against LSU.
Alabama opened as a 14-point favorite over LSU, which makes all the hype about this game feel a little forced. Can a contest really be the game of the year if the experts expect the home team to lose by two touchdowns?
The answer is “yes” when it comes to this Alabama team. That’s because none of the other games to follow would seem to provide more of a roadblock for Alabama.
Here’s what LSU has going for it against Alabama that other teams don’t.
First, this is Alabama’s toughest true road game. Too much is made of the Tiger Stadium at night mystique, but there’s no doubting the home-field advantage LSU will enjoy.
Second, LSU is one of the few teams in the country that isn’t intimidated by the thought of playing big, bad Alabama. Players from other teams say all the right things before they play Alabama, but there is awe for the Tide from many opposing teams. LSU suffers no such issue.
Third, LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is the best in the business. Today, it’s hard to imagine anyone slowing down Tua Tagovailoa, his cast of spectacular skill players and the best pair of offensive tackles in the country. But if anyone can do it, it’s Aranda.
Remember last November when Alabama was rolling along on offense until Auburn’s Kevin Steele showed everyone how to stop Jalen Hurts? Clemson and Georgia both followed that blueprint to duplicate the success Auburn had against the Alabama offense.
It’s hard to imagine there are flaws in the Alabama offense that can be exposed this season. But if anyone can do it, it’s Aranda with two weeks to prepare for the Tide.
I expect Alabama to roll to another convincing win this Saturday, but I also believe this is the best chance to derail the Tide.
Beyond LSU, here are the teams, in order, with the best chance to beat Alabama.
Clemson. With a defensive front featuring four All-American players, the Tigers can stop the run without committing any defensive backs. That’s a great first step in hopes of slowing down Alabama. The Tigers are also the best rushing offense in the country, so the possibility of playing keep-away from the Alabama offense could be a recipe for success.
Oklahoma. The Sooners would have to score at least 50 points to have a chance against Alabama. But it’s possible they could do it. A national championship showdown between Tagovailoa and Kyler Murray would be must-see TV. But first, one-loss Oklahoma has to find a way into the playoffs.
Georgia. Last season the Bulldogs were one play away from beating the Tide and winning the school’s first national championship in almost 40 years. Georgia is missing the leadings from that team, but the Bulldogs enter November controlling their own destiny to make it back to the national title game. A rematch with Alabama in Atlanta would be for the SEC championship this time.
Auburn. I don’t think the Tigers have much of a chance in Tuscaloosa, but because of their defensive talent I still give them more of a chance than Notre Dame, Michigan or any other potential playoff opponent.
In other words, if Alabama continues to roll this weekend in Baton Rouge, it’s hard to see a more daunting challenge down the road for the Tide.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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