The Blitz: Who are really the top threats to Tide's throne?

The Blitz: Who are really the top threats to Tide's throne?

Published Sep. 23, 2013 9:18 a.m. ET

Step forth, challengers for the crown, and let ye be

A quarter of the season is in the rear view
mirror, more than enough of a sampling to render a veridct on who is a
contender and who is a pretender to end Alabama's run of national
championships (and after a lackluster weekend -- more on that later --
what else are we to fixate on?).

In sorting through
the current top 10 in the AP poll -- Oregon, Clemson, Ohio State,
Stanford, LSU, Louisville, Florida State, Georgia and Texas A&M
-- and taking into consideration their paths to Pasadena and top
weapons, what follows are the teams that could end Nick Saban's time on
college football's Iron Throne based on a threat-level ranking of

*Texas A&M (you had your
chance) and Louisville (that schedule just isn't the stuff of a title
resume) didn't make the cut and neither did No. 4 Ohio State, for now.
It has beaten four teams with a combined 3-10 and frankly we'll be able
to render a better judgment on the Buckeyes after the next two weeks'
dates with No. 24 Wisconsin and No. 18 Northwestern.

Second in the nation in offense
(672 yards per game) and in scoring (61.3 per), the Ducks also have that
one variable that has vexed the Tide. Dual-threat QBs have dealt
Alabama its last three losses -- Cam Newton (Auburn) in 2010, Jordan
Jefferson (LSU) in '11 and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) in '12 and
nearly this season -- and Oregon has a dangerous one of their own in
Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota. The schedule is daunting with
No. 17 Washington, No. 13 UCLA and No. 5 Stanford in a four-game span,
The Cardinal bring a very Bama-like form of physicality up front and can
disrupt the Ducks' tempo. How Oregon deals with it could give us an
idea of how it would matchup with the Tide.

There's no hypothetical matchup
here as the Tigers head to Tuscaloosa on Nov. 9 and could do their part
to bring a halt to 'Bama's run. The efficient Zach Mettenberger -- who
is thriving under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, throwing 10 TD
passes to one interception -- can carve up a suspect Alabama secondary
with dynamic receivers in Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry and LSU can
take it to the Tide with running back Jeremy Hill. The Tigers and Tide
are near-mirror images, making this an intriguing and dangerous matchup
for 'Bama. Texas A&M was a major hurdle but this figures to be
Alabama's most difficult regular-season test.

David Shaw has built the
Cardinal as Alabama West, putting his focus on physical play up front on
both sides of the ball and disciplined defense. Stanford continues to
operate under the radar, getting overshadowed by Oregon in the Pac-12,
but they're a very real threat and could build steam with a schedule
that includes four ranked opponents in No. 17 Washington, No. 13 UCLA,
No. 2 Oregon and No. 22 Notre Dame. Dual-threat QB Kevin Hogan has
advanced beyond being the game-manager he was a year ago and the
Cardinal's defense is as good as it gets with a beastly front seven and
safety Ed Reynolds. This may be the nation's most complete team, but I'm
not sure they can weather the Ducks.

best team in the SEC East, a notion that was only strengthened after
Florida QB Jeff Driskel was lost for the season, the Bulldogs may wind
up getting a shot at revenge against Alabama in the SEC Championship
Game. The Georgia defense has its issues, ranking 104th in total D
(460.5 ypg), 102nd against the rush (211.5) and 82nd vs. the pass
(249.0), but it's all about QB Aaron Murray, RB Todd Gurley and the
offense with the Dawgs, isn't it? They have the offense to go toe-to-toe
with the Tide and a veteran QB looking for redemption at the helm. But
could Georgia's D hold up its end of the bargain? They're behind LSU on
the threat level, only because this matchup isn't

Both would seem to have
the kind of QBs that can give the Tide problems with the Tigers' Tajh
Boyd and Seminoles' Jameis Winston, which should make them both bigger
threats and the Tigers are the only team on this list with a real
marquee win, beating Georgia. But the ACC's top two teams are being
lumped together because 1) Their Oct. 19 meeting will give us a real
indication of who the real contender is and 2) It's still difficult to
get behind a conference that hasn't been able to get out of its own way
the last 10 years, with eight top-10 teams falling to unranked
conference foes.

Edsall entered the season firmly on the public's hot seat after six
wins in his first two seasons in College Station. With Maryland off to
the Big Ten next year, a change of leadership would make sense. But
considering there are three years and $6 million left on his contract
and that the Terrapins athletic department remains
, that talk was

Further negating those rumblings is
Maryland's start as it improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2001
with Saturday's win over West Virginia.

everyone know about WR Stefon Diggs and the motely collection of
uniforms, it's the ninth-ranked defense that has largely fueled this
start, allowing 10 points or less in three games and forced 13

Second-year coordinator Brian Stewart's
defense brings heavy pressure behind LB Marcus Whitfield (5 1/2 sacks).
It makes for an intriguing battle after a bye week vs. Florida State and
its redshirt freshman QB Winston, who has yet to face a strong
defensive front.

October will ultimately decide how
much progress Edsall and Co. have made with the Seminoles, 2-1 Virginia
and No. 3 Clemson on the schedule, but for now, the Terrapins are
penning a compelling turnaround story.

Credit players from Georgia,
Georgia Tech and Northwestern for their simple acts of protest Saturday
in writing "APU" on their wrist tape, to support "All Players United," a
movement backed by the National
College Players Association
in reaction to the
NCAA's treatment of players. As much as we want a single star to be the
touchstone for reform, it's a collective grassroots effort that may be
the truest mechanism for change. This was a smartly orchestrated

If we can take any solace in
Week 4's barrage of bad game -- there was just one matchup of Top 25
teams in No. 23 Arizona State-No. 5 Stanford and 11 ranked teams played
opponents from outside the Automatic Qualifiers conferences -- its that
with the impending playoff and the selection committee taking strength
of schedule into account these kinds of Saturdays may become less and
less frequent.

There was a time that BYU owned the
Holy War, winning 19 of 21 over Utah from 1972-1992. The rivalry,
though, has shifted in the Utes' favor with 14 wins in the last 21,
including Saturday's 20-13 victory in Provo, which was Utah's fourth
straight. It also gave the 3-1 Utes a sweep of in-state schools, having
already beaten Utah State and Weber State.

Tigers suffered their first loss against, LSU -- hence the 'down'
designation -- but Auburn opened eyes in Death Valley, outscoring the
hosts 21-14 in the second half and totaling 333 yards after halftime.
Gus Malzahn has already turned things around but in this conference and
in this division, progress is likely to be incremental and getting bowl
eligible looks like a reality.

Brown has insisted the team stay focused on a Big 12 title and with No.
14 Oklahoma, No. 11 Oklahoma State, No. 25 Texas Tech and No. 20 Baylor
still on the schedule that still seems a long shot. But one game into
conference play, the Longhorns got a respite from the firestorm that has
been surrounding Brown and avoided their first 1-3 start since 1956 by
beating Kansas State 31-21.

It was
already the biggest home game in the program's history and coach Paul
Pasqualoni added to the spotlight with then-No. 15 Michigan coming to
East Hartford for a nationally televised game, saying "I don't know how
or when it gets any better." But it wound up adding to the confounding
state of a program that has yet to finish a season at .500 under the
third-year coach. The Huskies led 21-7 only to lose 24-21 and fall to

He left his mark on the Big East
record books back in his Rutgers days and now, Savage is doing the same
in the ACC. Savage tied an ACC record with six TD passes in throwing for
424 yards on 23 of 33 passing in a 58-55 win over Duke. Those six TDs
are equal to or more than 69 FBS teams and 31 AQ conference teams have
thrown on the season.

It was a big day in the ACC as Hendy
had two fumble recoveries and took an interception 26 yards for a TD in
the Terps' aforementioned win over West Virginia. Interestingly, Hendy
has two career picks, both of which resulted in TDs. The other came on a
32-yarder vs. North Carolina State in 2011.

His coaches
told Martin-Manley
he'd have his opportunities
against Western Michigan, which came in 80th in punt return defense.

He delivered, returning four punts for 184 yards and scores of
83 and 63 yards, both coming in less than a minute of game

Murray has a flair for the dramatic.
His 100th career TD pass at Georgia would be the longest score in
school history as he hit Reggie Evans for a 98-yard TD strike. It's just
another of a slew of records Murray should set this season as he now
trails Danny Wuerffel by 17 for the SEC career TD pass mark and can also
own the conference's total yardage and completions records by the end
of the season.

One-handed catches can be
misnomers. Too often they involve tapping the ball and then pulling it
down, but Toledo's Alonzo Russell delivered the very definition of the
one-handed grab, extending his 6-foot-4 frame for this score on a fade
route against Central Michigan. #MACtion,

Vanderbilt's All-American wide
receiver Jordan Matthews was held under 100 yards for the first time
this season vs. UMass, but the game may have wrought his best play of
the season. With QB Austyn Carta-Samuels under pressure Matthews came
back to him, taking a short pass at the line of scrimmage. He cut back
across the field, then broke free, eluding one defender and then
hurdling another for an 11-yard TD.

This has shades of Auburn-LSU as
an up-and-coming SEC West team takes on a program that's where said
up-and-comer is trying to get to. Hugh Freeze has the Rebels looking
like one of the season's bigger surprises and a balanced offense with QB
Bo Wallace and RB Jeff Scott can keep the Tide on their toes. That
being said, Ole Miss isn't at 'Bama's level yet. They'll put people on
notice but this will be more of a measuring stick game for Freeze's
The Pick: Alabama 34, Ole Miss

The Badgers are third
in the nation in rushing with Melvin Gordon (11.8 yards per carry) and
James White (7.2 per), while the Buckeyes are allowing 280.3 a game on
the ground (13th). So what's going to give in Columbus? We know more
right now about Wisconsin, which ran well on Arizona State, FBS' No. 35
defense, but something tells me Urban Meyer brings back Braxton Miller
and with the combination of Kenny Guiton, who gives Ohio State the added
element of an option game, Ohio State pulls it
The Pick: Ohio State 27, Wisconsin

Overall, the Tigers defense
didn't look dominant against Auburn, setting up the potential for a
shootout. The Bulldogs have a more superior QB in Murray and RB in
Gurley than Mettenberger and Hill, respectively, but the difference here
may be at WR. If Beckham and Landry can dominate Georgia's secondary --
and it's a distinct possibility the the Dawgs ranking 78th against the
pass -- LSU will leave Athens unbeaten.
LSU 38, Georgia 34

Last WeeK:
Overall: 8-1