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The Spread Offensive: Who Can Derail Alabama Train?

Jesse Siegel

Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Can anyone stop Alabama? A road tilt at revamped Tennessee was supposed to be a test for the Tide. After all, the Vols were ranked in the Top 10, and had become the darlings of the college football season, even despite their recent OT loss to Texas A&M. Tennessee had managed to fall behind early and then storm back in seemingly every contest this season. So when Alabama rushed out to an early 14-0 lead, only to see Tennessee score the next touchdown to make it a 14-7 ballgame, that trend seemed to be continuing. Except Alabama is in a different stratosphere.

The Tide scored two non-offensive touchdowns and rolled to a 49-10 thrashing of the Vols. Alabama rushed for a staggering 498 yards, as dual-threat quarterback Jalen Hurts led the charge with 132 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Alabama's defense suffocated Josh Dobbs and company, holding the Vols to a putrid 163 yards from scrimmage. Perhaps most impressively, the Tide held Tennessee to an average of one-yard per carry. 32 carries, 32 yards. Yes, you read that correctly.

The Tide look unbeatable, though there is still plenty of football left to be played. Let's look at some possible teams to derail the Alabama train.

Texas A&M "Johnny Football Isn't Walking Through That Door"

Remember when Johnny Manziel was all the rage? When he was doing pirouettes on the football field and tossing miraculous touchdown passes to beat Alabama, instead of drinking too much and ending up on TMZ? Time sure flies. That was 2012, and that was the last time Texas A&M defeated Alabama. The Aggies feel as though they are back on the national stage, though, and the most imminent test for the Tide this weekend. Alabama faces Texas A&M this Saturday, with both schools undefeated and the Aggies feeling battle-tested already in the SEC with wins over Arkansas and aforementioned Tennessee. Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight has flashed his dual-threat ability of late, doing his best Manziel impression by rushing for 351 yards and six touchdowns over his last three games. In addition, the A&M defense has allowed over 25 points in a game just once in 2016.

Let's not get fooled, though. Knight is not on the same level as Johnny Football was. The Tide will almost certainly stack the box against Knight and freshman rusher Trayveon Williams, and force Knight to beat the Tide with his arm. The A&M gunslinger has struggled passing the ball at times in 2016, and the Alabama defense will feast on careless, inaccurate throws. As a result, Knight is primed for some interceptions and in all likelihood, yet another defensive touchdown by the opportunistic Tide. The Aggies want to prove they are for real, but a road game against this Alabama squad may be too difficult to overcome. Very few pundits will be picking A&M to pull off the upset this weekend.

Ohio State "Easy E"

The Buckeyes did it two seasons ago, and they may be the only ones with enough firepower to slay the dragon again two years later. Remember, JT Barrett was the quarterback of that squad until getting hurt down the stretch, only to see "12-Gauge" Cardale Jones lead the Buckeyes to three successive victories en route to the national championship. However, it was the rushing of "Easy E" Ezekiel Elliott that truly catapulted the Buckeyes, as Alabama had no answer for the current leading rusher in the NFL. Elliott gutted then No. 1 Alabama for 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the stunning 45-38 win. Barrett is back at the helm for the Buckeyes this year, and though the offense has sputtered a bit at times, coach Urban Meyer remains as dangerous as ever in the multiple ways he can attack a defense.

Ohio State squeaked out a 30-23 win at Wisconsin last weekend, though the Badgers are certainly no slouches, having played both OSU and Michigan extremely tough in 2016. As mentioned above, the offense has not looked as dynamic as it was during that last championship run. However, it's been the Ohio State defense that has looked the part of a title contender this season. Ohio State has allowed one measly rushing touchdown through the first seven games of the season. That is tops in the nation. Alabama, meanwhile, has scored 20 times on the ground in 2016. The matchup of the Ohio State Front 7 against the Alabama rushing attack would likely be the key to this matchup should the teams see each other again in this year's College Football Playoff.

Michigan "Khakis for Everyone"

Of course, let's not forget that Ohio State has to play Michigan in the final regular season game of the year. While it remains possible that both schools could get into the College Football Playoff, with the way Washington is playing in the Pac-12, and Clemson being undefeated in the ACC, it is highly unlikely. As a result, only the winner of perhaps the greatest rivalry in college football would have a crack at Alabama. And that could be very well be Michigan.

The Khakied One, Jim Harbaugh actually runs a similar scheme to Alabama, at least in terms of priorities. Michigan prides itself on a suffocating defense along with a rushing-based attack. Michigan is 15th in the country in rushing offense, and ninth in the country in rushing defense. The Wolverines have allowed just two rushing touchdowns in 2016, which is second to above-referenced Ohio State. To put a bow on the statistical talk, the Wolverines are allowing the fewest points in the nation this season, yielding a mere 10.3 points per contest.

This game would be a real slobber knocker, with very few passes, plenty of bone-crushing hits, and a likely low-scoring outcome. The X-Factor could be Jabrill Peppers, the Heisman hopeful who can impact the game on offense, defense and special teams. Alabama has plenty of five-star recruits, but perhaps no player has as much overall talent as Peppers.

Washington "Nobody Believes in Us"

Despite the Huskies crushing every challenge put in their path thus far in 2016, it seems that each week we are asking whether they can continue this incredible trend upward. First, it was whether they could exercise their demons and beat perennial Pac-12 power Stanford. Then, could they stop a 12-game losing streak against rival Oregon. Now, we find ourselves pondering whether the Huskies can be a national powerhouse.

The Huskies can score points, either through the air or on the ground. Jake Browning scored eight touchdowns in the thrashing of Oregon. The one-two punch of Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman has been giving opposing defenses fits on the ground. In addition, Washington has played stifling defense. The Huskies held the extremely versatile and talented Christian McCaffrey of Stanford to just 79 yards from scrimmage. However, the Pac-12 is weakened in 2016, so questions remain about the legitimacy of the Huskies' recent surge.

Let's not forget what the above-referenced Ohio State Buckeyes did in 2014, though, when they stunned Alabama with this mantra. The power of "Nobody believes in us" is strong, and perhaps this is what the Huskies will ride until they prove to the remainder of their skeptics that they are indeed for real. Not many people at this point believe Washington could take down mighty Alabama, though certainly not many believed the Tide would lose to Ohio State two years ago as well.

Clemson "The Vince Young Paradigm"

Sometimes, it simply takes a Herculean effort by one player to stun the college football world. That's exactly what happened when Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns shocked everyone in taking down the mighty USC Trojans dynasty. On paper, USC had the better, more talented squad. But Vince Young took matters into his own hands, leading the Longhorns to an improbable national championship in one of the greatest games in college football history.

In this iteration, the role of Vince Young could be played by Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. Clemson lost to Alabama in the national championship last season, though Watson played exceptionally well. Watson threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns in that contest, while also rushing for 73 yards in the narrow 45-40 loss to the Tide. Watson could be a top-5 pick in the NFL draft next year, and his athleticism is largely unmatched. Perhaps only Lamar Jackson of Louisville can make a case in that respect. Watson has played Alabama, has had success against the Tide, and could once again stand in Alabama's way in coach Nick Saban's quest for yet another crown. It's difficult to put that type of pressure on one player, but Watson should be up to the task, and as Vince Young can attest, it has been done before.

Auburn "The Rivalry Game"

I would be remiss if I did not mention Auburn, simply because sometimes records go out the window in rivalry games. The Iron Bowl has seen some amazing moments in recent years, including the fabled "Kick Six" in 2013. Alabama has won six of the last eight Iron Bowls, though, and both games since that crushing loss, including the last tilt in Tuscaloosa. Auburn led that game 33-21 midway through the third quarter, though. Alabama will get the benefit of the game being at home in 2016, and will almost certainly be favored. Still, the mystique of this rivalry, along with the fact that it will be the last regular season game of the 2016 campaign, should make the matchup intriguing nevertheless. Coach Gus Malzahn should have some offensive tricks up his sleeve and pull out all the stops in an attempt to spoil a perfect season for the Tide.