It’s been a down year for the SEC; no one can deny that. The team in Tuscaloosa is the only one that carried the proverbial weight for the conference. Alabama began the season ranked at number one and never faltered, now making their third straight appearance in the College Football Playoff. They’re the only team that can say that. They’re also the only team that doesn’t know what it’s like to not play in the CFP since its inception.
While the Tide have rolled in 2016, the rest of the SEC has…well…clogged. Every other SEC team finished with at least four losses, and your eyes have to travel 13 spots south to find the next SEC tenant (Auburn) in the top 25 rankings.
The gigantic gap between Alabama and the rest of the league got the Last Word on College Football team thinking, “Can anybody beat Alabama?” Now before your mind starts wandering to any team in Ohio, the Pacific Northwest, or the upstate of South Carolina to answer that question, we decided to make it interesting.
There may not be any other great teams in the SEC this year, but there are still plenty of great players. Instead of picking one team already recruited and playing together (where’s the fun in that?), we decided to compile our own list of 2016 SEC greats on all teams not named Alabama to try and take down the Tide.
Taking Down The Tide: Alabama vs. All-SEC
This list is compiled of the players who are the best match against Alabama’s current team and players. Our list includes 19 players from the SEC West and 12 players from the SEC East. The team most represented is the team that gave Bama the most trouble this year: LSU. The Tigers lead the way with five representatives, followed by Texas A&M and Arkansas with four. After that, Auburn and Florida boast three, while Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt follow up with two each. Georgia and Mississippi State bring up the rear with one representative each, and only one team was shut out.
No…we don’t hate Kentucky.
Coaches: (Tim Laurent)
Head Coach: Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss)
OC: Dan Werner (Ole Miss)
DC: Dave Aranda (LSU)
Assistant: Jim McElwain (Florida)
Assistant: Kirby Smart (Georgia)
Alabama has struggled against Ole Miss in recent years, losing two of their last three games against the Rebels. So naturally, our five-man coaching staff will feature two men who roam the Rebel sideline…one of which is head coach Hugh Freeze. While Freeze’s team had a difficult time winning games this year, he holds a 2-3 record against Alabama. He’s the only SEC coach who can say he’s beaten the Tide more than once.
As for our offensive coordinator, we welcome fellow Ole Miss coach Dan Werner. Werner was recently let go as the co-offensive coordinator at Ole Miss. His offense put up 43 points against Alabama’s vaunted defense, the most points, by 13, that Alabama gave up all year. Werner coached Chad Kelly to over 2,700 passing yards and stud tight end Evan Engram to over 900 receiving yards and eight touchdowns (more on them later).
On the defensive side, first year coordinator Dave Aranda gets the nod to try and stop Bama’s offense. Aranda’s nasty LSU defense gave up only ten points to Alabama in their match-up on November 5th. This was Alabama’s lowest scoring output of the year by 20 points; Alabama scored at least 30 points in every other game.
As for our assistants, Florida’s Jim McElwain and Georgia’s Kirby Smart round out the staff. McElwain served as Nick Saban’s OC from 2008 to 2011 before departing to become head coach at Colorado State. Kirby Smart was Saban’s DC from 2008 to 2015 before being named the head coach at Georgia. With McElwain and Smart each working together under Saban and being well established coaches in their own right, we believe it’s time for these students to surpass the teacher.
Chad Kelly (Ole Miss)
Austin Allen (Arkansas)
Even though he was officially announced out for the year with a torn ACL about a month ago, Chad Kelly (Ole Miss) still played enough this year to still make this team. Had he played a full season, he would’ve well thrown for over 3,500 yards and 25 touchdown passes. The main reason why he’s the starter over Austin Allen (Arkansas) is because he actually plays well against Alabama. Last season, Kelly and Ole Miss were the only team to beat Alabama. This season, Ole Miss lost to Alabama 48-43 after blowing a 24-3 lead. Aside from getting stripped by Tim Williams, which led to a “fumble recovery” by Jonathan Allen for a 75-yard touchdown, Kelly went 26-40 in that game, throwing for 421 yards and three touchdown passes.
Allen had multiple turnovers against Alabama. His numbers were decent (25-48, 400 yards, three touchdowns), but he also threw three interceptions to Minkah Fitzpatrick and endured a costly strip sack by Da’Shawn Hand, which led to Tim Williams’ return fumble recovery for a touchdown. Both quarterbacks have the skill set and receivers to score against Alabama, but this defense has been getting better every week since the Arkansas game. If you commit a turnover against this defense, you might as well call the game over. That’s exactly why both Ole Miss and Arkansas lost in their respective games against Alabama.
One thing the SEC was not short on this year was respectable running backs. Our three selections for our non-Bama SEC All-Star team offer a good mixture of speed, power, and experience. Leonard Fournette is a surefire first-round draft pick and is regarded as one of the best backs entering the NFL. He’s struggled to put up good numbers against Alabama, but his sheer physical power and speed is necessary to succeed in the physical-type play the Tide bring on the defense.
Nick Chubb has turned himself into a dynamic running back as well. He’s commonly in the conversation when discussing the best in the SEC backfield. In his one game against Alabama (a 38-10 loss in 2015), Chubb rushed for 146 yards on 20 carries, and a touchdown.
No other running back in the league this year though can boast the same as Rawleigh Williams III. Williams was the only running back this year to rush for over 1,300 yards. He ran for 12 TD’s and averaged almost six yards per carry. His breakout year earns him the nod to join the roster.
If our non-Bama team is going to beat Alabama, they have to be able to produce effectively on offense. Chad Kelly and Austin Allen are good quarterbacks, but they’ve got to have reliable receivers to throw to, and with our four selections, where do we start? How about with the numbers one, four, five, and seven? These numbers represent where our four receivers rank in terms of reception yards in the SEC.
J’Mon Moore, while not on a great team, flourished with the potential-filled arm of Drew Lock throwing him the football. He finished with 1,012 yards and eight TDs (the only SEC player to go over the millennium mark). His shiftiness, and speed should create problems for the Bama DB’s.
Fred Ross ranks fourth in reception yards in the SEC. His 873 reception yards and 12 TD’s are what make him an offensive force to be reckoned with for any defense. The senior receiver finished the season averaging almost six receptions per game and nearly 73 reception yards per game.
Fifth on the SEC reception yards list and our third receiver is Tennessee’s stud receiver, Josh Malone. The junior posted career highs in receptions (45), receiving yards (852) and TD’s (10) in 2016. Malone also had a good showing against this very Bama defense. He caught five balls for 61 yards in their match-up on October 15th.
Last, but certainly not anywhere close to least, is Christian Kirk. Not only did Kirk lead the SEC in receptions (77) and receptions per game (6.4), he’s also had success against Alabama. Only a sophomore, Kirk had seven catches for 90 yards last year in his freshman campaign and nine catches for 58 yards this year against Alabama, including this impressive TD:
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) October 22, 2016
Each of these four receivers has the ability to take a top off a defense. They’ll need to be quick, focused, and have good hands to do damage against this Bama D.
Evan Engram (Ole Miss)
Jeremy Sprinkle (Arkansas)
Let’s keep talking about hypothetical ways to burn Bama’s D with a quick look at our All-Star TE’s, Evan Engram and Jeremy Sprinkle. It would be hard to argue against Evan Engram as the SEC’s best TE. Engram had his best year at Ole Miss by far. The senior put up 926 receiving yards and eight TD’s (his previous high was 662 yards in 2014 and three TD’s in 2013). Not only that, Engram torched Alabama’s defense when the teams met this year on September 17th. He assisted Dan Werner’s offense to over 500 yards against Alabama, making him virtually unstoppable. He had nine catches for 138 yards and one TD.
After Engram, there is a considerable drop-off in TE talent (at least for this year). Our second TE though will be Arkansas’ own Jeremy Sprinkle. Sprinkle finished the Razorbacks’ roller coaster year with 380 yards and four TD’s (one of those coming against Alabama). And while his numbers wouldn’t be considered gaudy, it’s his experience that is attractive. Sprinkle has played in 37 games with Arkansas. With two senior TE’s on our squad, we’re well on our way to having a physical, smart, and experienced team that can match up well against Alabama.
What makes Alabama’s Front Seven incredibly scary is that A’Shawn Robinson and Reggie Ragland departed from last season’s championship team, and this season’s front seven is even better! Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, and Reuben Foster are all projected to be first round picks in this upcoming NFL draft.
The Non-Bama All-SEC Team’s offensive line will have a tough test in this match-up. This offensive line consists of Dan Skipper (Arkansas) at left tackle, Martez Ivey (Florida) at left guard, Ethan Pocic (LSU) at center, Braden Smith (Auburn) at right guard, and Zack Bailey (South Carolina) at left tackle. Unfortunately, this offensive line is overmatched against Alabama’s front seven. Over the course of the game, the defense is going to absolutely dominate in the trenches.
One of the main observations while watching clips of Alabama’s offense against Texas A&M and Tennessee, was how most of the plays the offense ran were away from Myles Garrett or Derek Barnett, respectively. Unfortunately for Alabama’s offense in this match-up, they cannot run the play away from both of them. Garrett is most likely going to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s upcoming draft, and Barnett is easily considered a Top Ten Draft pick as well.
Carl Lawson (Auburn) and Darius English (South Carolina) make up the rest of this defensive line. Alabama’s offensive line will already have a headache just from looking at it. Garrett will most likely be lined up against left tackle Cam Robinson, which leaves Barnett lined up against true freshman right tackle Jonah Williams. Williams is one of the top true freshmen in the nation, but at this stage of his early collegiate career, Williams lined up against Barnett seems like a complete mismatch. This defensive line penetrating the offensive line is essential for this team to beating Alabama as they’ll be able to put enough pressure on quarterback Jalen Hurts to force turnovers.
Any corners picked to be on our non-Bama All-SEC team would have their hands full with the likes of Ar’Darius Stewart and Calvin Ridley. The two Bama receivers have been a handful for defenses all year, putting up 852 yards and eight TD’s and 727 yards and seven TD’s, respectively. We’re going with Aarion Penton from Missouri and Teez Tabor from Florida. Penton spent this year as a defensive force to be reckoned with this year. The Senior DB leads the SEC with five interceptions and has 43 tackles to his name as well. In Missouri’s final game, a 28-24 win over Arkansas, Penton tied his single-game season high with six tackles and had a game-sealing INT. late in the 4th quarter.
Tabor is a foreboding corner in his own right. He recorded 37 tackles during the season and fell just behind Penton in INT’s with four, including a 39-yard pick-six to help the Gators down Missouri on Oct. 15th. While Alabama’s offense is tremendous, Tabor and Penton have the ability to make the passing game difficult for Jalen Hurts.
Zack Cunningham (Vanderbilt) is considered to be one of the best middle linebackers in the country, Kendell Beckwith (LSU) is not far behind in that category, and Arden Key (LSU) is already one of the top young pass rushers in the nation. This linebacker corps is impressive. Key is basically a 5th pass rusher at all times, Beckwith will be lined up against tight end O.J. Howard or whichever running back (Damien Harris, Bo Scarborough, Joshua Jacobs) is at slot, and Cunningham will have his eyes on Jalen Hurts at all times.
These linebackers are going to be creating some problems for the Alabama offense. With two potential first round picks and a potential Top Five draft pick for 2018 at linebacker, and then three potential first round picks on the defensive line, you’re looking at a star-studded front seven.
Jamal Adams (LSU) has already established himself as one of the top safeties in the nation this season. Justin Evans (Texas A&M) is not far behind the draft boards either. Both of these players have had interceptions already against Alabama this season, which proves that they’re an asset to any defense that is facing Alabama. Both of these players will have to make sure that all of Jalen Hurts weapons are accounted for including, WR Calvin Ridley and WR ArDarius Stewart.
In both games against LSU and Texas A&M, Ridley (6 catches, 50 yards, TD) and Stewart (5 catches, 112 yards) were at most of the time held in check, while Hurts ended up beating both teams with his legs. With Adams and Evans leading the defensive backfield, it’s going to be a long day for Hurts to find any of his receivers open, which will cause him to get out of the pocket and force something to happen.
Daniel Carlson (Auburn)
Our hypothetical game would most likely be a strong defensive battle. Because of the defensive talent on both sides of the ball, it’s hardly true that either side would simply march up and down the field. Because of this, our non-Bama team needs a reliable kicker to come through in the clutch when his team needs him.
Enter Auburn placekicker Daniel Carlson. The junior from Colorado Springs has consistently come through when the Tigers need him, knocking field goals through at an almost 83% clip. Not only that, but Carlson has been perfect in three years on extra points, going a perfect 140 for 140. In Auburn’s game against Alabama on November 26th, the Lou Groza Award finalist scored all of the Tigers’ points. He went four for five with a 52-yarder in Auburn’s loss.
Johnny Townsend (Florida)
Just pretend the blocked punt for a touchdown in last week’s SEC Championship Game between Florida and Alabama didn’t happen. It was not Johnny Townsend’s (Florida) fault anyway. Derrick Gore, who blocked the punt, was completely untouched. Regardless of that play, Townsend has had an exceptional year for the Gators on special teams and currently is leading the SEC and nation in average punting yards (48.1 yards).
J.K. Scott of Alabama, who is considered to be one of the best punter’s in the nation, is not too far behind in that stat with an average of 47.7 yards per punt. Obviously due to Florida’s offensive ineffectiveness, Townsend (60 punts) punted the ball 14 more times than Scott (46 punts) has this season, but that is no reason to take anything away from Townsend’s accomplishments this season.
Darrius Sims (Vanderbilt)
A key to our concocted SEC team taking down the Tide will be their offense getting good field-position to begin drives. We choose to let this responsibility fall squarely on the shoulders of Darrius Sims. Sims has been returning kicks at Vanderbilt since 2013. He took two to the house in 2014 and he’s averaging a whopping 28.2 yards per return in his 2016 campaign, including a 95-yard return against Georgia that helped Vandy pull off the upset of the Bulldogs. He’ll have his hands full against the Alabama cover team, but in Sims we trust!
Christian Kirk (Texas A&M)
If you watch a Christian Kirk highlight tape, you’ll want to watch it again. Kirk (Texas A&M) is one of the most exciting athletes in all of college football. The main reason why he was selected also as a receiver over his teammate Josh Reynolds is mainly because of how Kirk plays when he has the ball in open field. Other than Arden Key, Kirk is definitely another young player in the SEC to keep your eye on next year as Kirk has already racked in 1,851 receiving yards and 16 receiving touchdowns and also has compiled 611 punt return yards and five punt return touchdowns in his first two seasons at A&M.
He is a weapon to use for any offense and definitely a threat to any defense when the ball is in his hands. Alabama coach Nick Saban will absolutely make sure that his defense is keying on Kirk at all times.
So there you have it, our 2016 non-Bama SEC All-Star team. Of course Alabama fans should feel very flattered that we went through all this trouble to find a way to beat them. Many teams throughout the SEC and the nation sure didn’t need our help to lose.
As for this matchup, this writer foresees it being a physical battle for the ages (Alabama vs. LSU 2011 part one comes to mind). No one should overlook the amount of NFL talent on these rosters either. Come draft day at the end of April, many of these players will have their lives changed forever as they become professionals.
As good as each of these offenses is, it should be the defenses that take over. Each of these teams boast a near impenetrable front seven, not to mention the talent on the outside as well. Hurts and the Alabama offense should be able to churn up some type of offense, but not much.
Our All-SEC (sans Bama) team was literally hand picked with the goal of defeating this “un-defeatable” team. Because of that, they should have enough talent and experience to take down the Crimson Tide. Not to worry though Alabamians, you don’t have to worry about this non-existent team. You’ve got a group of Huskies ready to give their everything to take you down and shock the world.
Non Bama All-SEC: 27
If this game were to be played, it would have to be on primetime because this definitely is a matchup for the ages. Both defenses will battle it out early as the score will be 0-0 at the end of the first quarter. The first and only score of the first half will be a strip sack by Tim Williams, causing Chad Kelly to fumble the ball, followed by a scoop and score 45-yard touchdown for Jonathan Allen. Alabama will be looking high and mighty as they go into the locker room at half only up 7-0.
The first score of the second half is a play-action play as Jalen Hurts throws a perfectly thrown ball to Calvin Ridley over the head of Jamal Adams for 65-yard touchdown score. At that point, Alabama is up 14-0 in the 3rd quarter, but the Non-Bama All-SEC team is not ready to give up just yet. The following possession, Kelly throws a screen pass to Christian Kirk as he takes it 30 yards to the house to bring them within one possession to tie the game. At the end of the 3rd quarter, Alabama is up 14-7.
Mid-way through the 4th quarter, Nick Saban tries to get cute and attempts to run a screen play at 3rd and 4 at his own 35. It doesn’t go well. Arden Key runs past the offensive line completely untouched and deflects and also catches Hurts’s throw to run it in for the tying touchdown. At that point, the game is tied 14-14. With about two minutes left, Alabama’s offense fails to convert the first down at their own 40 and are forced to punt. JK Scott punts the ball right to Kirk, which might not be the best decision, as Kirk runs it back 65 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Myles Garrett seals the deal as he strip sacks Hurts, which leads to a fumble recovery by Derek Barnett with one minute left.
Non Bama All-SEC: 21