Kevin C. Cox
What advantages does Alabama have in its battle with Georgia in the SEC Championship Game? A few
1. Defense. This one is a layup whenever you're writing about a Nick Saban team: The defense is going to be good. The Tide is ranked in the Top 5 in the nation in rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, passing yardage defense, total defense and scoring defense. Or, to make that list a little bit shorter for you, "everything." The one objection might be the caliber of opponents Alabama has faced for much of the year, but Alabama has been impressive even when you consider the competition. Texas A&M is the only team to score more than 17 points against the Tide's defense, which has allowed one score or less in half its games.
2. Amari Cooper. Yes, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. And, yes, AJ McCarron was getting all the Heisman buzz earlier this year. But if you had asked me which of the Alabama offensive stars I've been most impressed with this year, it's Cooper. The freshman has thrived as Bama's top target, and he's going to be even more important with Kenny Bell out. In the seven games he's started this year, Cooper is averaging four catches and 77.9 receiving yards per game. On the season, he goes for 17 yards a pop. And he has eight touchdowns on 45 receptions, or a little less than one every five catches. He's one of the best receivers Alabama's had in quite some time.
3. Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. That said, let's not forget about Alabama's version of the dynamic duo. Lacy has had the slightly more prolific year, carrying the ball 164 times for 1,001 yards and 14 touchdowns, but Yeldon's not far behind, carrying the ball 129 yards for 847 yards and 10 touchdowns. That's 6.3 yard per carry for the pair, who would almost certainly be Heisman contenders if they were one running back.
4. Converting. Alabama doesn't waste many opportunities when it's on offense. The Tide leads the league in red-zone scoring, getting a touchdown or a field goal almost 90.6 percent of the time. They rank second in red-zone touchdowns, scoring at a nearly 73.6 percent clip. And the story is much the same on third down, where Alabama ranks No. 2 in the SEC with a conversion rate just shy of 47.9 percent. Georgia has to change a lot of those numbers if the Dawgs hope to win Saturday.
5. Nick Saban. Say what you want about Alabama's head coach -- and pretty much everything that could be said one way or the other has been -- but he lives for games like these. Saban is 3-1 in the SEC Championship Game, 7-3 in bowl games in the SEC (in fairness, he was 0-3 at Michigan State before that) and has made a habit of using big wins in neutral-site openers to boost the Tide's profile in the polls. He won't have quite as much preparation time as he normally has for bowl games and season openers, but there's no reason to believe that Alabama won't be ready when the game starts.