Three teams remain in our preview series. They're the three teams vying for the SEC West crown. They make it perhaps the most compelling divisional race in the country.
It all starts with Alabama. It's Nick Saban. It's the Process. It's controlled football played with clinical precision. The defense will harass you in ways you didn't think possible. The ground game will punish you. Just when you've had enough. A.J. McCarron lobs a beautiful bomb over the top to a streaking Amari Cooper. They break your will. They will crush you.
On the other end of the spectrum is Texas A&M. Saban hates the hurry-up offense? Kevin Sumlin loves it. Alabama prefers focusing on a solid and repeatable process? Texas A&M tells Johnny Football to go out there and make a play. It's about fun. It's about the most modern concepts on offense with a defense that will have to just try to get a few key stops when it can. It's about the exact opposite of what Alabama is.
Then we have LSU in the middle, playing the wild card role it is so wont to play. Les Miles thought outside the box in bringing in Cam Cameron as his new offensive coordinator, but the move feels oddly conventional as the pro-set is definitively entrenched there. The defense lost a ton of household names, but few programs in the nation are as deep and able to replace them. Where will that defense end up? No one knows. It's a strange place for a program to be in, being known alternately for a proclivity for fake kicks and clock follies and the predictability of the toss dive on short yardage scenarios. That's Miles's LSU for you: ever a study in contrasts, simultaneously easy and impossible to pin down.
It's tempting to just boil this division down to Alabama versus everyone else, given the three national titles in four years. However, the Tide only went to Atlanta in two of those seasons. It finished fourth in the West in 2010 and needed considerable good luck to get to the BCS title game in 2011. The only current head coach with consecutive SEC titles to his name still remains the guy in Columbia, South Carolina.
After all, the last two teams to beat the Crimson Tide are the other two divisional contenders. They both did it in Bryant-Denny Stadium to boot. The Texas A&M offense that put a fatal strain on the Bama defense last year will be waiting in its home in the third week of the season, possibly before the new core of the Tide D gels. LSU will once again come to town in November, perhaps after its new offense and revamped defense will have things figured out. Pitfalls do exist, and Bama has only one undefeated season under Saban to date.
Worse pitfalls do and can await the other two, of course. LSU gets Florida and Georgia from the East, while Bama has Kentucky and Tennessee and A&M has Vandy and Missouri. There's just a slight difference there. Texas A&M also has a potential eligibility question hanging over Johnny Manziel, and it's very unlikely that any of the backups can replicate the Heisman winner's exploits. Basically no one else in college football can, really.
While the possibility is out there that Bama coasts to the division title as its weakened competitors drop games, it's also possible that A&M blows this thing wide open on September 14. Hopefully the race for the West lives up to all of its potential to fascinate.