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SEC Football: Biggest Threats to Dethrone Alabama in 2016

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though the University of Alabama would go on to win the national championship, the moment wasn’t lost on Nick Saban.

It was December 5, Alabama had just knocked off Florida in the SEC Championship Game, 29-15, and the head coach was pausing to try to put it into perspective. His team had to win nine straight games just to get to Atlanta despite playing one of the toughest schedules in college football. 

“I don't think anybody really thought after the Ole Miss game this team would wind up here,” he said. “To be honest with you, I had some questions in my mind as to whether we'd wind up here.

“They responded every time in some very difficult places to play.”

Alabama didn’t just win the SEC title that day, it became the conference’s first repeat champion since Tennessee in 1997-98. Not even Saban’s 2011-12 national champions pulled that off.

It led to Steve Spurrier famously quipping during the 2012 edition of SEC media days: “It’s easier to win the national championship than the SEC, ask Nick Saban.”

The now-retired “Head Ball Coach” did have a point. Alabama was fresh off winning the national crown without having played for the league title. After losing to LSU in overtime during the regular season, it finally got a shot at a rematch in the BCS Championship Game in New Orleans and won convincingly, 21-0.

Meanwhile, the last repeat winners in the other major conferences are (* indicates co-champion):

  • Big Ten: Wisconsin 2010-12.
  • ACC: Florida State 2012-14.
  • Big-12: Baylor 2013*-14
  • Pac-12: Stanford 2012-13

Bret Bielema was the head coach of the Badgers—which, like the Florida State Seminoles, actually won their league title three straight years (2010 the first)—but he hasn’t come close yet to matching that at Arkansas. In three seasons, his teams are 18-20 overall, 7-17 in league play. 

Last year, Alabama faced nine teams that were ranked in the Associated Press Poll when they played, the most of any national champion (previously held by LSU in 2007 with eight but had only one opponent in the top five), and 12 teams that were ranked at some point of the season.

Moreover, it had to play the top three teams in the SEC East en route to the conference crown.

“Our league is a tough league, and we beat each other up,” Saban said.

Consequently, any list of teams that could dethrone Alabama from atop the SEC could easily include Arkansas, Auburn and Florida, but here are the strongest challengers heading into the 2016 season:

 

1. LSU

A lot of people will make the mistake of overlooking the Tigers, thinking the problems in the passing game are nothing new and Les Miles won’t be able to fix them enough to beat Alabama. However, it’s not like Miles or offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have never had a successful passing game before. 

After LSU’s passing game ranked No. 105 in the nation last season, the question isn’t if it’ll be better but how much. Considering the talent level of wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, it may be a lot, but just a little bump would be problematic for defenses that already have to deal with running back Leonard Fournette.

 

2. Tennessee

The Volunteers will be a popular pick to win the SEC East after winning their last six games of 2015, and the four losses were by a total of 17 points—including two to eventual playoff teams (Alabama and Oklahoma).

The team returns nearly every starter, including quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who has to do a better job of completing passes downfield to help out the running back. Nevertheless, it might be a make-or-break season for head coach Butch Jones, who desperately needs to draw attention away from the program’s off-field issues.

 

3. Ole Miss

The natural reaction is to have Ole Miss higher on this list, as it defeated the Crimson Tide in both 2014 and 2015 and will be home for this year’s meeting on Sept. 17. Last season, the Rebels caught Alabama before it had an established starting quarterback and might have that advantage again.

Chad Kelly is widely considered to be the league’s best quarterback. However, even with better depth, the Rebels have a lot of big names to replace on both sides of the ball and all five offensive line starters from the Sugar Bowl. The season opener against Florida State in Orlando will be telling.

 

4. Georgia

The Bulldogs are coming off a 10-win season but have a new coaching staff, running back Nick Chubb is a question mark following knee surgery, there’s a quarterback battle and the defensive front seven has to be almost completely revamped.

That’s a lot for any team to overcome, even for the ones that don’t have a first-time head coach. We’ll learn a lot about Georgia’s potential during a three-game stretch beginning Sept. 24, when it visits Ole Miss, hosts Tennessee and then travels to South Carolina.

 

5. Texas A&M

If you’re looking for a sleeper pick in the SEC, it’s A&M. It has a new offensive coordinator in Noel Mazzone, and Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight, the only active quarterback not named Kelly to beat Alabama, will lead it.

A&M’s defense was so bad two years ago that it went from being ranked No. 102 in the nation (455.4 yards per game) to No. 51 last season (380.0). Expect it to take another step forward under the direction of defensive coordinator John Chavis.

  

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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NCAA Bans Football Satellite Camps: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

The NCAA banned football satellite camps, effective immediately, in accordance with Friday's ruling by the Division I Council. 

According to Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer, FBS football programs are now required to hold camps at their own facilities:

Tate Martell, a 5-star Texas A&M quarterback commit, per 247Sports, reacted negatively to the news on Twitter:

Satellite camps rose to prominence last summer due largely to Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh. His practices came under fire, however, particularly from SEC and ACC coaches who were not permitted by their conferences to hold camps farther than 50 miles from campus, per ESPN.com's Mitch Sherman.

When asked about the camps in June 2015, Harbaugh made his beliefs quite clear, according to George Schroeder of USA Today: "In my America, you're allowed to cross the state borders. That's the America I know."

While some argued that the satellite camps provided an unfair recruiting advantage, Alabama head coach Nick Saban was among those who questioned if they made a significant difference, per John Talty of AL.com:

I'm really not even thinking that it has that much value. What would be a more interesting question for you to research—and I can't answer this—the teams that have done them, what value does it serve? How many players did they get? They had some players commit to them and some of those players decommitted, and I know they even wanted to drop some of those players when they found out they could get better players.

Brett McMurphy of ESPN reported, per a source, that the ACC, Big 12, SEC, Pac-12, MWC and Sun Belt all voted against satellite camps, while the Big 10, AAC, Conference USA and MAC all voted in favor.

While Harbaugh wasn't the only coach to conduct satellite camps, he was undoubtedly the face of the operation due to his outspokenness on the matter.

The divisive coach has yet to comment on the NCAA's decision, but he'll have no choice other than to abide by it despite his beliefs.

Even though the elimination of satellite camps takes a tool out of Michigan's repertoire, there is still a lot for Wolverines fans to be excited about, as Harbaugh led the team to a 10-3 record last season with a roster that was mostly devoid of his own recruits.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Notre Dame vs. Texas' Week 1 Game Rescheduled from Saturday to Sunday Night

Many college football fans are eagerly anticipating Notre Dame's regular-season opener at Texas because the contest will showcase the winner of the Fighting Irish's quarterback competition.

But we must wait one day longer than anticipated.

Notre Dame announced the clash—which was scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 3—will be played on Sunday night. Kickoff time and broadcast details are to be announced for the now-Sept. 4 tilt.

"A game of the magnitude of Notre Dame-Texas, played on the opening weekend of the college football season, deserves a special place on the Labor Day sports calendar," Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said, per the release.

ESPN's Matt Fortuna provided statements from Texas athletic director Mike Perrin and head coach Charlie Strong.

Special timing for games on Labor Day weekend has become commonplace, especially when the NFL regular season doesn't start until the following week.

However, the Monday night game has typically served as the headliner. In 2014, Miami battled Louisville. Last season, Virginia Tech hosted Ohio State. This year, Ole Miss and Florida State will square off on a neutral site.

Sunday has usually lacked a nationally-relevant matchup, considering the outings recently included Purdue-Marshall (2015) as well as Baylor-SMU and Tennessee-Utah State (2014).

Not so this year.

The 2016 meeting will be the 12th in series history. Notre Dame currently holds a 9-2 series lead, including a five-game winning streak that began in 1971.

Last season, Malik Zaire threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns, helping head coach Brian Kelly's team hammer the Longhorns 38-3. DeShone Kizer was merely an afterthought at the time, but Zaire's campaign ended due to a broken right ankle the next week.

Zaire and Kizer will continue vying for the No. 1 spot throughout the spring and summer. Coach Kelly might not even make a decision on the starter before the Irish invade Austin.

The winner of the competition—or, perhaps, the first one in the rotation to go under center—will be the focal point of the prime-time game.

Once the meeting is over, Notre Dame's players and students who made the trip must return to South Bend for class on Monday.

Granted, the process of changing flights and hotel reservations is probably worth the hassle for Fighting Irish supporters.

And we already know the athletic departments will have increased exposure and benefit on the bottom line—assuredly the primary reason Notre Dame vs. Texas is switching to a Sunday night game.

Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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