Four teams that can beat Alabama: The case for Stanford
Given Alabama's dominance the past four years, taking the Crimson Tide against the field to win the national title seems like a safe bet. But that doesn't mean Alabama is invincible. SI.com's Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples envisioned four scenarios in which the Crimson Tide might get derailed on their quest for a third consecutive BCS championship. Here's a hypothetical outcome of an Alabama-Stanford matchup in the national title game on Jan. 6.
PASADENA, Calif. -- The key to dethroning Alabama, as it turns out, is creating a virtual facsimile of Alabama. Fittingly, it took a school full of future engineers and start-up inventors to do it.
With its massive offensive line, interchangeable stable of running backs and swarming 3-4 defense, Stanford captured a national championship on Monday on the same field where it won the Rose Bowl a year earlier. While the Cardinal's upset of the two-time defending champs surely pleased those in the East, West and Midwest hoping to see the SEC's seven-year BCS title streak come to an end, fans still watched an unmistakably SEC-style defensive struggle. Stanford ultimately prevailed, 16-13.
"Some people will say it was ugly," Stanford coach and unabashed smashmouth football proponent David Shaw said of the game. "I thought it was a thing of beauty."
The game pitted the nation's top two defenses. Alabama, led by linebackers C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard and safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton Dix, put up historic numbers yet again in 2013, holding opponents to 9.33 points per game. Stanford, led by linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov and safeties Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards, finished No. 2 to Alabama in rushing defense, allowing fewer than 80 yards per game. Suffice to say, neither team could get its ground game going, with Tide Heisman finalist T.J. Yeldon notching a season-low 65 yards on 23 carries and Stanford's triumvirate of Anthony Wilkerson, Tyler Gaffney and redshirt freshman Barry Sanders limited to 2.3 yards per carry.
The Tide seemingly had an advantage with their explosive passing attack. Quarterback AJ McCarron completed 65 percent of his passes and receiver Amari Cooper reached the 100-yard mark for the 10th time in 14 games. But Alabama finished just one touchdown drive, sputtering three times in the red zone thanks to a missed field goal and turnovers forced by Richards and Reynolds. Meanwhile, Stanford punted 10 times. Alabama went ahead 10-9 on a field goal early in the fourth quarter and extended the lead to 13-9 with 6:53 remaining.
It wasn't enough. On Stanford's go-ahead 15-play, 92-yard drive, nimble quarterback Kevin Hogan burned the Tide with several successful keepers. On a key third-and-eight from his own 42, Hogan found redshirt freshman receiver Michael Rector streaking across the middle for a 41-yard catch-and-run. Stanford mostly plowed ahead from there, but its game-winning score -- the Cardinal's only touchdown -- came on a Hogan naked rollout from the Alabama seven-yard line. With just 1:23 left, he found 6-foot-7, 260-pound tight end Luke Kaumatule alone in the end zone.
"That one was for all the beastly Stanford tight ends before me," said Kaumatule, a sophomore who followed in the footsteps of Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo.
Shaw and the Cardinal have spent the past several seasons dispelling doubters by notching double-digit wins in the years after losing Toby Gerhart, then Jim Harbaugh, then Andrew Luck. After toppling Alabama for the national title, there's not much left to doubt now, right?
"You watch," said Shaw. "They'll say, 'There's no way they can ever do it again.'"