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Georgia, LSU real threats to Alabama’s SEC, national reigns

University Georgiquarterback AarMurray celebrates with fans after Georgia's 44-41 wover LSU during an NCAA football game Saturday Sept. 26 2013

University of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray celebrates with fans after Georgia's 44-41 win over LSU during an NCAA football game on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2013, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jason Getz)

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The popular narrative
about the Southeastern
Conference hasn’t changed much through its seven-year reign atop college football. Run the ball, play defense like your read end’s on fire, hit like Chattahoochee-bound locomotives and, if you somehow can survive a schedule filled with teams built just like you, make it to the BCS title game.

From there, the rest is easy.

Alabama followed this model to a T — perfected it, really — in finishing No. 1 three of the last four seasons. The Crimson Tide (4-0) still owns the top ranking after blanking No. 21 Ole Miss 25-0. Its running game remains dangerous. Its defense is miles better than most. The physicality and intimidation that have marked coach Nick Saban’s time in Tuscaloosa can’t be questioned.

But things in the Great Football South look so very different.

Alabama’s first big SEC test came in Week 3 at Texas A&M, and the Tide was run ragged defensively in a 49-42 victory. Yes, that was against Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and the Aggies’ go-go, no-one-can-slow-us-down offense. But the final score wasn’t an anomaly when set against the results produced thus far by the teams that are the truest threats to keep Alabama from making it four titles in five years.

A week before Alabama-
Texas A&M, Georgia topped South Carolina 41-30 in a dizzying affair in which the Gamecocks’ vaunted defense was shredded. Then came Saturday. As the Tide was beginning to hold Ole Miss’ young offense at bay, No. 9 Georgia and No. 6 LSU were wrapping up an offensive mega-classic.

It ended 44-41 in favor of the 3-1 Bulldogs, who have a 38-35 defeat at Atlantic Coast Conference power Clemson on their résumé. Had LSU (4-1) scored a winning touchdown on its final drive, it surely would have stolen some No. 1 votes from the Tide, its SEC West rival.

But the bigger loser was Alabama. Both Georgia and LSU still control their own destinies in the SEC and national-championship races. And both are in the Tide’s way. And both have been better — much better — offensively than Saban’s team.

The Bulldogs — who came up five yards short in a 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game last season — were spectacular against LSU, led by quarterback Aaron Murray’s 298 yards and four touchdowns through the air.

‘‘We feel like we have everything in front of us,’’ Murray said. ‘‘We just have to keep working, keep getting better, keep winning.’’

The Tigers, whose breakout quarterback, Zach Mettenberger, threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, was no less impressive. LSU has a pair of future NFL receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, who’ll be gunning for the Tide on Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa.

Georgia will wait for its revenge in the SEC title game. Its remaining schedule, as these things go in SEC country, is favorable enough that the Bulldogs should get there.

Alabama hasn’t had its last shootout. There will be at least two more. Things sure have changed.


Twitter: @SLGreenberg

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