All week long, we've broken down the teams we believe have the best chance at narrowing the gap between SEC king Alabama and the rest of the league. We've examined Auburn, Georgia, Florida, LSU and a few others.
Now our SEC reporters take their pick of which of those teams is best positioned to be the one to make a run at the Crimson Tide in the coming years:
Edward Aschoff: Florida
This one is really tough for a few reasons. For starters, is anyone really going to catch Alabama in this league? Clemson and Deshaun Watson ain't walking through that door, Greg Sankey. I'm sure most will go with an SEC West team, like LSU or Auburn. But I didn't consider either when I thought about this. I'm looking at Florida and Georgia. I think both of these teams will be playoff-caliber very soon, and my pick was essentially a coin flip. But I'll go with Florida because Jim McElwain has won the SEC East his first two seasons in Gainesville, and he did it with two squads that weren't even the most talented in his division both years. So if he can do that without stellar players all around, imagine what he can do with some elite recruiting and a real offense. And it feels like both of those are coming his way. He has his quarterbacks and solid skill players, and he bolstered his staff's recruiting efforts, especially in the state of Florida, with the hiring of running backs coach JaJuan Seider and defensive backs coach Corey Bell. If McElwain can run his true offense and recruit as he did at the end of the 2017 cycle, the Gators will be trouble for Bama.
David Ching: Georgia
This is stating the obvious, but if a program is to compete with Alabama, it has to recruit like Alabama. Because nobody in the SEC has stacked class upon class the way Nick Saban has (average ESPN recruiting class ranking over the past five classes: 1.2), the Crimson Tide have run away from the pack over the past few years. But if we’re looking for teams that pose the greatest immediate threat to Alabama’s reign, it has to be one that recruits consistently. That trims your options to six most likely contenders: LSU (average ESPN recruiting class ranking over the past five classes: 5.8), Georgia (7.4), Auburn (8.8), Florida (10.6), Texas A&M (11) and Tennessee (13.6). If I have to pick one out of that group, give me Georgia, which I view as a potential recruiting giant that might have recently woken up. The Bulldogs usually signed top-10 classes under Mark Richt, but it’s possible that the class Kirby Smart just signed after his first full recruiting cycle was as good as any from the Richt era. Smart’s recruiting base is as fertile as it gets, and he coaches in the lesser of the SEC’s two divisions. If he can reel in a few more classes of the same quality as the one he just brought to Athens, Georgia could become a true thorn in Alabama’s side.
Sam Khan Jr.: LSU
David is correct in that in order to compete with Alabama, you have to recruit like Alabama. The program that does that the best and the most consistently is LSU. That's why I think the Tigers are the team best positioned to make a run at Alabama. Over the past five years, Alabama is the only program that has consistently outrecruited LSU. All five of the Tigers' classes were top-10 groups, including two top-five classes. Coach Ed Orgeron, who is an outstanding recruiter, should continue that. He's also armed with two quality coordinators in Dave Aranda and Matt Canada. What Canada does with the offense this year will be interesting; what Aranda has done on defense throughout his career and his short time at LSU speaks for itself.
Greg Ostendorf: Georgia
In the short term, I think it’s Auburn. With quarterback Jarrett Stidham onboard, the Tigers have a legitimate chance to beat Alabama and win the West. However, looking over the next five years, I like what Smart is doing at Georgia. He’s landed two very good quarterbacks in Jacob Eason and Jacob Fromm, which is a must if you want to beat Alabama head-to-head. He took back the Peach State in recruiting and landed the No. 2 class nationally last month. There’s no telling how good they can be if they can continue to recruit at that level. The biggest thing, though, is that they’re in the East. It’s much easier to come out of the East right now, and you might not have to play the Tide until the SEC championship. The jury is out on Smart as an SEC coach, but the way he’s building his program is similar to how Saban did it when he first got to Tuscaloosa.