With the college football season a little over a month away, there’s been a lot of talk about defending national champion Ohio State, and there’s been a lot of talk about Big 12 power TCU. The road to the national championship, however, may not go through the Buckeyes or the Horned Frogs. Rather, it may go through the SEC.

The Iron Bowl, specifically.

The winner of the annual Auburn/Alabama game won the national championship four years in a row from 2009 to 2012. Barrett Sallee sees that same storyline unfolding in 2015, but which of those SEC-West heavyweights is better than the other?

“I’m going to give (the edge) to Alabama slightly,” the Bleacher Report SEC lead writer said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “I think that game in Auburn – the final weekend of the regular season – is going to decide the SEC-West, I think it’s going to decide the SEC championship, I think it’s going to decide a playoff berth (and) I think it’s going to decide the national champion. I think that game is that important. I think both of those teams are really good.”

Auburn, which lost 55-44 at Alabama last season, hosts the Tide on Nov. 28.

“Auburn’s defense will be much, much better with Will Muschamp and a healthy Carl Lawson, an addition of Blake Countess to that secondary – in addition to Jonathan Jones, who was good at corner last year – (and) really good linebackers,” Sallee said. “I like that offense from Jeremy Johnson. He’s going to be in the Heisman Trophy discussion.”

Alabama, meanwhile, returns just two offensive starters from a team that came up short in the Sugar Bowl. Sallee, however, believes the Tide could be the best team in the country by the end of the season.

“The floor for Alabama is a 10-win season,” Sallee said. “And yeah, everyone looks at the depth chart right now and says, ‘Oh my gosh, nine new starters offensively. They’re going to be down.’ Well, one of those guys is Derrick Henry. He led them in rushing last year. One of those new starters is Kenyan Drake. He’s basically Reggie Bush. One of those starters is O.J. Howard. He’s one of the most dangerous tight ends in college football. Defensively, I think their secondary will be a lot better now that they’ve got an assistant coach in Mel Tucker who is dedicated to defensive backs. Before that was Kirby Smart and Nick Saban’s role, and I think they realize that was the wrong approach. So Alabama, I think, is going to be better.”

But it does need to name a quarterback. David Cornwell and Jacob Coker will compete for the starting job – which Sallee ultimately believes Cornwell will win – but either way, Sallee thinks Alabama is stacked.

“That team is going to be really, really solid,” he said. “I think by the end of year when they play Auburn, they won’t be young and inexperienced anymore. They’ll be veterans. And as a result, they’ll win that game and win the SEC-West and move on to bigger and better things.”


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