Washington (AP) — There’s no denying that the Alabama Crimson Tide have a tremendous talent pool.
And they have a number of intriguing players, like receiver Derrick Henry and quarterback Jalen Hurts.
The question is: Which SEC program has the best chance to win?
That’s the question facing the SEC East race heading into Saturday night.
The Alabama Crimson and Georgia Bulldogs are the clear favorites, but which SEC program is poised to finish first and second?
There’s no question Alabama’s quarterback situation is in flux.
Alabama’s Marcus Mariota has missed the first three games of the season due to an ankle injury, but he’s been in great form in the last two weeks.
He’s completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 1,846 yards and four touchdowns, with five interceptions and two fumbles.
He has thrown for 2,749 yards with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last four games.
His two rushing touchdowns in last week’s victory over Auburn are his most recent.
If Alabama can maintain its pace and keep Mariota healthy, it’s going to be a formidable offensive line.
The Bulldogs have been especially dominant in the run game.
They have averaged 3.3 yards per carry in the past three games, which is the best in the SEC, according to Football Outsiders.
They’ve rushed for a combined 473 yards and seven touchdowns in those games, the second-best mark in the conference.
The Bulldogs also have a new running back in running back Justin Jackson, who has been on a tear this season and is second on the team with 13 carries for 109 yards.
Jackson is the leader of the backfield, but it’s the defensive backfield that could be the most impressive for the Bulldogs this year.
The front seven of linebackers Trent Murphy and Marcus Williams, defensive end Malik Jefferson and safety Tyeler Davison have combined for 16 tackles for loss and six sacks.
The linebackers are starting to emerge in the pass rush, and it’s clear that defensive tackle Kevin King is the team’s No. 1 pass rusher, ranking second with 15.5 sacks.
It’s hard to find a player in the NFL that’s better at forcing quarterbacks to throw than King, and the way he has the ability to disrupt quarterbacks and force their decisions, he could be a difference maker for Alabama.
The defensive front seven will be the difference in this game.
Jackson was a consensus first-team All-SEC pick after leading the SEC in rushing (1,958 yards) and total offense (2,966 yards).
He was the only player to average at least 3.0 yards per rush and 100 rushing yards, and he was the SEC’s top-graded running back.
He had eight carries for 33 yards, but those were all rushing attempts, which are the most in the league.
The only player in this year’s SEC to average 3.5 yards per run was Oklahoma State running back Samaje Perine, who finished fourth in the Heisman voting.
The other players to average 4.0 rushing yards per attempt were LSU running back Leonard Fournette and Florida State runningback Dalvin Cook.
The Crimson Tide will need Jackson to produce more than he has in the first half of the year to be competitive.
If you think Jackson’s numbers are good, the rest of the SEC will be even better.
Georgia has had its problems on defense, but the Bulldogs have managed to produce a solid pass defense through the air.
Georgia ranks sixth in the nation in yards allowed per play, and they’ve allowed just 17 passing touchdowns through the first nine games of this season.
Georgia’s pass rush is led by safety Jonathan Allen, who leads the SEC with 16.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks.
Georgia also has four defensive backs with at least 100 tackles and three with a sack.
The Georgia secondary has been very good in pass coverage.
Safety Trevon Coley leads the team in interceptions, while cornerback Jalen Collins has five interceptions.
The secondary has allowed just one touchdown pass through the opening nine games.
Georgia is also a good passing team.
It has scored in double figures in seven of its last eight games.
The team ranks second in the ACC with 14.8 points per game.
Georgia is averaging 6.7 yards per play on passes of 20 yards or more, which ranks third in the country.
Georgia leads the nation with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 3.96.
The Dawgs also rank third in yards per completion (6.0).
Georgia is not without its issues on defense.
The unit ranks 24th in the Big Ten in total defense (306.8 yards per game), but the Dawgs rank fourth in sacks (5.6) and third in pass defense (23.4 points per contest).
Georgia has also been a bit of a liability against the run.
The DBs have allowed 2.3 sacks per game on the ground.
The defense has