|TideSports College Football Preview|
In determining the eventual outcome of the University of Alabama’s football season in every year of the Nick Saban era, with the exception of the transition year of 2007, you have to take a good hard look at the Crimson Tide.
But you’d better take a harder look at everyone else.
What Saban has done since 2008 — and it is probably his single greatest achievement, although people tend not to view it from this perspective — is create a constant in a volatile universe. With a sole outlier in the data (2010), every Alabama team Saban has coached has played in a championship game, an actual semifinal, or a de facto semifinal. Here’s the list:
• 2008 — The BCS was still in effect, meaning the “playoff” was simply a two-team affair. The SEC Championship Game between Alabama and Florida was a obvious play-in game. The winner was certain to play Ohio State (and probably beat them, as the Tim Tebow-led Gators went on to do.)
• 2009 — Alabama beat Texas for the BCS title.
• 2010 — A strange year, and one that clearly frustrated Saban. There’s an argument to be made that the 2010 team seemed to suffer from the entitlement and wandering attention to detail that infuriates Saban. Taking nothing away from Cam Newton or Stephen Garcia, who deserve credit as great opposing quarterbacks (Garcia, like fish without ice, was fresh for one day only), there were also internal reasons that Alabama team lost three SEC games in a season when no other Saban team since 2008 has lost more than one.
• 2011 — Lost what could have been a season-killer against LSU, the Crimson Tide got an external break or two along the way and dominated the Tigers in the rematch for the BCS title. Even if you spend your days sitting in the bayou and cursing LSU’s luck, Alabama was that season’s best team.
• 2012 — Alabama beat Notre Dame in the championship game after what was, for all intents and purposes, a classic semifinal against Georgia in Atlanta.
• 2013 — The Crimson Tide’s game at Auburn was a “championship” game only in terms of the SEC West, but that essentially meant a title shot against Florida State. Missouri wasn’t going to stop either team in Atlanta if you spot them three touchdowns.
• 2014 — SEC Champions and College Football Playoff semifinalist.
• 2015 — SEC and College Football Playoff champions. Arkansas helped by beating Ole Miss (in insane fashion) and at least clearing up the SEC picture, but, again, Alabama was dominant by the end of the year.
• 2016 — SEC Champions and College Football Playoff finalist.
Once you take off the eclipse-thickness lenses of “national-championship-or-nuthin'” expectations, you see a picture of almost stunning consistency, season after season of a team being in control of its fate when the time requires that control. The very concept of “college football dynasty” is defined by such consistency.
So what about 2017? Should the conclusion be foregone? Is the Florida State game a glorious but survivable exhibition in Week One? Is Auburn capable of contending in the West until Thanksgiving and making Alabama’s trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium a battle for all the giblets? Have Georgia or Florida rebuilt themselves into potential roadblocks in Atlanta, a town famous for its blocked (or burning) roads. Will the playoff feature an opponent with a generational quarterback, like Deshaun Watson was for Clemson?
Most of those questions require answers that are beyond Alabama’s control. What the Crimson Tide does control is this: a roster filled with talent and speed, and a coaching staff that can capitalize on that roster. The quarterback has a year’s experience. The defense is young but gifted.
There are no guarantees in college football. Young men make bad decisions, or their bodies simply break under the grueling physical demands of the sport. But nothing comes closer to a constant, at this point, than Alabama giving itself a chance at a championship.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.