The Alabama football team has won the Sugar Bowl eight times in its history and has another win in a post-season game in a bowl atmosphere in New Orleans that technically was not a “Sugar Bowl” under the BCS one-game playoff format that existed in the 2011 season. For the sake of this argument, though, let’s throw that one in the gumbo pot as well.
In those Sugar Bowl wins in New Orleans, Alabama has had a grand total of three quarterbacks selected as the Most Outstanding Player. Again, the 2011 BCS Championship game (the years referenced here will be consistent with Sugar Bowl designation, so the win over Miami that capped an undefeated 1992 season was the 1993 Sugar Bowl) gives us a technicality.
AJ McCarron was the “outstanding offensive player” in that game, although the clear Most Outstanding Players was the entire Alabama defense, which would eventually have scored a defensive touchdown and won the game on its own. In the “official” Sugar Bowl wins, Alabama has had three MOP performances. Ken Stabler won it in dominating fashion when the 1966 Crimson Tide crushed Nebraska. Richard Todd (1976) and Jeff Rutledge (1978) also won the award but, as wishbone quarterbacks, were acknowledged as much for their running as their passing.
Running backs have won three times — Mike Fracchia, Major Ogilvie and Derrick Lassic. A linebacker (Barry Krauss, of course) has won. Even a kicker (Tim Davis, not Jeremy Shelley who must have had leg fatigue after trying seven field goals — and making five — in the aforementioned LSU game) has won it.
That’s all history, much of it ancient. In many of its Sugar Bowl wins, Alabama has been so dominant defensively that its quarterback was a bit of an afterthought. Teams don’t win that way any more, certainly not in the recent matchups between Alabama and Clemson in which the Tigers’ DeShaun Watson has been the premier player, in victory or defeat, in the past two matchups.
Neither is it some sort of pre-emptive insurance for Jalen Hurts’ reputation. It’s just a way of pointing out that games are won and lost in all areas and can’t be placed entirely on the shoulders of one player. Even Watson lost to Alabama, after all.
There is no doubt that Hurts, Alabama’s sophomore quarterback, needs to play well against Clemson in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl, much better than he played against Auburn in November, the Crimson Tide’s last game. If this were a Jay Barker vs. Miami, or even a McCarron vs. LSU scenario, the math would be different. But remember that in those games (and arguably in 1961 and 1978 as well), Alabama’s defenses were not just good. They were historically good, perhaps the best of their generation in every case.
Whatever can be said about Alabama this season, one can’t make the case that its defense is Olympian. Good? Yes, especially when healthy. But generationally great? Not this season.
So, as Alabama heads to New Orleans on Wednesday, exactly how large is the burden on Hurts? Does he have to win the game, or simply manage not to compromise Alabama’s position. History says it’s not all about the quarterback, and history often repeats itself. But every now and then, history says something new. That may be the most compelling storyline of the week that culminates with Alabama versus Clemson.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.