Alabama football schedule is strong and Clemson's is not. Who's most likely going undefeated? | Hurt

Cecil Hurt
The Tuscaloosa News

The preseason USA Today AFCA Coaches Poll didn’t contain any real surprises. Alabama football was No. 1, most of the other top five teams were familiar from recent College Football Playoff appearances. If there were some new names in the top 10 (Texas A&M, North Carolina, Iowa State), those teams will have to find their way to the playoffs by climbing over perennial conference favorites.

That does not mean the poll was just another bit of 30-second fodder for list-loving Americans to scan and forget. There were things to think about, both from the present and the future, both of which concern Alabama in some way.

First, while Alabama is the defending champion and a logical No. 1, there are other arguments to be made.

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The first fascinating team is Clemson. While I obviously  don’t vote in a poll of coaches, I do have an Associated Press vote (which I cannot disclose until next week) and one consideration is this: If Clemson gets past its opening-week game with Georgia, what will prevent the Tigers from finishing the regular season at 12-0? Not even one other team in the initial USA Today poll appears on the Clemson slate — not North Carolina, not Miami, not Notre Dame. Schedules are made years in advance so there’s no conspiracy, although I wonder how the ACC’s television partners feel about all that.

The best way to decide a No. 1 vote is the eye test, not just the scoreboard, but before the season starts there is no criteria for an eye test. That might make “best chance to go through a Power 5 league without a loss” as good a criteria as any. Of course, a Georgia win over Clemson takes care of all that. A strong September by some other teams, which will provide eye-test data, would also make a difference.

If Alabama dominates Miami and Florida, or if Ohio State blows out Oregon (or vice versa), perceptions can change. But it was surprising that Clemson didn’t get a single No. 1 vote. 

There is also the future to ponder. The SEC put six teams into the poll. That doesn’t include Oklahoma (No. 3) or Texas (No. 19), who will settle all the legalese and join the league at some point between now and 2025. The more the merrier, of course.

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Alabama plays four of the other ranked teams, including three from its division, games that have been customary fixtures as part of the Crimson Tide’s annual SEC West journey.

But what about the future? When two more members join, the Alabama-Auburn game will remain the same but what about the rest? Will there be an annual Alabama-Texas A&M game, or Alabama-Ole Miss? Could we start seeing Alabama-LSU, the league’s marquee television game for the better part of the last decade, only on a now-and-then basis? 

Regardless of what the SEC eventually decides about scheduling, the current division model with eight total games can’t stand on its own. Imagine the difference in the 2021 Alabama schedule if there was no Texas A&M or Florida game. Pretty easy. Of course, the pendulum swings both ways and you might wind up with the same schedule plus a road trip to Oklahoma. 

Nick Saban is focused on precisely none of this at the moment. Any poll only has value if you believe it affects the final CFP rankings. Maybe this one does, maybe it doesn’t. The No. 1 ranking is so routine at Alabama these days that Saban likely won’t even be asked about it.

Maybe an expansion of some sort in the size of the playoff field will make the whole argument moot. Right now, though, is Alabama the best team in college football? Possibly. Does it have the best chance of going undefeated? Possibly not.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports,com or via Twitter @cecilhurt 

Cecil Hurt