If this is the best Nick Saban team ever, then it’s at least in the conversation for being the best college football team ever.
And, make no mistake about it, the 2020 Crimson Tide proved to be the best Saban team ever. It’s the best Alabama team ever. And Monday night’s 52-24 drubbing of Ohio State unquestionably lifts this Tide team to heights never before reached in college football.
Even before this postseason, this Alabama team accomplished something that no team before it has and no team after it likely ever will.
Alabama went 11-0 against SEC competition, beating everyone except the two worst teams in the league — Vanderbilt and South Carolina.
No team has ever accomplished an 11-win season against SEC opponents because no team has ever tried. But that doesn’t make the accomplishment any less remarkable. Because of precautions necessitated by COVID-19, this college football season was more about simply trying to become champions of a particular region of the country before worrying about being the best in the sport.
Only six teams were able to negotiate the regular season without a loss. Notre Dame lost in the ACC title game then got dominated by Alabama in the semifinals. Coastal Carolina, Cincinnati and San Jose State lost in bowl games. That left only Alabama and Ohio State undefeated headed into the national championship game.
But, as has been evident all season, there was only one team worthy of being at the top of the mountain of college football.
There’s nothing to dislike about a team that goes undefeated. But Saban clearly has respect for the players on this team beyond the results on the field.
“This is a team that was always together,” Saban said as the confetti fell on the field moments after the championship win. “Everybody bought into all the principles and values of the organization and the program. They did a great job. They played together. They supported each other. This is a great team.”
Saban now has seven total national championships, six at Alabama in the last 12 years plus one at LSU. That’s one more than Paul “Bear” Bryant for the all-time record.
Alabama in 2020 was the first team ever to win the top awards for quarterback (Mac Jones won the Davey O’Brien Award), running back (Najee Harris won the Doak Walker Award) and wide receiver (DeVonta Smith won the Biletnikoff Award in addition to the Heisman Trophy). The Tide also took home the top award for the best lineman (Alex Leatherwood), best center (Landon Dickerson), best defensive back (Patrick Surtain) and even best long snapper (Thomas Fletcher).
But as Saban pointed out immediately after the game, this team was special because it was exactly that — a team. In a year when the term “opt out” became a nice way of saying quit on your teammates, not a single Alabama player deviated from the singular team goal of winning a national championship.
That commitment led to the most remarkable achievement of this or any other sports dynasty. Every player who has ever signed with Saban and stayed in the program for at least three years has earned a national championship ring. That’s more than 300 players. And every single one has been fitted for a national championship ring.
Jaylen Waddle, Christian Barmore and Patrick Surtain — all expected to now head to the NFL after three years in the program — would have been the first players to leave without a national championship. That’s why Waddle risked first-round NFL money to play on an injured ankle for the first time since November. It’s why Barmore played the best game of his Alabama career in his last. It’s why Surtain was consistently excellent until the end.
It’s hard to imagine how the Tide will replace all the great players who are now off to begin their professional careers. But many thought the same thing last year when Tua Tagovailoa, Jedrick Wills, Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy all went in the first 15 picks of the NFL Draft.
“Last year they said the dynasty was over,” Smith said after catching 12 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns, all in the first half before exiting with a broken finger. “We don’t stop, we just keep reloading.”
It’s hard to imagine replacing Smith, Jones and Harris (the best receiver-quarterback-running back trio in college football history).
But I think we’ve all learned by now not to question the dynasty, especially in a week when Alabama is celebrating the greatest and most accomplished team in program history.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on Sports Talk 99.5 from 7-10 a.m. and on the iHeart app.
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