A lot of words have been used to describe 2020. Only a few are suitable for a family newspaper.
But has anyone considered using the word “best” to describe something in 2020? That’s a novel idea.
But here goes. The 2020 Alabama football team is on pace to be the best in the storied history of the program. Now, without winning five more games — against LSU, Arkansas, Florida in the SEC Championship Game and two wins in the College Football Playoff — there’s no argument to be made.
But if the Tide is able to navigate the last five games in the same fashion they’ve been able to dispatch their first eight opponents, then this will be the most accomplished team ever at Alabama and possibly in all of college football.
First, let’s look at what the Tide has accomplished so far this season while dealing with the most disruptive event to the sport since World War II.
Playing against only SEC competition, the Tide has outscored its opponents by 250 points, which is an average of more than 31 points per game.
The only game that has been competitive in the fourth quarter was a 15-point win on the road against Ole Miss. The other wins have been by 19 points at Missouri, by 28 over Texas A&M, by 27 over Georgia, by 31 at Tennessee, by 41 over Mississippi State, by 60 over Kentucky and by 29 over Auburn.
Despite turning the game over to the backup in every game except one, the Tide is still averaging more than 48 points per game. Only one team has held Alabama under 40 points this season, that being Missouri in the season-opening 38-19 win.
But fans have come to expect an explosive offensive performance every week from Mac Jones, Najee Harris, DeVonta Smith and the best offensive line in the country. The Tide has scored at least 35 points in each of the past 21 games, which is a record streak for any team in college football history.
What brings this Alabama team into contention for the best in program history is the emergence of the defense. After starting the season with some struggles, the Tide has yielded only 33 points in the past four-and-a-half games. Alabama shut out Georgia in the second half then gave up 17 to Tennessee, zero to Mississippi State, three to Kentucky and 13 to Auburn. Most of those points, including the garbage-time touchdown by Auburn, came after the game was no longer in doubt.
It’s hard to even recognize this Alabama defense compared to the struggles it experienced in the shootout at Ole Miss. But that version of the 2020 Alabama defense seems to be a thing of the past. Perhaps that will change when the Tide faces a three-game gauntlet of quarterbacks that could include Florida’s Kyle Trask, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields. But those quarterbacks will have to contend with the best cornerback duo in the country and a pass rush that is finally living up to the five-star ability of its players.
For all the success Nick Saban has had since arriving in Tuscaloosa, he has coached only one undefeated team. Saban’s first championship team in 2009 will always have a special place in Alabama history.
But that team has wins over lightweights such as Florida International, North Texas and Chattanooga. Even the marquee non-conference game was a 10-point win over a good but not great Virginia Tech team that also lost to Georgia Tech and North Carolina.
We all remember how great that 2009 Alabama team was. But time has a way of playing tricks on our memories. That Alabama team won consecutive games by 14 over South Carolina, two over Tennessee and nine over LSU. Then came the thrilling five-point win in the Iron Bowl.
Not a single game this season has been as close as any of those.
Eight blowout wins in a row this season against a schedule that includes only SEC teams is more impressive than most fans are acknowledging at this point.
Will the blowouts keep coming against LSU and Arkansas? Almost certainly.
Will Florida provide more of a challenge in the SEC Championship Game? The Gators can score on just about anyone, but the only hope for victory would seem to be a 45-42 type of shootout.
Could Clemson or Ohio State or Notre Dame be the team that derails the Tide? It’s possible. A team doesn’t become an all-time great until it’s challenged by the best.
Alabama could stumble against any of those teams. But through the first eight games of the season, this Alabama team is on pace to be mentioned among the best 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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