September 12, 2013

ZAKOUR: Alabama’s Misleading Dynasty

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By JOHN ZAKOUR

The Alabama Crimson Tide has won three of the last four national titles. By now, it’s ho-hum to describe them as a dynasty. And I’m not convinced they’re all that great. For a dynasty that has won three out of four, I’ve seen them lose too much.

First, let me be clear. Alabama was a great team every year they won, and it’s not their responsibility to be fair. They don’t care about fairness so much as winning. And they did beat who was put in front of them in each title game, controversies aside.

As usual for SEC teams, Alabama has always played a very soft out of conference schedule. Virginia Tech was the only challenging out-of-conference opponent it played in its title years, unless you count a mediocre Penn State team in 2010 (whose official record was hilariously 0-4 thanks to NCAA sanctions). And this Saturday, Alabama lines up against a team with a real chance of beating it, Texas A&M. This is a titanic clash, and a win puts A&M on the title track.

The 2009 Crimson Tide is pretty much the only Alabama team you can call champions without getting an argument out of me. It ran the table, beating Virginia Tech, LSU, Florida and Texas, and generally looking like a national champion. But if I had to nitpick, Alabama got lucky against UT in the title game, a game the Tide won 37-21. The Longhorns lost their star QB (and college football name of the year award winner) Colt McCoy on the opening drive, and the Alabama defense feasted on his true freshmen replacement. It’s easy to imagine Texas winning with McCoy behind center, but that’s just a hypothetical. It wasn’t a dirty hit, and every team that wins a title gets a break.

And that will be the last nice thing I say about Alabama. The 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide will always have an asterisk by their name in my book. As per usual, their out-of-conference schedule included the likes of North Texas, Kent State, Georgia Southern and the aforementioned Penn State team. Would it kill them to play teams that have at least a minute chance of beating them? Also, Alabama lost to LSU at home, so it didn’t even have to play a potential tough opponent in the SEC title game. Despite other one-loss teams, Alabama was rewarded with another shot at undefeated LSU for the national title. The final AP poll shows LSU and Oklahoma State also getting votes for number one, as all three teams had one loss, not to mention Boise State and Houston. Considering LSU and Alabama went 1-1 against each other and that LSU had two more quality wins over Oregon and Georgia, it’s still hard to say which was the better team. Oklahoma State was never given its title chance, and it had the offense to score on Alabama.

The 2012 season was another title for Alabama, but this time, the team was as hyped as could be. In 2011, most thought LSU was the superior team going in to the title game, as reflected by their number one ranking; in 2012, people actually asked whether Alabama could beat an NFL team. Despite the sheer asininity of this question, it was debated on ESPN. And if the answer was ever in any doubt, Texas A&M answered it by beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa, 29-24. This was a just week after escaping Death Valley with a last minute win to top LSU. Alabama would answer the bell by thrashing Notre Dame in the BCS title game, but again it had one loss, just like Oregon.

At the end of 2012, Ohio State was undefeated but bowl-ineligible. Any other year, the title game would have been Ohio State-Notre Dame. Heck, Oregon was just as deserving as Alabama in 2012. Oregon only had one loss (just like Bama), to a top 10 team (just like Bama), at home (just like Bama), and in overtime (unlike Bama). Oregon was undefeated in regulation, just like the tagline a two-loss LSU team rode to the title in 2007 branded themselves with. And given how Notre Dame was outclassed in the title game, Oregon would have beaten them that day. When asked at the half what his team could to do close the 28-point deficit, Brian Kelley, the Notre Dame coach, simply answered “maybe Alabama doesn’t come back in the second half.” The title was decided as soon as Alabama lined up across from Notre Dame.

But Oregon didn’t “run the gauntlet of an SEC schedule,” which of course it can’t do since it plays in the Pac-12. The SEC is resting on its laurels. Oregon’s bowl record is good, but pedestrian. Alabama really has a three-game schedule; LSU, A&M and the potential SEC title game. The Tide will be allowed to lose one of these games. The SEC are unlikely to be challenged and therefore the perception of them being the “best conference ever” is as well. The way the SEC is perceived, it will take every team losing twice to keep at least one representative of the conference in the BCS title game. And if the best teams in the SEC only have two or three opponents that could beat them, it’s actually fairly easy for the SEC to send a team to the title game and perpetuate their mythical conference. And that team could be Alabama, proud owners of the worst dynasty ever.

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