Rick Cleveland

Is Alabama the best team in college football history?

Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts speaks with Alabama head coach Nick Saban during the SEC title game against Florida in Atlanta.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts speaks with Alabama head coach Nick Saban during the SEC title game against Florida in Atlanta. Associated Press

So, is this Alabama football team the best in college football history?

Seems a perfectly reasonable question at this point. Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight statistics-based website, says this year's version of Nick Saban's Crimson Tide machine has become the best college football team ever, narrowly surpassing the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers. As with all else it does, the website uses a thorough statistical analysis to come to that conclusion.

Of course, FiveThirtyEight also told us there was little if any chance Donald Trump would become President Trump and we all know what happened there.

Bottom line: We shall see. If Alabama defeats Washington in Saturday's national championship semifinal game and then defeats either Clemson or Ohio State in the championship match, a strong case can me made for Bama.

I know this: Alabama is the fastest college team these eyes have seen. I don't need a computer to tell me that. Defensively, they fill gaps and cover the field so thoroughly it often seems as if they are playing with 13 or 14 instead of 11. Offensively, they are so different than they have been in the past, so much more quarterback-oriented. Jalen Hurts, the freshman, gives them a dimension they haven't had. When all else fails, as it seldom does for Bama, Hurts can take off and run. And he can beat you that way.

Bama, a 14-point favorite, should take care of Washington at Atlanta Saturday. Seems hard to believe that a Washington team, which was playing Southern Miss in the Heart of Dallas Bowl this time last year, is playing the Crimson Tide in the national semifinals this time around. Remember how Todd Monken talked about how young and talented that Washington team was? Turns out, he was dead-on.

Still, I think Bama will face a much more difficult task in the national championship game, whether the foe is Clemson or Ohio State.

Don't forget that Alabama, 13-0, had its closest call of all Sept. 17 at Oxford. With Hurts playing his first college football road game, Ole Miss led the Crimson Tide 24-3.

That was late in the first half, remember? The Rebels had the Tide down 17-3 when Hurts went back into the pocket to pass. He never saw Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes coming, full speed, from his blind side. Haynes slobber-knocked Hurts, knocking the ball loose, and Rebel John Youngblood picked it up and raced 44 yards for a touchdown. Not only was Bama down 24-3, but Hurts was clearly groggy.

“I can’t hit anybody harder than I hit him,” Haynes would say afterward. “I came on an outside blitz and nobody touched me. I hit him with all I had. Jalen really earned my respect to come back from that and play the way he did.”

Again, Ole Miss led by 21. A true freshman quarterback, who a year before had been playing high school football in Texas, seemed dazed, but not for long. Hurts did what a great prizefighter does. He got up off the mat, gathered his senses and took the fight to his opponent. In his case, he came right back out and led a quick-strike, three-play touchdown drive. Before the day was done, he ran for 146 and threw for 158 and Alabama survived.

It was the only time this season anyone has played Alabama a single-digit game. LSU came next closest, losing 10-0. Alabama has outscored its opponents a whopping 525-153. That's an average of 40.4 to 11.8 against a schedule that includes 10 bowl teams, and that's scary.

Best in college football history? My guess is yes. But we're about to find out.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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