Alabama heads into the 2016 College Football Playoff as the favorite to win it all once again. The Crimson Tide are looking to go back-to-back as national champs, matching their 2011-12 teams under coach Nick Saban. Alabama has been a model of consistency at a high level under Saban. The Crimson Tide have won four national titles over the last seven seasons and have not won fewer than 10 games since 2007.
After a 54-16 victory over Florida in the SEC Championship, Alabama enters the College Football Playoff with a 25-game winning streak. The Crimson Tide have been dominant in 2016, winning 11 of their 13 games by at least 18 points. The only close calls for this team took place on the road, as Alabama won by five against Ole Miss and by 10 versus LSU.
Playoff Teams: No. 1 Alabama I No. 2 Clemson I No. 3 Ohio State I No. 4 Washington
Can Alabama win its second national title in a row? Here are five reasons why the Crimson Tide will finish the year 15-0 and claim another national championship:
5 Reasons Why Alabama Will Win the 2016 College Football Playoff
1. The Nation’s No. 1 Defense
Nick Saban has developed some of college football’s top defenses in recent memory, but the 2016 unit could be the best of the bunch. The Crimson Tide rank first nationally in scoring defense, limiting opponents to just 11.8 points per game. This unit did not allow a touchdown in the month of November and just two offenses managed more than 20 points in 2016. Alabama also ranks first in fewest yards per play allowed (3.94) and is No. 1 in the nation in rush defense. Just how dominant is the front seven against the run for Saban and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt? The Crimson Tide limit opponents to 63.4 rushing yards per game. The No. 2 team? Wisconsin at 96.9 yards per contest. This group ranks seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense, fifth in third-down defense and has allowed only four plays of 50 or more yards.
In order to counter the spread offenses Alabama faces every year, Saban tweaked his defense a bit over the last couple of seasons. The Crimson Tide still have a massive defensive line, but this group is more athletic and can play sideline-to-sideline with the added range. The success of this group starts up front with end Jonathan Allen. The senior should be an All-American after generating 8.5 sacks in 2016. Allen is joined by 319-pound nose guard Da’Ron Payne and underrated Dalvin Tomlinson up front. Senior Reuben Foster anchors the linebacking corps, with Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson creating havoc off the edge as pass rushers. The loss of safety Eddie Jackson was a significant blow for Alabama’s secondary, but this unit is still in great shape with Minkah Fitzpatrick, Marlon Humphrey and Ronnie Harrison leading the way.
2. Turnovers, Sacks and Defensive Touchdowns
As if containing opponents to a paltry 3.94 yards per play wasn’t enough, Alabama’s defense is one of the nation’s best at creating game-changing or havoc plays on defense. The Crimson Tide rank third nationally in sacks generated (45) and rank fifth in tackles for a loss (105). The defense also ranks 20th nationally with forced 24 takeaways. The damage on takeaways isn’t just a turnover for opposing offenses. Instead, the bigger concern is Alabama converting takeaways directly into points. The Crimson Tide have scored 14 non-offensive touchdowns, with 10 of those coming on defense. Six different players have scored defensive touchdowns, including two from safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and two from end Jonathan Allen. In order to beat Alabama, opposing teams will have to play a mistake-free game. And if an offense makes a mistake, it’s only going to be magnified against a defense that’s capable of converting a fumble or interception into a touchdown.
3. Development of QB Jalen Hurts
Starting as a true freshman quarterback – especially at a program like Alabama – is never easy. However, Hurts finished 2016 as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks, and the freshman should only get better with nearly a month to prepare until the Peach Bowl. Hurts threw for 2,592 yards and 22 scores and added 841 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Hurts is still developing as a pocket passer, but his ability to get to the edge and make plays on the ground or extend the defense is tough to contain. Alabama’s offenses in previous years have been more of a pro-style approach. However, with coordinator Lane Kiffin at the controls, and Hurts continuing to improve with each snap, the Crimson Tide attack makes opposing defenses defend the entire field.
4. Skill Talent and Offensive Line
Alabama’s offense doesn’t have a lead back like Derrick Henry pounding away on the ground this year, but this unit isn’t hurting for playmakers. In fact, this could be one of the deepest groups of playmakers Nick Saban has assembled since coming to Tuscaloosa. Damien Harris has emerged as the team’s go-to back, rushing for 983 yards and two scores on 132 attempts this season. Sophomore Bo Scarbrough is a 228-pound bruiser out of the backfield and seems to be getting stronger over the course of the season. True freshman Joshua Jacobs has also displayed play-making ability (6.64 ypc) in limited action (83 carries).
At receiver, ArDarius Stewart leads the team with 852 yards and eight touchdown catches, while Calvin Ridley followed up an impressive freshman season with 66 grabs in 2016. Both players are capable of stretching the field vertically but also play a big role in Alabama’s short passing game at the line of scrimmage, which allows the offense to spread the defense and attack the edges. Gehrig Dieter, Cam Sims, Robert Foster and Trevon Diggs round out the key contributors at wide receiver. At tight end, O.J. Howard is another valuable weapon in the Crimson Tide passing game. The senior had a huge performance in last year’s national title win over Clemson and caught 37 passes for 445 yards and two scores in 2016.
5. Talent + Nick Saban
The pairing of the nation’s best roster and college football’s No. 1 coach is almost unfair. Alabama has reeled in six consecutive No. 1 recruiting classes in the nation and stockpiled a wealth of blue-chip talent on both sides of the ball. Recruiting talent is only half of the battle in terms of coaching. The other part? Development. That’s where Nick Saban and this staff excels. The Crimson Tide not only bring in elite talent, but Saban knows how to develop it and put the players in the best position to succeed. After a 7-6 debut in Tuscaloosa in 2007, Alabama has not lost more than three games in a season. Additionally, the Crimson Tide have won at least 10 games in every year since 2007 and claimed four out of the last seven national championships. Saban is also one of the best in terms of X’s and O’s and finding the weaknesses to attack for opposing teams. As long as Saban is roaming the sideline, Alabama is going to be tough to keep away from the national championship trophy.