Minkah Fitzpatrick is the heart and soul of the Alabama defense and a future first-round NFL Draft pick
We all know there are still one or two more games left for Alabama to play in this 2017 college football season. But let’s take a quick snapshot at the best of the best from their regular season before we tilt an eye toward their Sugar Bowl showdown with Clemson.
Offensive MVP: Jalen Hurts, QB
Hurts (above, right) did his usual thing and put the “hurts” on Alabama opponents, leading the Crimson Tide in total offense and finishing second on the team in rushing, gaining 768 yards with eight TDs. Though his completion percentage dropped a tad from his freshman season and his passing yardage total was much less, he was still able to keep the offense viable despite throwing mostly to Calvin Ridley (55 catches) and not having a 1,000-yard rusher behind him.
Defensive MVP: Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB
C’mon, I can’t imagine there would be much argument over this one.
Best Newcomer: Dylan Moses, LB
It could be argued that wide receiver Jerry Jeudy was the most influential freshman to play for the Tide this year, but Moses was an instant hit at linebacker, getting heavy playing time right off the bat vs. Florida State. His biggest moment was taking over for the injured Shaun Dion Hamilton in the crucial win over LSU. He also posted a team-high 10 tackles in the loss at Auburn. Unfortunately, he suffered a foot injury in practice on Monday, putting his availability for the Sugar Bowl very much in doubt. Assuming he's able to recover completely, you can see his star power taking off next year for sure.
Best Play of the Season: DeVonta Smith’s TD catch to beat Mississippi State
The true freshman only caught six passes all season, but that 26-yard TD catch from Hurts with 25 seconds left to play on a slant route was a thing of beauty to Tide fans. That score gave the Red Elephants a tough 31-24 win in Starkville in front of a ravenous cowbell crowd. If Hurts doesn’t hit Smith with that strike, there is a chance that the Tide never would’ve sniffed the College Football Playoff.
Best Performance by a Player in 2017: JK Scott vs. LSU
This entire award show can’t be about Jalen Hurts or Minkah Fitzpatrick, right? So let’s give some love here to the most unsung member of the Crimson Tide program for the last 11 years; the punter. Scott’s eight punts were the most against any opponent all season. But when they needed him, he delivered, averaging 51.6 yards per punt and nailing six of them inside the LSU 20-yard line. The Tigers actually outgained the Tide 305-299 in that game, but because the Tigers regularly had to go the length of the field, that’s why they only scored 10 points. Well done Mr. Scott.
Best Game (Team Performance): The Great Escape at Mississippi State
The best part about this aforementioned 31-24 win was the fact that whenever the Crimson Tide found itself behind, it answered, quickly. The Tide was down 7-0 and 14-7 to the Bulldogs but scored in less than five plays both times to knot the game. Two Calvin Ridley receptions of 63 and 61 yards set up each tying score. There was one drive where the Crimsons went three-and-out after they got down 24-17 in the fourth quarter, but then the Big Hurts took over. On the game-tying drive, Jalen Hurts had runs of 13 and seven yards to set up Damien Harris’ 14-yard TD scamper. The next drive, Hurts went 3-for-4 for 72 yards under heavy duress to complete the comeback win.
Defining Moment: Two ominous plays in the third quarter vs. Auburn
Had Hale Hentges’ miraculous catch of a tipped pass in the end zone stood as called, Alabama would’ve taken a 21-20 lead on Auburn late in the third quarter and that game could’ve changed completely from there. Instead, Hentges’ diving catch was proven to hit the ground first, then, a field goal snap by Alabama was botched and the Tide never recovered from there. Those two plays proved Alabama was human this year, and beatable.
Biggest Surprise: The Crimson Tide not having a division title or a conference title to their name
Just seems a little bit wrong, doesn’t it? Like the world is just .001 percent off its axis. Oh well, at Alabama they play for national titles, not conference titles. So we’ll see.
Biggest Disappoinment: Playing someone called “Mercer”
When the NCAA expanded the regular season schedule from 11 to 12 games a couple years back, there was great hope that it would mean even more high-quality college football. And in most cases it did as a number of conferences added another league game and some teams added good non-conference games. Then there is the SEC, which still refuses to schedule a ninth conference game and spends the third weekend in November playing a bunch of teams no one has ever heard of out of the FCS. It really is depressing.
Senior That Will be Missed the Most: Rashaan Evans, LB
Oh sure, the Tide will just plug in the next wildly-athletic superfreakish linebacker to replace Evans, but he has been quite the difference-maker for that rock-ribbed defense. Evans was named a first-team All-American by the AFCA as he leads the Tide with 10.5 tackles for a loss and seven quarterback hurries.
Player to Watch in 2018: Raekwon Davis, DL
The 6-foot-7 monster finished second on the team with 59 tackles, which is unusual for a down lineman. After being named a first-team All-SEC performer by the conference coaches, Davis could be bound for All-American status in what will be his draft-eligible junior season in 2018.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Where in the top 10 of the recruiting services with Alabama’s 2018 class be ranked?
As you know, under Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide just never have an “ordinary” recruiting class. So look for another top-flight class coming this February. As of now, Rivals has the Tide’s class ranked at No. 9 and 247Sports has them at No. 7.
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.