Saivion Smith stepped in right away and became a key member of the Crimson Tide's secondary
We all know there are potentially (likely?) two more games left for Alabama to play in this 2018 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 the defending national champion's Orange Bowl showdown with Oklahoma.
Offensive MVP: Tua Tagovailoa, QB
Despite the heated quarterback controversy that took hold of the Fighting Sabans ever since the national championship game last January all the way through fall camp, the Hawaiian-bred Heisman runner-up took the bull by the horns from the first snap this season, pacing the Crimson Tide to its best passing offense in school history. He also threw for a school-record 37 touchdowns through the first 13 games. At times it seemed like Tagovailoa and his left arm had to do it all himself as the Tide did not have a 1,000-yard rusher for the second year in a row.
Defensive MVP: Quinnen Williams, NG
The big nose guard came into this season a wee-bit unheralded and he certainly was playing in the shadow of All-American Raekwon Davis. But Williams blossomed quickly and ended the regular season by holding the Outland Trophy in his hands and finishing ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Not bad big man.
Best Newcomer: Saivion Smith, DB
It didn’t take long for the former LSU and junior college defensive back to make an impact. In game one vs. Louisville, he tied for the team lead in tackles with six, including one for a loss. As the season went on his role continued to grow, eventually leading him to 43 tackles, five pass breakups and a team-best three interceptions. Smith also contributed a pick-six against Arkansas State.
Best Play of the Season: Jalen Hurts' 10-yard TD to Jerry Jeudy to Tie the SEC Championship Game
Bama fans had to be freaking out, just a little. Their star QB had gone down and was largely ineffective most of the game, the Tide trailed Georgia and their spot in the four-team playoff was on the line. But Hurts led an 80-yard drive in 16 plays, capped by the strike to Jeudy. That play (and that drive) signaled to the Bulldogs that their upset scare was soon to be over. It saved the season for Alabama.
Best Performance by a Player: Jalen Hurts in SEC Championship Game
In a complete reversal of roles from last year’s national championship game, this time it was Hurts coming off the bench to relieve Tua Tagovailoa and bring Alabama back from a second-half deficit to beat Georgia. While Tagovailoa was just 10-for-25 with two INTs, Hurts came into the game in the second half and went 7-for-9 with a touchdown and no interceptions while leading the Tide to two TD drives, including running in the game-winner with 1:04 left.
Best Game (Team Performance): The Great Escape vs. Georgia
Let’s go ahead and just call this the ONLY game of the year. No other contest against the Tide was even within 22 points, so by default, this is easily the best. Interestingly, it took till game 13 of the season to discover that the Crimson Tide were actually beatable. Now let’s see how 14 and (assuming they beat Oklahoma) 15 go.
Defining Moment: First Half of SEC Championship Game
Going into the SEC title game we all assumed this year’s Crimson Tide was Nick Saban’s best squad and was impervious to getting upset on any given Saturday. But the Bulldogs built up a 28-14 lead with the help of a big first half in which they held the Tide to just one offensive touchdown. Meanwhile Georgia's defense proved that Tua Tagovailoa was human and suddenly everybody across the country said a collective, “What?” Those two quarters proved Alabama was vulnerable after all.
Biggest Surprise: Emergence of Quinnen Williams
As mentioned above, not a lot was made of the big man going into the season as he was projected to be a second-string defensive end coming out of spring practice. But a position move to nose guard proved to be just the perfect tonic for Mr. Williams, as he sits third on the team in tackles (66), leads in tackles for a loss (18), and is second in sacks (8). He cemented his status as one of the country's best this season by winning the Outland Trophy.
Biggest Disappointment: Playing Some Team Called "The Citadel"
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: Ross Pierschbacher, C
There are only 18 seniors on this year’s Tide roster, though a mere handful of them are actual contributors game-in, game-out. But Pierschbacher, the Iowa farm boy who grew up on meat and potatoes, has started all 56 of his career games. This year, he transitioned from guard to center and spearheaded an offensive line that held opponents to no more than a sack in 11 of the 13 games. R.P. has been an All-SEC pick for three straight years and even though he is replaceable (who at Alabama under Nick Saban isn’t?), he will be missed.
Player to Watch in 2019: Trevon Diggs, CB
The very versatile performer was playing at a high rate through the first five games this season, starting all at corner. He had made 20 tackles, recorded six pass breakups and intercepted a pass. But an injury against Arkansas shelved him for the remainder of the regular season. But once healthy again, look for the freakishly-athletic Diggs to get back to playing at an All-American level for the entire 2019 season. He’ll team with Patrick Surtain, Saivian Smith and Xavier McKinney to form possibly the best defensive backfield in the country.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Who Goes Pro?
Last year the Crimson Tide set an SEC record by having 12 players drafted by the NFL. This year should produce another good haul, but the big question is which players will leave a year early. Everyone will be awaiting the decisions of juniors like OT Jonah Williams, DE Raekwon Davis, LB Anfernee Jennings, LB Mack Wilson and DBs Saivion Smith, Trevon Diggs, and Deionte Thompson. The good money could be on Williams, who was a finalist for the Outland Trophy this season.
— 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.