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Alabama Football: 2022 Team Awards

The Crimson Tide didn't defend their SEC title or get back to the College Football Playoff but they still won 10 games in the regular season.
Will Anderson Jr., Alabama Crimson Tide Football

A two-time Bronko Nagurski Trophy recipient and SEC Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker Will Anderson Jr. is unquestionably the best defender in college football.

We all got the stunning news at noon eastern time on Sunday when the field for the four-team College Football Playoff was announced and Alabama was not among the names revealed. Will someone please check to make sure the Earth is still sitting on its axis?

But to be real, did a two-loss team belong in the field of four? Oh I know most of you reading this are Bama fans and you probably wanna form-tackle me in the open field wearing steel shoulder pads. I get it. Although I think we can all agree the Crimson Tide just did not quite have the season everyone was expecting. I mean two losses? We get used to unbeaten seasons and the occasional one-loss season, but here we are with a Bama team that did not even reach the SEC Championship Game, much less the playoffs.

On the other side of the coin, we are also talking about a team that lost those two games in hostile environments and on the last play of the game. Both times. Last play. So the Tide is also THISCLOSE to being an unbeaten team too. That means they were very very close to another playoff appearance. While they won’t be lifting the hardware amongst the falling confetti in any title game, we can hand out some awards on what we’ve seen from the 10-2 Crimson Tide.

Offensive MVP: Bryce Young, QB

Okay, okay, so maybe he won’t win the Heisman Trophy once again. But BY was easily the best player on offense for the Tide once again, despite the numbers that took a big dive compared to last season. In 2021 Young threw for 4,872 yards, this year 3,007. In 2021 he threw for 47 touchdowns, this year just 27. In 2021 he had a 67 percent completion rate, this year it’s 64.1 percent. Of course, a lot of that could be due to a young-ish receiving corps as well.

Defensive MVP: Will Anderson Jr., LB

Again, a no-brainer for the second straight season. He led the team in sacks (10), sack yardage (54), QB hurries (12), and tackles for a loss (17), which was good for 10th in the country. Again, a complete no-brainer.

Best Play of the Season: Jalen Milroe’s 77-yard run vs. Arkansas

The Tide raced out to a dominating 28-0 lead in Fayetteville, but then allowed the Hogs to pull within 28-23 in the third quarter. That was when backup QB Milroe busted out on a 77-yard ramble down to the Razorback three-yard line. On the next play, Jace McClellan hit paydirt to give the Tide a 12-point lead that would not be challenged again because…

Best Performance (Player): Jahmyr Gibbs vs. Arkansas

After Milroe’s game-breaking run, Gibbs stepped up significantly by ripping off 72- and 76-yard fourth-quarter touchdown runs to salt the game away. In all, the junior from Dalton, Georgia toted the rock 18 times for 206 yards and those two TDs, marking the big difference-maker in that game. That rally of a win kept the Red Elephants unbeaten and vaulted them to the No. 1 spot… at least for one week.

Best Performance (Team): vs. Utah State, ULM, Vanderbilt and Austin Peay (tie)

To be honest, it’s hard to find a “best performance” on this schedule because the Tide didn’t really cover the points spread against any team with a pulse. They just were not their usual dominant selves, except against these rummies, where they won 55-0, 63-7, 55-3, and 34-0 respectively. You could point to the 30-6 win over Mississippi State, but even in that game the Tide was out-yarded (293-290), had their running game shut down (29 yards) and gave up three fourth-down conversions.

Defining Moment: Chase McGrath’s game-winning field goal for Tennessee

THIS was the moment. This is when the weary college football world knew this wasn’t going to be another national title run for the Tide. The game-winning field goal on the last play of the game allowed the Big Orange to pull off a 52-49 win, their first over the Tide in 15 years. If there is a runner-up defining moment it was on the drive before that where Jahmyr Gibbs dropped a short pass with room to run on second down and then the Tide threw incomplete on third down. What followed that was a missed 50-yard field goal that could’ve given them a three-point lead with 15 seconds left.

Biggest Surprise: Kool-Aid McKinstry’s many happy returns

Mr. Hey Kool-Aid! busted through a wall and made an immediate impact from the minute he hit campus. Which wasn’t a complete shock since he was a five-star athlete and the nation’s top-rated cornerback and all. But one thing McKinstry did this season was to add punt returner to his duties, utilizing his blazing speed and elite-level quick-twitch. For the season he returned 20 punts for 317 yards with a long of 45 yards. All of that was for 16 yards per return, good for second in the nation. There is nothing better than having a difference-maker to help flip the field in the special teams department.

Biggest Disappointment: Penalties

This was NOT your typical Nick Saban team in 2022, especially in their lack of discipline. Not only did they blow a lot of assignments, miss a lot of tackles, allow opponents to stay in games but most of all, they were penalized ad nauseam. Believe it or not, the Tide were not only last in the SEC in penalties (98 total) but they also were 127th nationally in yellow flags. Only Eastern Michigan, Utah State and Syracuse were worse. Penalties seemed to play a large part in every close game or loss this season.

Senior Who Will be Missed the Most: Byron Young, DT

Yeah yeah, I know, I know, the Crimson Tide replace defensive linemen like tank tops in the summer. They always seem to have the next All-American waiting in the wings. But Young made a huge impression from the minute he stepped on campus and actually could’ve entered the NFL draft last year but decided to return for his senior season. His reward? First-team All-SEC. By the way, fellow lineman DJ Dale will also be gone after this season, so there will be some huge voids to fill along the defensive front before next season.

Player to Watch in 2023: Jalen Milroe, QB

When Bryce Young went down with an injury against Arkansas, Milroe stepped in and performed admirably, including getting that huge 77-yard run that keyed their second-half flurry on their way to a 49-26 win. Milroe entered the game in the second quarter and led the Tide to five touchdowns and 35 points in his eight drives behind center. Then, he made the start against Texas A&M and went 12–of-19 for 111 yards and three TDs while also adding 81 yards rushing. Milroe could very well be the next great Tide QB… unless 5-star Freshman Ty Simpson beats him out for the spot in the spring. (Such is Alabama’s talent level).

Offseason Storyline: The Nick Saban Watch

Okay, stay with me here for a minute… but is Saint Nick going to come back for the 2023 season? No really, does he have season No. 30 as a head coach in him? Put it this way, the dude is 71 years old, so he must be thinking about finally stepping down. I mean how much fun can it be? Or better yet, just ask yourself, does Saban LOOK like he’s having fun out there?

— 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.