Here's why Nick Saban's team will win it all once again
Alabama is headed back to the College Football Playoff for the fifth season in a row. The Crimson Tide are the only team to earn a trip to the playoff in all five years since the four-team postseason was instituted prior to the 2014 season. Under coach Nick Saban, Alabama has claimed the national title five times since 2009 and won at least 10 games in each of the last 11 years. The Crimson Tide completed an undefeated 13-0 regular season after beating Georgia in a 35-28 thriller in the SEC Championship. Saban only has one team with an undefeated mark (2009), but this year’s team is heavily favored to win the 2018-19 national championship.
Can Alabama win the national championship for the second year in a row? Here are five reasons why the Crimson Tide will beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and then win the national championship on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara.
5 Reasons Why Alabama Will Win the CFB Playoff
1. Alabama is No. 1 and the Best Team in the Regular Season
Alabama heads into the CFB Playoff as the team to beat. The Crimson Tide rank as the No. 1 team in the committee rankings and take the top spot in various advanced analytics. Of Alabama’s 13 victories, 12 came by 22 points or more, including wins over top 25 teams LSU (29-0), Mississippi State (24-0) and Texas A&M (45-23). In Saturday’s win over Georgia in the SEC Championship, the Crimson Tide rallied for a 35-28 victory after trailing 28-14 in the second half and having to play without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa due to injury. Thanks to standout recruiting classes every year, Saban’s roster is as loaded as it gets in college football. Simply, do you want to bet against Saban and this staff knowing the track record for Alabama? When you have to win two games to claim the national championship, having a coach like Saban and the nation’s most-talented roster is a favorable start to winning it all.
2. Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts and Great Receivers
Of the four teams in the CFB Playoff, Alabama might benefit the most from the extended break. The extra rest and time to prepare should help Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, as the sophomore was dealing with a knee ailment for a chunk of the season and suffered an ankle injury in the win over Georgia. After the SEC Championship win over Georgia, Saban indicated the injuries to Tagovailoa weren’t serious, and the sophomore should be fine for the CFB Playoff. However, if Tagovailoa can’t go or is limited, Saban has a proven option in Jalen Hurts. The junior delivered in the clutch to win the SEC Championship and guided Alabama to back-to-back trips to the national championship (2016-17) as the starter.
Assuming Tagovailoa’s knee and ankle injuries are healed, the sophomore can add to an impressive (and potentially Heisman-worthy) 2018 season. Tagovailoa has connected on 67.7 percent of his throws for 3,353 yards and 37 touchdowns to just four picks. He’s also connected on 20 passes of 40 or more yards and 13 of 50-plus yards. Tagovailoa’s development has transformed Alabama’s offense from a run-first approach to more of a passing team this fall. The Crimson Tide average 47.9 points a game and rank second nationally by recording 7.9 yards per play.
Helping Tagovailoa’s case as the best quarterback in college football is a deep group of receivers on the outside. Jerry Jeudy (59 catches for 1,103 yards) is poised for challenge for first-team All-America honors, while freshman Jaylen Waddle ranks second on the team with 803 receiving yards. Henry Ruggs (42 catches for 724 yards) and DeVonta Smith (17.5 yards per reception) round out the top options at receiver. Tight end Irv Smith (38 catches for 648 yards) is another big-play threat for Tagovailoa.
Whether it’s working down the field on short passes or connecting on the big play, Tagovailoa and this receiving corps will be a challenging matchup in the CFB Playoff.
3. Alabama’s Ground Game
With Tagovailoa at the controls, Alabama’s offense has morphed into one of the nation’s best passing attacks. However, the Crimson Tide aren’t going to forget about the running game, as this offense has one of the deepest set of running backs in college football. The offense finished the regular season by averaging 202.2 rushing yards a game and 5.3 yards a carry.
Senior Damien Harris (771 yards) is the team’s leading rusher, but Najee Harris (679 yards) will see plenty of work. Josh Jacobs leads the team with 11 rushing scores and has recorded 495 yards on just 94 attempts. He’s also a reliable receiving option out of the backfield, catching 15 passes over 13 contests this fall.
The ground game underscores just how difficult it is to defend Alabama this year. Saban’s previous teams have leaned heavily on the run, but the 2018 version of the Crimson Tide has a lethal passing attack to go with a steady ground game.
4. Strength in the Front Seven
Alabama’s defense might not be as deep as it has been in previous years, but there’s no shortage of talent in the front seven. The Crimson Tide held Georgia to just 153 yards on 39 rushes (3.9 ypc) in the SEC Championship and finished third in the conference against the run. Alabama enters the playoff holding opponents to just 117 rushing yards a contest and limiting rushers to 3.4 per carry.
Up front, the line is anchored by standout nose guard Quinnen Williams. In his first year as a starter, Williams has made a strong case as the best defensive player in college football. The sophomore has recorded 18 tackles for a loss and eight sacks in 13 appearances. On the outside, Isaiah Buggs and Raekwon Davis are a standout duo and have combined for 18 tackles for a loss this season. Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses man the middle of the linebacker unit, with Anfernee Jennings and Christian Miller headlining the outside of the 3-4 defense at linebacker. A potential wild card to watch here is the health of linebacker Terrell Lewis. He was slated to be one of the team’s top pass rushers in 2018 but suffered an offseason knee injury. Lewis returned to practice in late November, sparking intrigue that he could return for the playoff.
The secondary is arguably the biggest concern for Nick Saban’s defense, but Alabama has a front seven that’s capable of getting pressure on a consistent basis and can stuff the run to put offenses into third-and-long situations. With a matchup against Oklahoma up first, timely stops are going to be important. The Crimson Tide are the best in the SEC at preventing touchdowns in the red zone and rank third in the conference in third-down defense. Both areas will be crucial to winning it all once again.
5. Defense Getting Better as the Season Progressed
Alabama entered 2018 with just three returning starters on defense. While Tuscaloosa is a factory for talent, the Crimson Tide had a lot of new faces stepping into different roles, and the defense had a new co-coordinator setup after Jeremy Pruitt left to be the head coach at Tennessee. Alabama didn’t miss a beat early on, allowing just 28 points through the first three games. However, the Crimson Tide allowed 23 to Texas A&M and 31 to Arkansas on Oct. 6. But since the victory over the Razorbacks, Alabama has allowed only one opponent (Georgia) to score more than 21 points. This unit has pitched two shutouts in that span and just one team (Georgia) mustered more than 300 yards over the last seven games. With a couple of weeks to prepare for Oklahoma and develop some of the younger players on defense, Saban’s group will be even better by the time the CFB Playoff kicks off.