Most college football programs would be ecstatic to finish the regular season 10-2, having secured a coveted New Year's Day bowl bid against a blue blood like Michigan. Of course, most college football programs aren't the Alabama Crimson Tide, which missed out on the College Football Playoff for the first time, is in danger of finishing outside the AP top 10 for the first time in 12 years, and lost to its two biggest rivals, LSU and Auburn, in the same season for the first time since 2010.
How did we get here? And who were the major players involved? We offer our version of the 2019 Alabama Football Team Awards:
Offensive MVP: Tua Tagovailoa, QB
It can be tricky to deal in hypotheticals, but this one calls for it: Where would this Alabama football team if it had a healthy Tagovailoa at quarterback all season? If Tagovailoa hadn’t suffered an ankle injury that needed surgery just weeks before the Crimson Tide hosted LSU? And if he hadn’t suffered a season-ending hip injury against Mississippi State that sidelined him the rest of the season, including the loss to Auburn? Alabama might still have lost both games — missing the SEC Championship Game — though the Tide might also be undefeated and ranked No. 1 heading into the College Football Playoff.
Unfortunately, we were not able to see a full season of Alabama with a healthy Tua, but when Tagovailoa was available, he was arguably the best player in college football. In nine games, Tagovailoa completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 2,840 yards and 33 touchdowns (sixth-most in the country) with just three interceptions. He completed 11.3 yards per attempt, which ranked second nationally. Tua’s 315.6 passing yards per game ranks No. 4 among all FBS signal-callers.
Defensive MVP: Anfernee Jennings, LB
No one filled up the Alabama defensive stat sheet like Jennings this season. The linebacker ranked third on the team with 73 total tackles and was second only to defensive back Xavier McKinney with 42 solo stops. Jennings led the Crimson Tide with 7.5 sacks, which ranked second in the SEC, and 12.0 tackles for a loss, which ranked fourth in the conference. The senior was also credited with eight quarterback hurries, forced one fumble, broke up five passes, and intercepted one. Jennings, along with McKinney and cornerback Trevon Diggs, was named to the All-SEC first-team defense.
Best Freshman: Shane Lee, LB
Several players could claim this spot, including Evan Neal, who started all 12 games at left guard and did not allow a sack. DJ Dale quickly emerged as an impact player and run stuffer on the interior defensive line. Christian Harris played cornerback in high school before becoming a Day 1 starter at linebacker and has shown flashes of becoming both an elite pass rusher and run stopper. But we’ll give the nod to Lee, who was one of the most productive and dependable defensive players for the Crimson Tide all season. Lee recorded 77 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, and one forced fumble.
Best Play of the Season: Najee Harris' 42-yard TD catch vs. South Carolina
Way back in Week 3, No. 2 Alabama found itself in a dogfight with South Carolina on the road. The Crimson Tide led 17-10 midway through the second quarter and decided to go for it on 4th-and-3 at the Gamecocks' 42-yard line. Tua Tagovailoa dropped back and then found Harris across the middle of the field. At the 31, Harris threw a would-be tackler to the ground. He hurdled a South Carolina defender at the 17 and outraced two more into the end zone for one of the most draw-dropping individual plays of the year.
Best Performance by a Player: DeVonta Smith vs. Ole Miss
The Alabama receiving corps is so good; seemingly everyone is capable of a record-setting performance on a given day. On Sept. 28 against Ole Miss, it was Smith. The junior caught 11 passes for 274 and a school-record five touchdowns. In the first half alone, Smith had 221 yards. He finished the regular season with a team-leading 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns on 65 receptions.
Best Game (Team Performance): Taking care of business against Arkansas
Arkansas was a train wreck in 2019, so even a 48-7 victory wouldn’t typically be worth praising above many others. However, the fact Alabama took on the Razorbacks in the week after Tagovailoa injured his ankle, is notable. Backup Mac Jones filled in and completed 18 of 22 pass attempts for 235 yards (10.7 yards per pass) with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. It’s also worth pointing out the Crimson Tide stepped up and held Arkansas to just 231 total yards and 3.8 yards per play while also winning the turnover battle, 4-0. And finally, the No. 1, undefeated, yet also shorthanded Tide put together this all-around performance in a potential trap game with LSU on deck.
Biggest Surprise: Landon Dickerson, OL
Alabama is well-stocked with talent along the offensive line, but the Crimson Tide also saw a need for reinforcements heading into 2019. When Dickerson chose to transfer from Florida State, which had just slogged through one of the most difficult seasons in recent memory for its O-Line unit, it seemed unlikely he would become a major contributor. Instead, Dickerson was invaluable. Dickerson won the starting job at right guard at fall camp and started the first four games before sliding over to center for the final eight. He allowed just one sack in 688 snaps and was named second-team All-SEC.
Biggest Disappointment: Loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl
Losing at home to LSU was certainly disappointing for Alabama fans, but losing to Auburn is always worse. To do so while outgaining the Tigers 515-354, but tossing two pick-sixes — including one that could have been an Alabama touchdown but was instead taken 100 yards for a go-ahead Auburn score — is extremely frustrating. And the extra second added before halftime, which Auburn converted into a 52-yard field goal? Maddening.
Senior That Will Be Missed Next Season: Trevon Diggs, CB
Diggs has an excellent case to be the Alabama Defensive MVP this season. After all, the cornerback earned All-SEC and All-American honors for his play in 2019, which includes a team-high eight pass breakups, three interceptions (one he took 84 yards for a touchdown in the win over Arkansas), a 100-yard touchdown on a fumble return against Tennessee, and 37 tackles across 12 games.
Player to Watch in 2020: Jaylen Waddle, WR
He’s not exactly the forgotten man, especially coming off a huge day against Auburn in which he scored four touchdowns — three on receptions and one on a 98-yard kickoff return — but Waddle largely flew under the radar compared to his fellow wide receivers. However, with Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith, and Henry Ruggs III all at the end of their junior seasons, and all potential high-round 2020 NFL Draft picks should they leave early, Waddle could be the only Tide receiver returning in 2020 with more than four career catches to his name.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Quarterback
Before his hip injury, it was a forgone conclusion Tua Tagovailoa would enter the 2020 NFL draft. Now, things are less certain. Tua has spoken with media members about his indecision, the cost-benefit analysis of leaving school early without proving he’s capable of a return to his previous form, and whether or not the best thing might be to return to Tuscaloosa in 2020 to do exactly that.
If Tagovailoa returns, the Crimson Tide offense is in good hands. If he leaves, Mac Jones has proven capable of putting up solid passing numbers, and though he made some poor throws against Auburn, Jones was a well-regarded recruit with a bright future. There’s also Taulia Tagovailoa, Tua’s true freshman younger brother, who should compete with Jones for the job, as well as five-star standout Bryce Young, the No. 6 recruit nationally and top-rated quarterback in the 247Sports Composite, who is committed to Alabama.
Or, perhaps the Tide turn to the transfer portal. It worked out pretty well for LSU, Ohio State, and Oklahoma.