Crimson Tide look to stay on their usual track
Believe it or not there was actually a time when Alabama was a bad football team. I know, I know, that is freaking impossible, right? Yet on Nov. 17, 2007, the Crimson Tide lost to UL Monroe 21-14.
In the 12 years since, well... if you're a Tide-hater, avert your eyes.
Since that fateful November day in Nick Saban's first year on the Capstone, Alabama has gone 146-16. The Tide have never won fewer than 10 games in any season since and have gone unbeaten or suffered only one loss seven times. And yes, we all know they've won five national titles and played for two others.
And, college football fans, the 2019 season is following that same script. Tua Tagovailoa is still flinging darts. The wide receivers are still politely taking turns scoring touchdowns. The offensive line is still plastering people. The defense is still flying around and making life miserable for opponents. And Saban is still ranting mercilessly at his players and assistants as if he's going to bust a major artery at any moment.
The Tide has six regular-season games remaining and will probably only be challenged in two of them; vs. LSU and at Auburn. Obviously they'll be favored in both of those as well and should win both. That leaves a likely showdown with Georgia, Florida or Missouri in the SEC title game, followed by another trip to the College Football Playoff.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
That loss to ULM seems soooooo many lifetimes ago, doesn't it?
Offensive MVP: QB Tua Tagovailoa
Simply, the man. No reason to put any other player here. He's been a dominant performer ever since he stepped on campus and he hasn't let up a bit. The reigning Walter Camp and Maxwell Award winner is hitting on 74 percent of his passes and has 27 touchdowns against just one interception. Tua and the Tide Rollers are rollicking along with an average of 51 points per game.
Defensive MVP: S Xavier McKinney
In a defense that now has four freshmen in the starting front seven, having an experienced leader like McKinney in the defensive backfield has been a godsend. Injuries have taken their toll and the Tide defense isn't quite up to their usual standards, but McKinney has the most tackles on the team — by a wide margin too. He also has an interception, two QB hurries, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in his stat line. Oh and FYI, he just barely edges out corners Patrick Surtain and Trevon Diggs for this honor.
Best Moment of the First Half: Rock, Paper, Scissors
In a team loaded with top-flight receivers, it was funny to see Henry Ruggs admit after the win over Southern Miss that sometimes they play a quick game of “rock, paper, scissors” to decide who gets the pass route that is going to score the next touchdown. That is the ridiculous level of talent the Tide has reached with their playmakers. And you know what? It works. Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and DeVonta Smith now have 20 touchdowns between them.
Best Newcomer: LB Shane Lee
As mentioned above the defense featured four first-year starters in their ranks in the game at Texas A&M. And after losing Butkus Award finalist Dylan Moses to injury at the beginning of the season, this unit needed to have a youngin' step up. That's where Lee comes in. The Maryland native got the start from game one and is now second on the team with 38 tackles behind McKinney and plays the game with a maturity that belies his years.
Biggest Surprise: Run Defense
Not sure if this is a huge surprise but the defense has struggled a little bit more than expected. They are 36th in the country in total defense, giving up 336 yards per game, and surprisingly eighth in the SEC in rush defense, relenting 133.2 yards per game on the ground. After Ole Miss ran through the Tide defense for 279 yards, Nick Saban said afterward “We got exposed in some areas where we didn't play very well.” There is much improvement needed before the Tide takes on LSU and Auburn in the weeks ahead.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. The emergence of Najee Harris
With as wildly talented as Tua Tagovailoa and his receiving corps is, a dominant running game might not be as needed as most other teams. But anyone who saw the Texas A&M game might've noticed that Harris' season may have turned a corner. After just 54 carries in the first five games, Harris toted the rock 20 times against the Aggies for 114 yards. And yes, you cannot go into a game against LSU or Auburn and not have a viable rushing attack to help set up the passing game. That's what makes Harris charging into beast-mode such a valuable commodity for the remainder of this season.
2. Offensive line dominance
That leads me to my second "what to watch for" here; the O-line. It is worth noting that the big uglies up front have gotten progressively better through these first six games. Gary Danielson pointed out in the A&M game, "From game one to game six the offensive line is the most improved facet of this team." Part of that is due to the return of guard Deonte Brown from the injury list. That's bad news for the remaining six opponents on the schedule and whoever has to face them in the postseason. Can you imagine Tagovailoa getting even more comfortable and having even more time to throw? Or what about the running lanes getting bigger for Harris and Brian Robinson Jr.? Look out.
3. Special teams becoming more special
If there is one thing that can kill an upset hope for a team, it's giving up a special teams touchdown or having a punt blocked and changing the momentum of a game. Well, Alabama has got all of those factors going for them. Jaylen Waddle is now leading the country in punt returns, averaging 22 yards per return. Add to that Henry Ruggs has lent his talents to the kickoff return team and had a number of great runbacks against Texas A&M. Also, the Crimson Tide have blocked two punts and two field goals already this season.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 9 vs. LSU
This is definitely a different brand of Tiger the Tide will be facing this year. Gone are the days where both teams load up and run the ball straight at each other and have a battle of field goals. The Tigers have finally embraced 20th-century football and gone high octane behind QB Joe Burrow, who leads the country in passing efficiency and completion percentage and is second in passing yards and yards per attempt. But the big question is can the Tiger defense stop the Tide?
2. Nov. 30 at Auburn
After freshman QB Bo Nix looked very much like a freshman in the 24-13 loss to Florida (11-of-27 with three INTs), this game suddenly looks a little bit easier than originally thought for the Tide. Then again, when is the Iron Bowl ever considered easy? Traditionally this game is as predictable as a rattlesnake. But all things being equal, the Tide should be able to put the pressure on Nix and Co. and pull off another W in this series, probably by a couple of touchdowns.
3. Oct. 19 vs. Tennessee
Beyond the games with the two Tigers — Auburn and LSU — the drop-off from there is precipitous. But the Volunteers are slowly starting to find their feet. They played with some confidence in that clampdown of Mississippi State, holding the Bulldogs to just 267 yards.
4. Nov. 16 at Mississippi State
Aye-yaye-yaye. The last two games have not been good for the Bulldogs, getting blown out at Auburn and then losing to the Vols. Now they've got LSU and Texas A&M before they welcome the Crimson Tide. Things could get a bit worse in the next 30 days for the boys from StarkVegas.
5. Oct. 26 vs. Arkansas
According to ESPN's FPI (Football Power Index), the Crimson Tide have a 98.8 percent chance of winning this game. (I'm guessing it's more like 125 percent chance, but I digress). I mean we're talking about a team that lost to San Jose State. The Tide can pretty much name their score here.
6. Nov. 23 vs. Western Carolina
These annual SEC vs. FCS matchups in November are the bane of my existence.
— 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.