By: Rajan Nanavati
In today’s world of shouting hot takes and living in recency bias, we’re way too quick to see every great team or performance that takes place and declare it to be the greatest of all time. After all, that’s what ups the viewership numbers and increases social media engagement, for better or for worse.
All of that notwithstanding: I’ve been watching college football for the better part of a quarter-century, and the 2018 University of Alabama Crimson Tide is one of the two greatest college football teams of my lifetime, and while I’m hesitant to call them the “best,” they might very well be a close second.
Entering Saturday night’s Alabama-LSU matchup, it seems laughable that some of the college football prognosticators and pundits believed the Tigers stood a chance. There’s a reason that LSU was 14-point underdogs, which represented the largest point margin for being underdogs in school history.
While they had gotten up to a #3 ranking in the nation, the Tigers were largely the same as what we’d seen in years past: an elite collection of blue-chip talent that was once again hindered by a moribund offense, thanks to getting virtually nothing from the quarterback position. It’s been the same story for LSU for the better part of a decade. LSU had scored 39 points in a game exactly once this season; by comparison, Alabama had scored at least 39 points in every game they played this season.
That’s why last night’s 29-0 shutout by the Crimson Tide shouldn’t really have been that much of a surprise. The last time Alabama came to Baton Rouge, the Tigers got shut out as well, so it’s not like this was a totally unforeseen outcome. And it wasn’t like the script was anything we hadn’t seen before:
Alabama ran it down LSU’s collective throat (281 yards as a team on the ground), quarterback Tua Tagovailoa made enormous play after enormous play, and the Tide’s defense absolutely suffocated LSU’s offense (the Tigers had 86 yards of offense through the first three quarters).
Barring a catastrophic and historic upset, there is no team standing in Alabama’s way to make it to the college football playoffs. It would be surprising if Mississippi State, Alabama’s opponent next week, is nothing more than tiny speedbump. After a tune-up game against the Citadel, the Tide will play Auburn on Thanksgiving weekend; you can bet Nick Saban won’t cease to remind his players what happened last year in the Iron Bowl. While Georgia – whom they’ll likely play in the SEC Championship game – will likely be the best team they play this season, the Bulldogs defense isn’t as good as it was last year, and the Tide’s offense is much better.
The only team that stands a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Alabama is Clemson, and that wouldn’t take place until the opening game of the college football playoffs, at the earliest. And it would still be a huge upset if the Tigers won.
To me, the 2001 University of Miami Hurricanes was the greatest college football team I’ve ever seen, and even as someone who went to a University that was arguably Miami’s most preeminent nemesis at the time (Virginia Tech), I’ll vehemently defend them as being not only the best college football team of my lifetime, but the best college football team of all time. If you don’t believe me, just go back and look at 1) the collection of talent on that team (if you took their second and third-string guys and formed a new football program with them alone, that hypothetical team would’ve been a top 10 football program in the nation); and 2) the average margin of victory in their wins. It’s absolutely absurd.
Ironically, you could start to say the same things with this Crimson Tide team. Year after year, Nick Saban keeps losing a staggering amount of blue chip talent to the NFL, and still doesn’t seem to miss a beat.
In the 2018 NFL Draft, Alabama had seven guys taken among the top 120 picks; six of those guys were stalwart starters on Saban’s hellacious defense, which to me, was one of the greatest defenses I’d ever seen already. So how the hell is it possible for that group to actually get better?
As someone who’ll die on the hill of pragmatism and perspective when it comes to sports discussion, there are always those rare times when it’s ok to veer to the side of hyperbole, especially when we’re witnessing greatness.
And we are definitely witnessing historic greatness when it comes to the 2018 Crimson Tide.