Let’s imagine the College Football Playoff without Alabama. I realize that’s an apocalyptic suggestion that’s not necessarily limited to SEC country.
But Colin Cowherd, now on Fox Sports 1, got me to thinking about his opinion about how the SEC is overrated. He doesn’t have Alabama in his top four. I’m starting to think he is right. Maybe the tub-thumping for SEC superiority is so ingrained in us we overlook SEC cracks in the armor.
Here’s the Alabama 2015 resume despite sitting at No. 2 in CFP top four:
— Wins over Top 25 teams: 1 (one). The Crimson Tide beat Tennessee 19-14 on Oct. 24 at home. That’s a Tennessee team that was unranked and 3-4. The Volunteers are still unranked in the AP and USA Today polls despite the CFP designation that not-so-coincidentally boosts Alabama’s case for the top four.
LSU, Georgia, Arkansas, Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn are all unranked Alabama opponents. Three other Alabama victories are over 7-5 Middle Tennessee State of Conference-USA, 1-11 Louisiana Monroe of the Sun Belt Conference and Football Championship Subdivision member Charleston South.
The thought that Crimson Tide doesn’t belong in the top four would certainly set off Phyllis of Mulga on a tirade. Her high opinion of Alabama has been supported by Condoleeza of Birmingham – the 66th U.S. Secretary of State whose father was a Alabama high school coach despite criticism from former Auburn coach Pat Dye she never had her hand in the dirt — and her 11 partners on the CFP committee.
What’s happened is Alabama coach Nick Saban’s teams have become so ingrained as the Alabama Death Star that we no longer look that closely at the Crimson Tide. Full disclosure: I don’t like Saban for his personality that treats coaching a football team like he is General Patton marching troops across Germany and I don’t like Alabama for the many myths that protect Paul “Bear” Bryant from his history of dragging his feet on integration until the 1970s.
But the points Colin Cowherd made and the ones I’ll expand upon here are valid.
Alabama’s loss is dismissed as one against a ranked team, but what is so impressive about the Rebels? They were beaten 38-10 by a Florida team that lost to the ACC’s Florida State 27-2 without scoring a touchdown. Ole Miss also lost to Memphis, 37-24, which finished third in the AAC West. The Rebels’ third loss to 7-5 Arkansas decided the matchup of the SEC Championship game between No. 2 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC West) and No. 18 Florida (10-2, 7-1 SEC East).
Prior to Ole Miss losing to Arkansas 53-52 in OT, the Rebels held the tiebreaker for the SEC West title based on a 43-37 road win over Alabama. But the Arkansas loss dropped Ole Miss to 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the SEC West and Alabama (11-1, 7-1) won the division.
At least this year we’re not hearing to suggestions to have for SEC teams in the playoffs. We heard that last year, but by the end of the season five of seven SEC West teams lost bowl games.
Yet four of them were ranked in the 2015 preseason poll. The Big Ten never would have withstood such scrutiny. The Big Ten, after all, is usually the easy target when the conference has a bowl season or a bad weekend of non-conference games early in the season.
Alabama, which lost to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, started the 2015 season ranked at No. 3.
Auburn was No. 6 after a bowl loss to Wisconsin.
Auburn is no longer ranked in 2015. LSU, no longer ranked, was No. 17 after a bowl loss to Notre Dame. Ole Miss now No. 21, was No. 14 after a 39-point bowl loss TCU. Arkansas won its bowl game and was ranked No. 18 in the preseason, but the Razorbacks went 7-5, including losses to Toledo and Texas Tech.
Now, allow me to take my skepticism over Alabama’s prowess to the Heisman Trophy. I don’t understand why Derrick Henry is considered such an overwhelming Heisman favorite. The same people tub-thumping for Henry were ready to give the award at mid-season to LSU’s Leonard Fournette. It reminds me of ESPN’s Mark May wanting to give Denard Robinson the Heisman two or three games into the 2010 season after beating Notre Dame.
Henry, a 6-foot-3, 242-pound junior, has benefitted from huge holes from his offensive line. There isn’t a tackler within 2 yards of him on some of his highlight runs to the second level. Maybe an Alabama offensive lineman deserves the Heisman.
Henry reminds me of Mark Ingram, who won the 2009 Heisman and was easily supplanted by Trent Richardson. Henry isn’t projected on Mel Kiper’s Big Board as a first-round draft pick. Ingram and Richardson were first-round draft picks, but they accomplished little in the NFL. Richardson is out of the league because he kept running into the backs of his offensive linemen.
My favorites are Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Stanford running back and return specialist Christian McCaffrey. They have some wiggle that Henry lacks to make more plays on their own.
If Alabama wins the national title, it will have earned it. If it doesn’t and Henry wins the Heisman, that’s quite a haul for a team and player that may not be worthy.
For the record, allow me to state I recognize the SEC is the best conference year in and year out; but that’s not the case this season. But it should be the best. That’s where the football talent is mined and where schools provide unlimited resources.
If Alabama is the best the SEC has to offer in 2015, the Tide should be ranked No. 5. Understand it’s a fine line between the top five or even top eight, but Alabama should be left out.