- With a talented freshman quarterback, a strong group of running backs and wide receivers and a dominant defense, this might be coach Nick Saban's best team at Alabama.
This story appears in the December 12, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. To subscribe, click here.
You don't want Bama. We know, you think you do. We've seen you there, waving your poster board claiming that you indeed want the Crimson Tide. But look deep into your soul. Are you sure you want to subject your favorite team to what's about to happen? Really?
You wanted Bama back in 2014. That team had flaws that Ole Miss exposed in Oxford and that Ohio State gleefully took advantage of in the Sugar Bowl. You wanted Bama last year. That team needed Nick Saban to call an onside kick in the national title game because Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson kept tossing touchdown passes. But you don't want Bama now.
This might be Saban's best Alabama team, and he's already won four national titles with the Tide. The decision to start freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has made the offense a chimera that can beat defenses as an up-tempo spread or as a pro-style bulldozer. And while the 2011 defense had better numbers than this one, it played in a more boring football world. That '11 defense resembled Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator. The T-800 could blow up anything that moved in a predictable pattern, but it might have struggled with a jet sweep run-pass option. This year's D seems more like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. The T-1000 could liquefy itself and re-form in whatever shape the task required. Linebacker Tim Williams coming off one edge and defensive end Jonathan Allen coming off the other might be the football version of morphing one's arms into swords.
The Tide have grown adept at boosting other phases of their game when one lags. Consider the first quarter of their 54-16 win over Florida in the SEC championship. Alabama's offense was awful, running six plays for minus-seven yards. Yet the Tide ended the quarter up 16-9. Why? Because junior linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton's 40-yard interception return set up a field goal. Then sophomore cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown. Then sophomore running back Derrick Gore blocked a Florida punt and freshman running back Joshua Jacobs scooped up the ball and returned it 27 yards for another TD.
By the time Alabama's offense woke up and opened the second quarter with an 88-yard touchdown drive, the defense and special teams had thoroughly demoralized the Gators. The Tide's defense and special teams have combined to score 14 TDs, so an opponent can expect to be on the business end of one of these massive momentum-changers.
"We don't like that. We don't like giving up points," senior linebacker Reuben Foster said after the game. "We don't like giving up first downs. We hate that." Foster sat next to Saban as he spoke, and it's no accident that he sounded like his coach. No group of Alabama players since Saban arrived in 2007 has so parroted the man. If he has finally figured out how to insert copies of his brain into his horde of former five-star recruits, just put down that poster board. There is no hope for you or anyone.