• This week, for the first time all season, Alabama received every first-place vote in the Coaches Poll ... except for one Clemson holdout. Who is petty enough to think the Crimson Tide aren't the class of college football?
By Sam Brief
November 06, 2018

It’s obvious that Alabama is the best team in college football. Right?

After the Crimson Tide went to Death Valley and shut out LSU for the third time this decade, the nation’s No. 1 team seemed to be more indisputable fact than debate. Yes, the team that racks up 51 points per game and allows just 14, that has steamrolled SEC opponents by an average of 34 points on the strength of the Heisman shoo-in and the greatest college football coach ever—yeah, that’s the best team in America.

But this week’s Coaches Poll came with a surprising nugget: One coach ranked Clemson, not Alabama, as the No. 1 team in the land.

How? Why?

First, a disclaimer: It’s a relatively open college football secret that few head coaches actually fill out the ballots with their names on them on a weekly basis, for any number of reasons but mainly because they have much more important things to do. That said, if a staffer or media relations rep went rogue, eventually the coach would theoretically step in and tell his assistant to fall in line with consensus. In every other week this season, Clemson has received multiple first-place votes, so Week 10’s results changed someone’s mind, leaving one last mysterious outlier.

The Crimson Tide are so good that even Alabama fans were left chanting “We Want Bama” after their domination of LSU, since there’s simply no one else in their way. They’re so good that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hadn’t needed to take a snap in the fourth quarter until Saturday. Not only is Alabama the clear-cut No. 1 this year, it may finish among the best squads college football has ever seen.

But one coach’s ballot has kept Clemson at No. 1. This absurdity calls for an all-out investigation.

To be clear, Clemson is undoubtedly No. 2, and the Tigers are a near-lock for the playoff. Dabo Swinney’s team just lit up Louisville and can wrap up a trip to the ACC title game with a win over Boston College on Saturday. But Clemson needed last-second heroics to beat Syracuse (albeit with a third-string QB) and barely edged Texas A&M. Not to mention, a worse Alabama team throttled Clemson in the Playoff last year, 24–6.

Sixty-five coaches vote in the Coaches Poll (scroll down that link for the full list). All of them correctly think Alabama is No. 1—except for one. Let’s break down the most likely dissenters.

Suspect No. 1: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Motive: Shouldn’t Dabo think his team is No. 1? The Tigers have beaten Alabama before, and they can do it again. He came under fire at the end of last season, when the ballots are made public, for putting Ohio State at No. 4 instead of Alabama, which Dabo later called “a moment of insanity,” so he’s no stranger to voting controversies. And it’s not unprecedented for a coach to unjustly put his team at No. 1—Lane Kiffin did it in 2012. Riding the high of a 77-point outburst, Dabo aimed to keep his team’s confidence up by keeping them on top.

Rebuttal: Dabo’s a vet, and he knows better. He’s also an Alabama grad, so he’s unlikely to diss his alma mater. He knows he has to take down the Tide on the field—and not in the Coaches Poll—to make this season a success.

Verdict: Very unlikely. If it came out that Dabo voted Clemson No. 1 when Alabama is the obvious choice, he’d be ripped to shreds. He’s smarter than this.

Suspect No. 2: Gus Malzahn, Auburn

Motive: In a rivalry as fierce as Auburn-Alabama, you take every chance you get to undercut the opponent. Clemson also stymied Auburn last year, and Malzahn’s Tigers rolled over the Crimson Tide in the Iron Bowl. He’s feeling Clemson-positive right now.

Rebuttal: SEC! SEC! SEC! Malzahn would never betray the nation’s preeminent conference.

Verdict: Unlikely. The Iron Bowl could get ugly if Malzahn doesn’t turn Auburn’s offense around, and that’s before bulletin board material is taken into account.

Suspect No. 3: Bobby Petrino, Louisville

Motive: Petrino’s Louisville squad just got shelled by Clemson—anytime your team loses by 61, no matter how much of a dumpster fire your season has been, the opponent’s pedestal can’t be high enough. The Cardinals have played both Alabama and Clemson, and the Tide didn’t put up 77. In his eyes, Clemson reigns supreme. Plus, he used to coach at Auburn.

Rebuttal: One game isn’t indicative of the whole season—Petrino knows that. And Louisville was blown out by Alabama too, 51–14.

Verdict: Likely. Petrino was too down in the dumps to catch Alabama’s win over LSU. So maybe he stuck it out with the team that most recently pasted his beloved Cardinals.

Suspect No. 4: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Motive: In the late 90s, Saban coached Michigan State. According to a Wall Street Journal story, this is how he left:

In late 1999, after a 9–2 season, Saban felt the school owed him a bonus and was disappointed when it didn't come immediately. After reports surfaced that Saban was talking with LSU, a team of Michigan State administrators led by Joel Ferguson, a trustee, went to Saban's house one Saturday night. Saban denied being in talks with LSU—he said the school had simply reached out to him. But something struck the administrators as odd: Terry wasn't home.

"Joel said, 'Nick where's Terry?'" said Underwood, who was in the group. "He said she was at the store. But then he asked again: "Nick, is Terry in Baton Rouge?' And he said, 'Yes, she's there now.'" The next morning, Saban left for LSU.

In an attempt at petty revenge, Dantonio stands up for the Spartans.

Rebuttal: Saban leaving Michigan State is part of the reason why Dantonio has the job. He doesn’t care about the past.

Verdict: Very unlikely. Saban and Dantonio have a longstanding relationship, and the latter credits Saban for mentorship and for where he is today. Dantonio would never do this.

Suspect No. 5: Mike Bloomgren, Rice

Motive: Rice is in the midst of a pitiful season in year one under Bloomgren. The Owls are 1–9, and they just lost to UTEP, which snapped the Miners’ 20-game losing streak. Vying for attention, Bloomgren spurns the place where he started his coaching career as a graduate assistant.

Rebuttal: He has no reason to do such a thing. That argument makes no sense.

Verdict: Unlikely. His motive is weak. Plus, it’s clearly Petrino.

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