Long before he won a national championship, and was the Alabama coordinator of the unit that was coming off back-to-back years of ranking first in college football in total defense, Kirby Smart made a notable admission in 2013.
Even though the Crimson Tide had to regularly replace high-profile players and coaches, and was in the middle of finishing in the top five in total defense nine times over an incredible 10-year span, Alabama didn't compare itself to other programs for measuring its success.
It did so against other Crimson Tide defenses.
“We kind of have a standard here at Alabama,” Smart said. “A lot of people think our standard is to be first in the SEC, be first in the country, first in our red zone and run defense. We really don't go by that motto. We go by be the best Alabama defense there's been.
"We compare ourselves to the last five years of Alabama defenses. When you do that, last year's defense was not exactly up to par, not exactly spectacular. We put in a lot of work to improve on defense.”
Nick Saban has obviously had to pivot away from the defense wins championships mentality (although stopping opponents is still crucial). The current rules give offenses too many advantages that can be exploited, and the coach changed with the times.
However, we're going to take a page from Smart's statement and compare the 2021 Crimson Tide to the other Saban-led teams at Alabama in the major team statistical categories. Not only will the change in coaching philosophy be apparent, some of the numbers may alter your thinking about some of the past 15 seasons.
Note: The order is based on that year's ranking in total offense or defense. We're including the other three major categories to help add a little perspective.
Alabama Offensive Production, Saban Era
Year Total (Rank); Scoring; Rushing; Pass Eff.
- 2020 561.3 ( 5); 48.5 ( 2); 168.3 (39); 211.8 ( 1)
- 2018 522.0 ( 6); 45.6 ( 3); 198.4 (42); 197.3 ( 1)
- 2019 510.8 ( 6); 47.2 ( 2); 168.5 (56); 199.6 ( 1)
- 2021 488.2 ( 7); 39.9 ( 6); 150.0 (75); 166.5 ( 7)
- 2014 484.5 (17); 36.9 (15); 206.6 (35); 155.7 (10)
- 2010 444.1 (22); 35.7 (18); 182.9 (29); 167.8 ( 5)
- 2016 455.3 (23); 38.8 (16); 245.0 (12); 143.3 (34)
- 2017 444.1 (29); 37.1 (15); 250.6 (13); 156.0 (10)
- 2012 445.5 (31); 38.7 (12); 227.5 (16); 174.3 ( 1)
- 2011 429.6 (31); 43.9 (20); 214.5 (16); 142.5 (35)
- 2013 454.1 (33); 38.2 (17); 205.6 (25); 164.5 ( 7)
- 2009 403.0 (42); 32.1(22); 215.1 (12); 138.5 (24)
- 2015 427.1 (45); 35.1 (30); 199.9 (32); 143.5 (34)
- 2008 355.8 (63); 30.1 (35); 184.6 (30); 124.1 (65)
- 2007 373.8 (75); 27.1 (64); 149.2 (60); 115.9 (86)
- Derrick Henry, running back, 2015.
- DeVonta Smith, wide receiver, 2020.
- Bryce Young, quarterback, 2020.
It's interesting to note that Alabama's first two Heisman Trophy winners, Mark Ingram Jr. and Derrick Henry, were statistically on two of the worst offenses (pound-and-grind ground games don't translate well when compared to high-flying passing attacks), while DeVonta Smith and Bryce Young were on two of the best.
With AJ McCarron leading the nation in 2013, as efficiency rating is how the NCAA determines its passing champion, the Crimson Tide has been in the top 10 of that statistical category nine times.
Alabama Defensive Production, Saban Era
Year Total (Rank); Scoring; Rushing; Pass Eff.
- 2011 183.6 ( 1); 8.2 ( 1); 72.2 ( 1); 83.7 (1)
- 2012 250.0 ( 1); 10.9 ( 1); 76.4 ( 1); 103.7 (7)
- 2017 260.4 ( 1); 11.9 ( 1); 94.7 ( 1); 96.78 (2)
- 2009 244.1 ( 2); 11.7 ( 2); 78.1 (2); 87.7 (2)
- 2016 261.8 ( 2); 13.0 ( 1); 63.9 ( 1); 106.5 (9)
- 2008 263.5 ( 3); 14.3 ( 7); 74.1 (2); 106.7 (14)
- 2015 276.3 ( 3); 15.1 ( 3); 75.7 ( 1); 105.2 (8)
- 2010 286.4 ( 5); 13.5 ( 3); 110.2 (10) 103.5 (6)
- 2013 286.5 ( 5); 13.9 ( 4); 106.2 ( 7); 116.8 (26)
- 2021 304.1 ( 7); 20.13 (20); 86.0 ( 4); 132.5 (63)
- 2014 328.4 (12); 18.4 ( 6); 102.4 ( 4); 116.5 (30)
- 2018 319.5 (16); 18.1 (12); 121.3 (19); 115.8 (23)
- 2019 324.4 (20); 18.6 (13); 137.2 (37); 109.8 (4)
- 2007 345.5 (31); 22.9 (27); 124.2 (28); 117.2 (38)
- 2020 352.2 (32); 19.4 (13); 113.1 (17); 119.4 (18)
Perhaps the most impressive statistic in that whole bunch is that Alabama has been in the top five of rushing defense nine times, and in the top 10 in all but four.
This is the foundation of our statistical breakdown that you'll see here over the coming weeks and months as the Crimson Tide makes the transition into the 2022 football season. Alabama returns both the best player in the nation on offense (Young) and defense (Will Anderson Jr., as we profiled sacks last week), and the bar will be set high on both sides of the ball.
How Good Was Last Year's Crimson Tide?
The 2020 Alabama football team might have been the best in program history, especially when considering all the postseason accolades, but the 2020-21 basketball team might end up being remembered in similar fashion.
Here's what some of the players whom have left the program are doing this season:
• Herb Jones has taken his lockdown defense to the NBA and his shooting has only continued to improve. He's a strong candidate for the league's all-defensive team, and over the past month is averaging 12.1 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.1 blocks in 32.0 minutes for the Pelicans. He scored 26 points during a recent game against the Cavaliers.
• Josh Primo has been back and forth between the Spurs and the Austin Toros, and is really beginning to impress. He recently scored a career-high 15 points against the Raptors. This past Sunday he took on former teammate John Petty Jr. and the Birmingham Squadron, and finished with a career-high 24 points.
• Petty came off the bench to grab six rebounds and drained a three in that game against Primo, with Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats in attendance. During his first 19 games with the Squadron, he's averaging 7.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 25.0 minutes.
• Jordan Bruner has played in 13 games for Imortal Albufeira in the Portuguese Basketball League. He recently had a double-double and is averaging 8.6 points and 6.5 rebounds.
As for other Alabama players playing professionally, JaMychal Green is with the Denver Nuggets and Collin Sexton with the Cavaliers is out for the regular season after suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee in November.
Levi Randolph has Filou Oostende off to a perfect 14-0 record in league play in the Dutch Basketball League.
Retin Obasohan is leading the Israeli Basketball Super League in points and three-point percentage. Playing for Hapoel Jerusalem, he was recently named the top Belgian abroad.
Donta Hall is playing for AS Monaco. Mykal Riley is playing in the French NM1 league for Les Sables Vendee and leads his team in scoring. Tony Mitchell, and Alonzo Gee are both playing in the Taiwan T1 League.
5 Things That Got Our Attention This Week
2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Update
Let's hope that Matt Norlander was correct when he wrote about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday: "Projections from scientists and medical experts have the wave significantly reducing by the time March arrives, which will be good news for the NCAA."
Nevertheless, in an interview with NCAA senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt, who runs the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, it was noted that many of the COVID protocols regarding March Madness won't be decided until sometime next month.
"Like we did last year, we want to make sure to exercise patience and not make decisions before they're necessary to be made," he said. :With omicron being on us and unpredictable, it didn't make sense to make final decisions on medical protocols until we got more experience and data."
Gavitt said that 25 completed games will be the threshold for selection eligibility, which can include up to four non-Division I games, plus contests in a post-season conference tourney, though there is still a waiver process in place for specific situations.
The Latest on SEC Expansion, Realignment
Texas A&M Ross Bjork gave the latest on expansion and realignment, which is not much as there's too many balls are the air regarding the College Football Playoff and what he called the "Division I transformational process."
Expansion: "To get specific on his question, do you think there will be new pressure for non-SEC schools to join the SEC because of all of this? I don't think so. I think 16 is where we need to sit, until we get through some of this NCAA transformation process. To me, we need to be comfortable with with where we are. One, we don't even know when Texas and Oklahoma will come in for sure. 2025 is what we're modeling and planning for. But does that happen sooner? So I don't think there's going to be any new pressures for programs to want to look at the SEC. There's contracts in place in other leagues. So who's even available? I think the SEC should sit tight.
Realignment: "I think realignment is stable for now. But as we go through this transformation, that's where you could see people say, ‘Hey, wait a second, this isn't the model that we desire because we want this’. And are there enough schools that are like-minded in this category that would want to change that model? So I think we're still several steps away from any sort of tipping point."
As for the shape and scope of the upcoming NCAA transformation, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said on Serius XM: "We're going to change or die."
Big Ten Might Get Rid of Divisions
According to the Athletic, the Big Ten is discussing the possibility of eliminating divisions in football and changing the number of conference games it places each season, going from nine down to eight.
This would potentially go in the opposite direction of the SEC, which is considering numerous options including four, four-team divisions and having a nine-game conference schedule.
“One of the things that we're watching is whether it's related to The Alliance, which we're talking through and/or, what gives us the best opportunity to have the most success in the College Football Playoff format," Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said. "We’re wondering if we're going to know what the format is before we have to make that decision. So, we're kind of waiting to see where that lands. But we have had active conversations about the schedule beyond 2022.
He added: “Anything we do as a conference has to make our conference better, and so that's the 10,000-foot principle that we're operating from."
Nebraska Athletic Director Trev Alberts told the Huskers Radio Network about future scheduling: "I would anticipate in the future that there would be some fairly significant change in what scheduling looks like."
Who's left at LSU?
You have noticed that Sharon Lewis, the associate athletic director who filed a $50 million federal racketeering lawsuit against LSU, claims to have been fired in retaliation.
She's asked the court to add it to her long list of accusations, including being denied pay raises and being verbally abused after reporting former football coach Les Miles had made racist remarks and had sexually harassed female student workers.
"The wrongful termination of Sharon Lewis by LSU is a continuation of the retaliation she has endured for reporting violations" of the federal sex discrimination law known as Title IX and of state law, Lewis' attorneys said in a statement, per The Advocate.
While a federal judge has rejected the racketeering claims, the case is still very much alive and ongoing.
Meanwhile, LSU athletics have had 40 personnel changes in the past month, including reassignments and departures, per school spokesman Ernie Ballard.
Keep an Eye on the NIL Summit
From our own Ross Dellenger at Sports Illustrated, the new NIL Summit in June will help college athletes optimize opportunities about earning compensation from their name, image and likeness.
“The long-term goal is to have thousands of athletes come to Atlanta every year for this,” says Jason Belzer, one of the founders of SANIL, an agency dedicated to assisting athletes, brands and schools in navigating NIL. “We want this to be their event and have them help shape the future of college athletes.”
Belzer expects more than 400 athletes to attend the inaugural event.
The cost for student-athletes is a $500 registration fee with NCAAA rules permitting schools to pay for the attendance of their student-athletes.
On The Move in the NFL?
There are four notable former Crimson Tide players set to become free agents in the NFL: Ravens offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman, Jaguars tackle Cam Robinson (who is only 26), Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower and Broncos safety Kareem Jackson.
It seems likely that Bozeman (who could go from making about $650,000 this past year to $10 million a season) and Hightower will re-sign with their teams. The biggest question is Robinson, the No. 34 overall pick in the 2017 draft who played last season on a franchise tag.
There's a lot of speculation that Jacksonville could take Evan Neal with the first-overall pick, which is slated for $41.5 million over four years including a $27 signing bonus. Free agency begins March 16, so the decision to re-sign Robinson will be a strong indication of what the Jaguars plan to do in the draft.
Other looming free agents to watch are Cam Sims, Levi Wallace, Reggie Ragland, J.C. Hassenauer.
This year will also be when NFL teams have to make some decisions on the players selected in the 2019 draft, and whether to execute fifth-year option. One former Crimson Tide standout to watch will be Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, who after being a first-round selection signed a four-year, $11.93 million contract with $6.7 million signing bonus.
In 2022, Jacobs will earn a base salary of $2.1 million, but the Raiders are in the process of hiring a new general manager and coach who might see things a little differently about how they view running backs.
Last year, linebacker Rashaan Evans didn't have his option picked up by the Titans, but wide wide receiver Calvin Ridley did by the Falcons only to see him step away from football this past season. Both will likely be on new teams next season, but for very different reasons.
Did You Notice?
Christopher Walsh's notes column All Things CW appears on Fridays on BamaCentral.