TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — How good was Alabama's offense last season?
The starting quarterback, running back, two wide receivers and the left tackle are already listed as starters on their respective NFL teams, as rookies.
We're guessing that might be a league first.
In their wake, though, Alabama has new players at all those key positions, plus a new offensive coordinator. Bill O'Brien's resume is impressive, but it's not like he can walk in, call the plays with unfamiliar personnel and everything just automatically clicks.
Football isn't like that, regardless of how good the players involved may be.
Alabama led the SEC in points per game in 2020, at 48.5. The Crimson Tide has scored at least 30 points in 26 games, the longest active streak in college football. It also scored 35 or more points in 28 of the last 29 games.
Nick Saban's team also did so while playing an SEC-only schedule last season. It averaged 561.3 total yards per game, nearly 40 more on average than any of the coaches' other teams.
It scored a touchdown every 10.7 offensive snaps. Factor in field goals and it drops to every 9.2 plays.
|Year ||Total ||Scoring||Rushing||Pass Effic.|
You just can't expect Alabama to match that this year.
Even though the defense should be better, giving the offense more opportunities, it seems highly unlikely that anyone on the Crimson Tide will post Doak Walker Award-type numbers, or a wide receiver have another Heisman Trophy-winning season.
That there will be a decline seems inevitable given the circumstances.
But two sets of statistics indicate that it may not be overly significant.
1) Alabama has scored at least 45.6 points per game over each of the last three seasons. That's with different coordinators, coaches and playmakers.
2) The Crimson Tide also topped the nation in passer efficiency over those same three years, as Mac Jones set an NCAA single-season record (203.1) in 2020.
Be Careful of Tua Comparisons
Fans believing that they're about to see the second coming, or a right-handed version of Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback with Bryce Young need to temper their expectations somewhat, especially for the first few games.
For one, when Tagovailoa beat out Jalen Hurts to be the starter in 2018, he had more experience running the Crimson Tide offense. One of the biggest drawbacks to playing the 10-game SEC-only schedule season last year was that Saban wasn't able to develop some of the younger players like he normally would.
Young got into nine games, but was just 13-for-22 for 156 yards (average of just 17.3), with one passing touchdown.
As a true freshman, Tagovailoa played in eight games and completed 49 of 77 passes for 636 yards, with 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
However, he was also coming off leading the second-half comeback in the overtime win against Georgia in the national championship game, plus, and this might be the key, had the same offensive coordinator, Mike Locksley.
As a sophomore, Tagovailoa was 245 of 355 for 3,966 yards, 43 touchdown passes vs. six picks, and a passer rating of 199.4 while finishing second for the Heisman Trophy. Yet he still had to grow into the role. During his first start against Louisville, he was 12-for-16 for 226 yards (with three touchdowns, two passing).
Could Young post comparable numbers? Sure, he has that kind of potential.
But he still has to earn it.
Miami is beginning to reclaim some of the lost swagger that the program used to be known for, but the No. 14 Hurricanes are still nowhere near what they used to be during their formidable years.
For example, earlier this week defensive line coach Jess Simpson said Alabama's offensive line last season "was probably" the best in college football history.
That's a long way from what wide receiver Lamar Thomas said before the national championship meeting in 1993 Sugar Bowl. It included:
“It’s just a ‘Cane thing,” he said about Miami's trademark trash-talking. “Those boys from Alabama should just come in and be quiet and try to play football. They shouldn’t come out and try to keep up with the way we talk.”
Of course, Alabama ended up thumping Miami and essentially ended the Hurricanes' dynasty. It spanned three coaches.
When former Alabama assistant coach Howard Schnellenberger was hired in 1979, the Hurricanes were coming off a decade in which they had six head coaches and nine losing seasons. After shocking Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl, 31-30, to win the program’s first national championship, he left for the United States Football League.
Jimmy Johnson (52-9) and Dennis Erickson (63-9) followed and continued one of greatest runs in college football.
From 1987-91, Miami won three national titles and missed a fourth by a point due to a controversial 31-30 loss to Notre Dame. During those five seasons, the Hurricanes went 56-4 and were considered both the giants and outlaws of the sport. For example, in 1989, the Hurricanes didn’t allow a touchdown for one 10-quarter stretch, held six opponents without a touchdown and allowed 9.3 points per game.
From 1983-92, Miami went 107-14 (.884), 35-12 (.745) against ranked teams and 23-8 (.742) verses top-10 opponents. The Hurricanes also had 80 players selected in the NFL draft, including 15 first-rounders.
This isn't just a matchup of the the programs that can boast the biggest recent dynasties in college football (USC should have had one, but didn't, and Florida State under Bobby Bowden is third in comparison), but they might be the biggest dynasties in college football history.
Kicking This Matchup Around
Alabama vs. Miami could determine the winner of a national individual award, as it includes the kicker who didn't miss last season, and the brother of the one who won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's best kicker.
Andres Borregales is the latter. He's a freshman, but older brother Jose finished 20-for-22 on field goal attempts and a perfect 37-for-37 on extra-point attempts during regular season. Both of his misses were from beyond 40 yards, and he had 51 touchbacks on 72 kickoff attempts. His longest was from 57 yards.
Jose Borregales is also the all-time leading scorer at FIU with 281 career points.
Alabama's Will Reichard was a perfect 98-for-98 overall, including 14-of-14 on field goals and 84 point-after attempts. He averaged 52.4 yards per kickoff average on 69 attempts with 14 touchbacks. His longest field goal was 52 yards.
How important could having the ball last be in this game?
Odds Moving in Alabama's Favor
• While there's been a lot of talk about Alabama's personnel and coaching staff turnover, and whether the Crimson Tide should really be atop the preseason polls, oddsmakers are liking its title chances as the season opener in Atlanta approaches. According to BetOline, Alabama opened at 7/2 odds back on Jan. 12, and is now at 13/5. Texas A&M is up from 40/1 to 22/1, but the primary contenders are Clemson 21/4, Georgia and Oklahoma 13/2, and Ohio State 7/1. Of course, Clemson and Georgia square off on Saturday night.
• The odds are getting shorter for Young as a top Heisman Trophy candidate as well. He's gone from 12/1 to 9/1, matching Georgia quarterback JT Daniels, who was originally listed as 5/1. Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler has remained the frontrunner at 5/1.
• The line on Alabama vs. Miami has risen as well. The game opened with the Crimson Tide favored by 18, but has elevated to 19½ points.
• The over/under on Alabama wins during the regular season is a staggering 11.5. Texas A&M is 9.5 and LSU 8.
• After being named the starter for the New England Patriots, Jones became the frontrunner for NFL offensive rookie of the year. He's listed as 5-2, ahead of former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (4-1), the first-overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft.
• When Jones and Tagovailoa square off next week with the Dolphins opening at the Patriots (FYI, CBS has the rights), it'll be the first time two former Alabama quarterbacks have met in an NFL game since 1983. Richard Todd and the visiting Jets defeated Kenny Stabler and the Saints, 31-28, on Monday Night Football.
• Kudos to Tagovailoa for how he's handled all the trade rumors surrounding the Dolphins and Deshaun Watson. "I don’t know if I can be more clear,” Miami coach Brian Flores said. “I don’t know how many times I’ll say it. I don’t know how much more clear I can be here. Tua is the starter. I mean, if I need to say it again, I will.”
• Only once has Alabama's offense failed to score a touchdown in the first quarter of a season opener during the Saban era. It happened the last time the Crimson Tide played in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, against Duke. Alabama went on to win 42-3. Overall, the Crimson Tide is 14-0 during its openers under Saban, having outscored its opponents 566-163, and outgained them 6,157-3,007 yards.
• Can you name the quarterback who threw for 365 yards against Saban and Alabama in a neutral-site setting? Clint Trickett of West Virginia did so in 2014, but the Crimson Tide still won in Atlanta, 33-23.
• Over the last 12 seasons, Alabama's record of 151-15 translates to a .910 winning percentage. That’s the best success rate across a dozen seasons for any major college football program since 1900. It even topped Oklahoma’s .909 mark from 1947-58, which included the Sooners’ record 47-game winning streak.
Did You Notice?
The note on the kickers was updated to clarify Andres and Jose Borregales are brothers.
Christopher Walsh's notes column All Things CW appears weekly on BamaCentral
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — How good was Alabama's offense last season?
The starting quarterback, running back, two wide receivers and the left tackle are already listed as starters on their respective NFL teams, as rookies. Subscribe for full article
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