Alabama football: Tide fall 1 step short of history, but 1 simple thing didn’t beat them

Good morning. The Rammer Jammer is a daily rundown of everything you need to know about Alabama athletics, published every weekday morning.

Football is like that.

College football, especially. It’s not definitive. It forces the pain of “what-if” on you. It’s fragile. It lives in the margins, and it can swing on the smallest of things, or a cascade of the smallest of things tumbling into one another. It’s messy.

The broad strokes of Alabama’s loss in the national championship game to Clemson are obvious. The offense was entirely stagnant, particularly on third down. The passing offense was inconsistent at best. The defense couldn’t get off the field on third down, and saw nearly 100 plays. The offensive line got dogged. DeShaun Watson was unstoppable, and Mike Williams was unguardable.

It’s tempting, but impossible, to boil down a result like this to one, simple thing, but college football (and the world, really), doesn’t work like that. Alabama didn’t lose all because a few pick plays went uncalled. It’s impossible to say definitively that they lost because of Lane Kiffin’s absence, or because Bo Scarbrough got hurt. You can’t hang it all on third-down offense, or third-down defense, or pass interference or defensive backs. It’s that, and a hundred other moments, bounces and decisions that led to one indisputable truth: Clemson beat Alabama, 35-31.

College football is big and unwieldy and messy. It’s impossible to be “unbeatable” in this sport. It’s impossible to be definitively “the greatest.” Hell, it’s impossible to decide who’s really the best team in any given year. That’s part of why “The Process” is so appealing. Nick Saban’s philosophy of process-oriented thinking means that his team focuses on what it can control — the replicable process — to generate the outcome it would like as often as possible — the uncontrollable result. When Saban says after a game like Monday night’s that “one game doesn’t define who we are,” that’s what he means.

That game — and it was a hell of a game — shouldn’t be used to settle any debates, or to draw any conclusions, save one: Clemson is the national champion, and Alabama ends its season 14-1, a step short of history.

What they’re saying nationally

Closer to home

Built by Bama

It’s impossible to ignore Clemson coach Dabo Swinney’s Alabama ties, something of a double-edged sword after Monday night’s loss. Swinney was a walk-on wide receiver at Alabama who nearly joined Nick Saban’s staff once upon a time. Now he’s the fifth active coach to win a national championship, having beaten the teams that won the last seven at some point this season (which is a bit of a skewed stat, because Alabama holds four of the seven).

There’s a reason Swinney is a favored choice to replace Saban whenever he chooses to retire. He can recruit, having plucked Watson out of Georgia to play at a school that hadn’t even beaten its in-state rival in a half-decade when he joined. He’s an excellent football coach that has surrounded himself with an intelligent staff, and who’s led his team to a national championship and runner-up finish in the last two years. And he’s relatively young among coaches — 47 years of age. It would make sense for, as coach Paul W. Bryant said, “Mama called.”

There are some among the Alabama fan base who are horrified by this notion, and they have their legitimate reasons. Swinney is as country-fried as they come, for good and ill. He’s a far cry from Nick Saban’s measured, processed regime. He’s talkative, he’s not bashful about his own beliefs, and he’s emotional. The only thing the two men have in common is winning.

But at the moment, he’s the most proven option, should the day arrive soon (which I’m not saying it will). Objections to Swinney are fine and good, and there are legitimate reasons for them. But it’s an admission that the first criteria for Alabama’s head coaching position should not, apparently, be “will this person win the most football games,” but either some more nebulous standard of behavior that includes a certain aloofness while also dominating the competition or a set of personality traits not at all related to football. The latter reason sounds a lot like the Mike Shula years. The former? Well, there’s a reason there are only a handful of Bryants and Sabans in history. If you’re waiting on another one, you may be waiting a while.

Around the Capstone

So, football season’s over. There’s no parade to look forward to, signing day is a ways away, and A-Day even further in the distance. What’s an Alabama fan to do?

To start with, there’s a basketball team making strides in SEC play that hosts no. 23 Florida on Tuesday night. On the women’s side of the roundball, Alabama’s looking at what could be a breakthrough year for Kristy Curry, and one of the best seasons for the program in decades. The Tide women host Kentucky on Thursday. And of course, there’s gymnastics, which is currently ranked fourth in the nation, and hosts No. 1 LSU on Friday. 

Opening day for baseball is on Feb. 17, when Alabama opens the Greg Goff era against Presbyterian. The women’s and men’s golf teams, perennial contenders, start play on Feb. 12 and Feb. 19, respectively. Softball, itself a national title contender, will start its season on Feb. 10. The tennis teams begin play next weekend, and of course, a swimming team that is rapidly rising to national prominence under coach Dennis Pursley’s direction continues its season on Jan. 21 when it hosts Florida State.

That’s nearly a dozen Alabama sports to follow in some capacity, all of which are compelling, and a few of which could be national champions. It’s worth looking into.

As for me, it’s been a great pleasure to be the voice that starts your day all throughout this remarkable football season. Thanks for reading and following along. I’ll see y’all tomorrow.