Alabama took a major blow in the College Football Playoff national championship game. Even though Clemson is losing several of its best players, observers no longer perceive the Crimson Tide as unbeatable.
Now, Alabama is surely in for a spring and summer of hot takes. Major programs and top SEC rivals likely figure that beating the Crimson Tide is within reach. Don’t believe them. Regardless of a devastating loss in the national championship game, Alabama remains college football’s best program.
Think about how much had to go right for hyper-talented Clemson to beat Alabama just once. The Crimson Tide failed to convert a single third down play after the first quarter. Star running back Bo Scarbrough missed the second half with a broken leg. Alabama’s defense was on the field for nearly 100 plays. Clemson’s Mike Williams made several highlight-reel catches.
Even with all those advantages, it took breath-taking play by Deshaun Watson, maybe the most clutch player in college football, to sneak past the Tide 35-31. Had Hunter Renfrow bobbled the catch in the end zone, we might be talking about 2016 Alabama among the greatest teams of all time. Before All-American safety Eddie Jackson was injured, the Tide defense entered the conversation for best of all time.
Turning Hurts into success
One of Alabama’s greatest weaknesses will soon become a strength: quarterback. Many Tide fans were upset with true freshman Jalen Hurts for accumulating just 131 yards and 4.2 yards per pass attempt in the loss. Without a doubt, not having a downfield passing game was killer against Clemson’s defense front, and even against Washington in the national semifinal.
However, few young quarterbacks arrive on campus with well-developed downfield accuracy. Hurts will get better; he could soon be unstoppable.
Think about it: Alabama got to the College Football Playoff in three consecutive years with three different quarterbacks. The Crimson Tide should have consistency at the position for at least two more years, and maybe three.
More than anything else, Alabama has obscene talent, resources and infrastructure. Nick Saban pulled in the No. 1 overall recruiting class every year since 2011. While Ohio State has a shot to edge them by National Signing Day on Feb. 1, the Crimson Tide will once again wallow in talent.
Alabama holds commitments from three of 2017’s top-10 players — including No. 1 overall prospect Najee Harris. However, the Tide are so set at running back that Harris might not even get on the field next season.
Offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, meanwhile, might compete for Cam Robinson’s starting left tackle spot right away.
Even after losing elite players Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and Reuben Foster, Alabama has another cluster of 5-star prospects in sight. Expect to see Dylan Moses (No. 7 in the class of 2017), Mack Wilson (No. 15 in the class of 2016) and Da’Shawn Hand (No. 5 in the class of 2014) move into superstar roles. No other program can replace that much talent that quickly, not even Ohio State or Clemson.
Alabama lost in the national title game. And yet …
Alabama remains college football’s most dominant team. What other program can compete with the Tide’s talent and coaching? Along with UConn women’s basketball, Alabama football in the conversation for most dominant college athletic program in any major sport.
Until Saban retires, it’s hard to see that changing.