It’s that time of year again: College football fans are coming to grips with Alabama’s dominance and the fact that the Crimson Tide are about to embark on another national title chase.
The 2016 version has been particularly great. Outside of a close call at Ole Miss — a game in which ‘Bama outscored its opponent 45-6 at one point — the Tide have been crushing all challengers.
Fans have already seen several championships in their lifetime, so the question is not “Can we win the title this year?” — as it is for nearly every other fan base — but “Is this year’s eventual champion as good or better than last year’s? How about 2012? 2011? 2009 …” and so on.
We’ll be able to do a full statistical breakdown after the season, but let’s jump the gun a bit and see how the current group compares to Nick Saban’s past teams.
Here are some basic stats to get the conversation started (all numbers through 8 games):
Point differential vs. Top-25 opponents
|Season||PD avg.||PD (games played)|
Point differential vs. SEC opponents
|Season||PD avg.||PD (games played)|
What does it mean? This year’s squad has already played more AP Top 25 teams than any of the other four champions through eight games, and it has the second-highest point differential average (plus 25.6).
The 2011 and 2012 teams destroyed their SEC competition, but those opponents were not collectively as tough as this year’s opponents (refer back to Top-25 numbers).
It’s also worth mentioning that both the 2011 and 2012 teams lost conference games later in the season, but both of those “L”s came against teams that finished with a top-5 ranking. This year’s Alabama team doesn’t figure to come across a potential top-5 team until the College Football Playoff.
Defensive dominance rating vs. Top-25/SEC opponents
Let’s get sabermetric! I just created a measurement on the spot: the Defensive Dominance Rating (DDR — not to be confused with the “Dance Dance Revolution” video game or the vile DDT spray). It’s derived from a simple equation: The number of turnovers forced divided by the number of first downs allowed. Let’s see how this shakes out …
|Season||DDR avg.||DDR (games played)|
What does it mean? This is by no means a perfect formula (ideally, it would include more detailed data about three-and-outs, fourth-down stops, scoring and game situations), but it illustrates how dominant the 2011 and 2012 defenses were.
In ’11, the Tide did not allow double-digit first downs in five consecutive charted games. Compare that to ’09, last year and this year, during which the defense allowed double-digit first downs in every charted game.
In ’12, the “D” racked up three or more turnovers in five of the six charted games. The ’09 defense, last year’s defense and this year’s defense all failed to hit that mark in four of the six charted games.
I’m not a math whiz, though. So, let’s ditch that custom formula and go back to a basic statistic …
Minutes spent trailing
|Season||MST avg.||MST (games played)|
What does it mean? It means this year’s team has been playing with fire, especially at Ole Miss, where the Rebels led for more than half the game. Early deficits against USC and Kentucky stuck for much longer than we remember, and Texas A&M had a second-half lead for more than 6 minutes this past Saturday.
It’s a testament to Alabama’s big-play ability that the Tide have posted an elite scoring differential while falling behind for — collectively — more than a full football game.
There’s been an obvious difference on offense from past years. Most notably, true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts has already run for more single-season yards than any Saban quarterback ever, going back to the coach’s first and only year at Toledo in 1990.
Hurts has been inconsistent through the air, but his presence has changed the Crimson Tide’s makeup. Let’s look at one more stat that reflects just how different this team is on offense:
Percentage of total yards from scrimmage created by the QB
|Season||% of offense||Total QB yards||Total team yards|
What does it mean? Lane Kiffin has completely revamped the Alabama offense since coming aboard in 2014. Quarterback usage is up nearly 10 percent since Greg McElroy helped lead Alabama to the 2009 title; that’s a huge difference.
These numbers also tell us that, while Hurts has been phenomenal for a true freshman, the offense isn’t leaning on him quite as much as it did on Jake Coker last season (keep in mind that these numbers include all quarterbacks, so Blake Barnett contributed to this season’s usage and Cooper Bateman contributed to last season’s).
But there’s no question that this is the best Crimson Tide offense Saban has had, numbers wise. There’s also no question that, based on the charts in this story, 2016 Alabama is at least neck and neck with the other teams that have won championships.
All-time great defenses probably give the 2011 and 2012 teams an edge in the conversation (so far), but if Hurts and Co. continue to lay quality opponents to waste, it’s going to be tough to argue against this current squad as Saban’s best.
The Crimson Tide have the weekend off, so we’ll wait until next week to get into an even better sign for ‘Bama: strength of remaining schedule.