In a juiced-scoreboard era, the Alabama Crimson Tide have accomplished something quite unique this season: they’re a #1-ranked team with an average offense. Through a string of 13 wins and 0 losses, freshman QB Jalen Hurts had led a lunch-bucket unit that scored points occasionally, or at least when it needed to. But any conversation about the 2016-17 Crimson Tide begins and ends with the defense, possibly the most athletic and devastating group of defenders in recent college football history. Start with a simple statistic – Alabama’s defense scored 10 touchdowns during the season, earning 60 points. That’s more than USC, Kentucky, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, and Florida managed to score on the Tide in 24 combined quarters. Not only did DC Jeremy Pruitt’s surly group kill opposing drives with terrific run defense, sacks, and punishing tackles, but it often got in the heads of opposing QBs by the second quarter – leading to turnovers and points in bunches.
The undefeated SEC champs and defending CFP champions started the season with a bang, clobbering talented USC 52-6. Each month of the season would provide at least 1 signature win, as the Tide rolled 33-14 over Texas A&M and beat Louisiana State 10-0 in October, then capped November with a dominant 30-12 Iron Bowl win over in-state rival Auburn. An SEC Championship Game snaring of the Florida Gators brought the Crimson Tide’s record to 13-0 and guaranteed them a #1 ranking and a Virtual College Football Playoff semifinal spot.
The lone crisis came on September 17th as the Tide traveled to Oxford to face nationally-ranked Ole Miss. Rebel QB Chad Kelly passed for over 400 yards as Mississippi led 24-3 in the 2nd quarter. Alabama scored touchdowns on offense, defense, and a punt return to level the gap, then scored the winner on a 75-yard fumble return by DE Jonathan Allen.
An excellent special-teams unit consistently put opponents in bad field position, upping the anxiety for rival QBs against 11 defenders who would not look out of place on an NFL practice field. The potent Alabama front-7 is built around athletes like Allen, Tim Williams (a 250+ pound LB) and LB Ryan Anderson, who combined for 26 sacks in 2016-17. The secondary includes light-footed Minkah Fitzpatrick, who grabbed 6 interceptions and had two pick-6 touchdowns on the season. While Hurts wasn’t spectacular, he protected the ball, passing for 22 TDs and 9 interceptions. The frosh QB also provided a spark in the ground game and finished the regular season as the Tide’s second-leading rusher. Sophomore RB Damien Harris averaged over 7 yards-per-carry, and junior ArDarius Stewart was a big-play threat at WR.
Alabama will play the winner of the VCFP quarterfinal game between Oklahoma and Clemson, and head coach Nick Saban praised the VCFP committee for giving his squad a bye as the #1 seed.