Could be considered the best everBy RICK CLEVELAND,
It is a somewhat frightening thought: best Alabama team ever?
And for now it is just that – a thought or maybe even a theory. But Nick Saban’s latest band of Crimson assassins appears to possess the same fast, physical defense that has been a staple and now an offense that can come at you so many different ways it is dizzying.
Weaknesses? OK, they missed a makeable field goal at Oxford last Saturday night. Backup quarterback Jalen Hurts, who was 28-2 as a starter, threw an interception. But otherwise the Crimson Tide was just about perfect until Saban started playing people who had never played before. Even Saban will have difficulty finding fault with Alabama’s performance. He could have scored 100.
No question what – or, better, who – makes this Alabama team different and better. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa is more difficult to stop than his name is to spell and pronounce – and that is saying something. The left-hander, making on his third college start, showed a wide range of talents. He can throw fast balls over the middle or on deep outs. He can also throw with touch. He sees the entire field and makes wise decisions that seem instinctive. He can run the ball like another running back. He is like a Johnny Manziel with good sense.
Defensively, Ole Miss provided little more than a skeleton drill for the Tide. The old saying – “it was like men and boys” – comes immediately to mind.
As impressive as the Alabama offense was, it’s the Tide defense that surprised this observer Saturday night. I didn’t think anybody’s defense would shut down Ole Miss’s talented and heretofore productive offense. But after the Rebels scored on their first play from scrimmage, Bama just dominated.
The Rebels’ first play went for 75 yards. The next 58 went for 143 yards. That’s domination. The Tide won’t face many offenses with more weapons than Ole Miss.
Alabama seems ready for far more difficult tests, and those will come soon enough. In fact, Bama won’t have to leave the SEC West to find stern opposition. They won’t have to wait long either. Texas A & M, next up this Saturday in Tuscaloosa, looks to be improved under Jimbo Fisher. At first glance, October looks all Crimson, but Alabama will face three stern tasks in November: at LSU on Nov. 3, and then Mississippi State and Auburn at home.
Should Alabama win the West, there will be Georgia awaiting in the SEC Championship game. Bama knows as well as anyone how difficult that would be.
The question for now: Which team in the West is the best contender for Alabama’s throne?
At this point, I’d say LSU. The Tigers, who had already blistered Miami, went a leg up on everyone else in the division last Saturday with a huge road victory over Auburn. Ed Orgeron addressed his two biggest needs coming into this season with graduate transfers as quarterback and placekicker. Quarterback Joe Burrow (Ohio State) and kicker Cole Tracy (Assumption) were both huge in LSU’s 22-21 conquest at Auburn.
Tracy has to be one of the best stories in college football to this point. Last fall, he was kicking for Assumption College, a small, Catholic school in Massachusetts, before 200 or so fans a game. Saturday, he hit a walk-off 42-yarder before nearly 87,000 people and a national TV audience.
Give Orgeron credit for this one. I have never understood why some coaches still go with walk-on placekickers and won’t “waste” a scholarship on a guy who just kicks. It’s insane. You have to know, no matter how good you are at every other position, two or three games a year are going to come down to whether or not you can make a kick. LSU, with Tracy, can now make those kicks.
Mississippi State? Through three games the Bulldogs are undefeated and pretty much unchallenged. That changes Saturday when State plays at Kentucky, which is an impressive 3-0 with a victory at Florida’s Swamp under its belt.
At this point, LSU and State appear the most likely challengers to Bama, primarily because their defensive fronts are so formidable and “Bama-like.” They’ll have to be all that against Tuanigamanuolepola (Tua) Tagovailoa, who adds a whole new dimension to the Crimson Tide.
Rick Cleveland (email@example.com) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.