5 biggest reasons Alabama is back in the Playoff for the 5th consecutive year
Alabama is the only team in America to make the College Football Playoff all five years.
That’s remarkable on any level, but it’s absurd when you consider the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences have each missed the Playoff at least twice.
So how did the Tide make it back, with their fourth starting quarterback in 5 years no less?
Here are the 5 biggest reasons.
5. Quinnen Williams blossomed into a 1st-rounder
It sounds silly now, but last spring there were legitimate questions about how good Alabama would be along the defensive line.
In theory, the questions seemed fair. The line lost Da’Ron Payne (1st round), Da’Shawn Hand (4th round) and Joshua Frazier (7th round) to the NFL.
Even for a proven plug-n-play program like Alabama, that’s a lot of personnel losses to absorb on a unit often viewed as the most vital for making the Tide’s defense so dominant.
Most analysts anointed Raekwon Davis as the assembly line’s next future first-rounder. He still might be, too. But only after less-touted teammate Quinnen Williams is selected.
Williams was a breakout star, arguably the biggest surprise on this year’s team. Beyond the numbers — 18.0 tackles for loss, second in the SEC, 8.0 sacks, second on the team — Williams literally plugged the Tide’s biggest hole and kept the machine rolling.
4. Newcomers remade the secondary
Alabama also lost 3 members of its secondary to the NFL Draft and had to replace six key contributors. Oh, and its defensive backs coach.
Again, it was more than fair not only to wonder who would start but how well could they possibly perform, relative to the standard.
Transfer Saivion Smith and true freshman Patrick Surtain made immediate and profound impacts. Smith started 10 games — he briefly lost his job — and led the Tide with 3 interceptions. Surtain, a key flip during the 2018 recruiting cycle, also started 10 games and was named to the Freshman All-SEC team.
Those two in particular had to play well, immediately, and they did.
3. Big-game Bama showed up in Baton Rouge
Few teams, if any, play better in the biggest games. LSU qualifies as a big game. Every year, that’s the game we use to gauge Alabama’s potential weaknesses.
The Tide showed virtually none this year in a suffocating 29-0 throttling of the Tigers at Death Valley. Alabama certainly scored more in other games this season, but the 29-point margin was the biggest in the series since winning by 31 in 2002.
The defense allowed just 12 yards rushing and Tua Tagovailoa accounted for 3 TDs against the Tide’s toughest opponent to that point.
2. Jalen Hurts trusted the process
You know the back story. You also know that plenty of other quarterbacks have left similar circumstances. Heck, the past two Heisman Trophy winners both transferred.
Hurts stuck it out. He could have blown up the locker room, forcing teammates to choose sides. Instead, he led by example, trusting his belief that when Alabama needed him, he’d deliver.
Did he ever. It’s impossible to know whether Alabama would have made the Playoff had it lost the SEC Championship Game to Georgia. But there is no denying the fact that Hurts rescued the Tide and clinched the No. 1 seed.
1. Tua and the high-flying wideouts
Alabama has never had an offense like this. The SEC hasn’t, either.
Tua Tagovailoa set a program record with 37 touchdown passes and soon he will set another one for passing yards in a season. He directed the highest-scoring offense in SEC history, too, one that is 77 points shy of reaching 700.
The Tide topped 50 points 8 times, most in SEC history.
They did all of this in the most un-Bama-like way imaginable: Throwing the football. The Tide have tossed 46 touchdown passes — another program record. They’ve passed for 4,231 yards, not only the most in program history, but 1,600 yards more than they gained on the ground.
Jerry Jeudy has 12 TD catches, already the second-most in a season and within striking distance of Amari Cooper’s school record of 16 in 2014.
The truly scary part? Almost every significant part of this offense is eligible to return next season — when the Tide will try to make it 6 Playoff appearances in 6 years.