Alabama football: The 2020 Crimson Tide are the greatest team in program history
As the confetti rained down in Miami Gardens on Monday night and yet another would-be contender to the throne headed to the airport with nothing but a good story to tell their grandkids, the kings of college football assembled 1 more time to perform a ritual that is practically spelled out in the recruiting brochure …
Collect another national championship trophy.
Many of the Alabama Crimson Tide players, coaches and staff have done this before, we all know — 17 times, to be precise — before Monday inside Hard Rock Stadium. In a college football season that almost wasn’t, there were plenty of things that looked the same as it ever was.
Alabama was there in the College Football Playoff national title game to play, to finish, to make Ohio State’s proverbial rear end quit in a 52-24 beating. This business trip to South Florida was just that, to pick up more crystal and oblong-football gold trophies to the point that non-NC trophies could be used as doorstops around the Mal M. Moore Football Building.
And when it was all said and done, with Alabama having finished penning Chapter 13 of Joyless Murderball and singing yet another verse of “Rammer Jammer” in the home of the Miami Dolphins, it became increasingly clear that this 2020 Crimson Tide team earned something even more than another ring.
The honor of becoming the greatest football team in Alabama Crimson Tide history.
That isn’t an easy statement to write. Surely those who played on the undefeated 2009 team that went out to the Rose Bowl and smacked around Texas for the Tide’s 13th title would join the debate. Old-school fans might say the 1992 team — which went 13-0 with perhaps the most dominant defense in school history — was tougher. Another generation would suggest Paul W. Bryant’s 1979 team that went undefeated, or even Bryant’s 1961 squad that also went undefeated. And if you’re truly old-school, you could even throw in the 1966 Tide that got jobbed out of national title contention despite winning it all in 1964 *and* 1965 along with all 11 of its games that season.
Those teams are worthy of the conversation, sure. But what none of those teams had was the offensive firepower that the 2020 Tide did, the heart that the 2020 Tide showed in sweeping through the SEC gantlet without a single significant player loss due to COVID-19, and the passion the 2020 Tide required to run the table despite a gigantic bulls-eye on their back.
Where to begin? DeVonta Smith won the Heisman Trophy with perhaps the most dominant wide receiving performance in college football history. Smith ended the CFP title game with 12 receptions for 214 yards and 3 touchdowns — all coming in the 1st half before he departed following the Tide’s opening possession of the 3rd quarter with a hand injury. He finished with 23 TD catches this season, an SEC record, and 1,856 yards, another SEC record. Smith ended his unforgettable career — a career that began on the national stage by hauling in Tua Tagovailoa’s 2nd-and-26 dart to win the 2017 national title — with a school- and SEC-record 46 career touchdown receptions that also ranks 5th all-time across NCAA teams. He finished with 3,964 receiving yards on 235 receptions.
Quarterback Mac Jones finished 3rd in the Heisman voting, behind Smith and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with an unforgettable season of his own. The junior will likely head to the NFL after throwing for exactly 4,500 yards and 41 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions. Jones dissected Ohio State for 464 passing yards and 5 touchdowns despite seemingly never having to make a difficult throw. The literal afterthought in Alabama’s quarterback room behind Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts, Jones did what neither Alabama’s sweet Hawaiian prince nor the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles did — go wire-to-wire to win it all.
Najee Harris? All the multi-purpose running back did en route to finishing 5th in the Heisman voting was rush for 1,466 yards in his senior season on 251 carries and score 26 touchdowns. Harris heads to the league having finished with 3,843 rushing yards and 46 rushing scores, and 781 receiving yards on 80 receptions with 11 more scores.
That trio alone literally rewrote the Alabama record book. And when you throw in wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, who returned to the field for the CFP title game after breaking his ankle earlier in the season against Tennessee, the Crimson Tide could see 4 skill-position players be selected in the 1st round of the NFL Draft come April. Throw in left tackle Alex Leatherwood, and a true handful of Alabama players could go on the first night of the draft.
The Buckeyes defense will someday regale the young’uns about how they almost had DeVonta Smith on a tackle, about how they got a hand on Mac Jones in Miami and how Najee Harris tripped over them on another bruising run. The Ohio State offense will take up the same chorus that Texas did in 2009 when quarterback Colt McCoy went down with an injury, rueing the 1st-quarter injury to running back Trey Sermon with a million “what ifs?”
Ohio State joined Notre Dame, Florida, Arkansas, LSU, Auburn, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Georgia, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Missouri with those stories. The strongest top-to-bottom conference in college football develops national championship contenders every season, but even the incredible performance put forth by LSU in 2019 somehow felt different than Alabama did in 2020.
It was telling to see what Landon Dickerson — a transfer from Florida State who earned the respect, admiration and love from his teammates — did immediately after backup QB Bryce Young knelt on the football for the final time Monday night. No matter a blown-out knee that required surgery, Dickerson snapped the ball the final 2 times of 2020 and headed directly to a drenched-by-Gatorade Nick Saban.
With confetti flying and players joyous all around, Dickerson embraced Saban and lifted him as high as he could over his head — carrying the 69-year-old legend toward midfield in glory.
The Death Star had fired its final shot of the 2020 season.
The job was done. A team can’t win any more games than that, and hasn’t won them all more decisively than this team did.
“This is the ultimate team,” Saban said.
And finally, the coach was smiling.