How Alabama’s defense matches up with potential CFP opponents
The Crimson Tide’s quest to repeat as national champions has gone smoothly thus far.
Jalen Hurts’ emergence at quarterback helped answer one of the team’s biggest questions and turned Alabama’s offense into a dynamic weapon capable of winning high-scoring affairs.
However, the nation’s top-ranked team has rarely found itself in a shootout, thanks to a defense that many consider the best Nick Saban has ever had.
If Alabama is going to win its second-straight Playoff, it will likely be the defense that leads the way.
It can be a dangerous proposition to look forward to the postseason while games remain on the schedule, but that’s also part of the fun in sports. Comparisons are consistently made with hypothetical scenarios taking place more frequently than the contests themselves.
In that spirit, we decided to look at how Alabama’s defense would match up against the teams it is most likely to face in the Playoff.
Let’s get started.
In order of Week 11 CFP rankings
No. 2 Clemson (9-0)
The Tigers gave Alabama’s defense all it could handle in last year’s national championship game, and they have the offensive firepower to do so again this year.
Clemson is just outside of the top 20 in scoring offense, averaging 38.6 points per game. That number is actually slightly higher than the Tigers’ average last season, despite the belief that they have yet to fully gel on that side of the ball.
Running back Wayne Gallman remains a dangerous option for Clemson, but most of its offensive production has come through the air. Mike Williams’ return at receiver has given quarterback Deshaun Watson a true No. 1 target.
Only Arkansas and Ole Miss have had success throwing the ball against Alabama, but Clemson can utilize a variety of players to create problems for opposing teams. If the Tigers are on, the Crimson Tide could be tested.
No. 3 Michigan (9-0)
Although Michigan’s defense is considered to be on par with Alabama, its offensive prowess should not be overlooked.
The Wolverines are currently third in the nation with 48 points per game. They have a very balanced running attack and boast four players who have over 400 yards on the ground, led by senior De’Veon Smith, who has 564 yards and 8 touchdowns.
However, it’s important to note that Michigan hasn’t had the weekly dredge of stout defenses that Alabama has faced. Despite that, the Wolverines are the top team in Football Outsider’s Offensive Fremeau Efficiency Index, which factors a team’s offensive production against the strength of its opponents.
In short, Michigan has played some bad defenses, but it’s done very well against those bad defenses and played well against good defenses. The best comparison for how they would stack up against Alabama was the Wolverines’ 14-7 win over Wisconsin, which is on par with the Crimson Tide’s scoring defense.
If these two teams meet, it could very well be a low-scoring, defensive battle. Both offenses are capable, but not on par with either team’s defense.
No. 4 Washington (9-0)
Washington has one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Jake Browning and is currently averaging 48.3 points on offense, which is second only to Louisville.
Browning’s numbers this year have been staggering. He’s completing nearly 68 percent of his passes and thrown for 2,273 yards with 34 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. However, Browning isn’t the Huskies’ only source of offense. Washington has a talented pair of running backs in sophomore Myles Gaskin, who has 952 yards and 8 touchdowns, and junior Lavon Coleman, who has 600 yards and 3 scores.
Still, the player who can do the most damage might be receiver John Ross. Ross, who is only 5-foot-11, is comparable in stature to Arkansas’ Jared Cornelius, who gained 146 yards against Alabama’s secondary this season. Ross is a good deal faster than Cornelius and one of the quickest players in the country.
The only major flaw for Washington on offense is the offensive line, something that Alabama can exploit to devastating effect. The Crimson Tide excel at getting into an opponent’s backfield, and the Huskies wouldn’t be able to do much offensively if that turns out to be the case.
No. 5 Ohio State (8-1)
Urban Meyer is the one coach who has consistently stood toe-to-toe with Saban. Despite a very young roster, Ohio State is back in position to make the Playoff and could get an anticipated rematch with Alabama.
Like the other teams on this list, the Buckeyes know how to score points. Ohio State is averaging 44.8 points per game, which is sixth in the nation.
J.T. Barrett is the obvious name most fans would recognize, and the junior quarterback has been very good again this season. Barrett has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for 1,965 yards with 21 touchdowns and 4 interceptions while adding another 570 yards and 6 scores on the ground.
Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel are a nice 1-2 punch in Ohio State’s backfield. Weber has 842 yards and 7 touchdowns, and Samuel has chipped in 599 yards with 5 touchdowns of his own. However, Samuel’s real strength comes in the passing game. The junior back is the team’s leading receiver and has caught 52 passes for 676 yards and 5 scores.
Meyer knows how to attack Saban’s defenses, but this team doesn’t appear to have the overwhelming talent that his past ones have had. It would be an interesting matchup to be certain, but Alabama might have the upper hand this time.
No. 6 Louisville (8-1)
There might not be a player more lethal on offense this season than Lamar Jackson. The Louisville quarterback is already a runaway favorite for the Heisman Trophy and has accounted for 3,934 total yards and 45 touchdowns.
Alabama has struggled in years past to contain dual-threat quarterbacks like Johnny Manziel, Deshaun Watson or Cam Newton. However, Jackson is a completely different animal and may be more dangerous than all of them, which is saying a lot.
The sophomore quarterback is almost a one-man show, and no team has yet figured out a way to shut him down. The Crimson Tide’s defense is better equipped to handle the speed of modern offenses, but that adjustment would be tested mightily against Jackson.
If Alabama found a way to contain him, it would have a clear shot at a national title. Still, that is much easier said than done.