No. 1 yet again, Alabama still imperfect in its perfection
In what Nick Saban would immediately file as “rat poison” and Alabama fans would consider “business as usual,” the Crimson Tide ascended to the No. 1 position in both the Associated Press media poll and the coaches poll Sunday following a 59-31 beatdown of Ole Miss.
Part of the reason Alabama is No. 1 yet again is the manner in which the Tide thumped the Rebels, with Tua Tagovailoa throwing a school-record 6 touchdown passes and DeVonta Smith smashing the school single-game receiving yards and TD receptions record.
But it was also because former No. 1 and defending national champion Clemson survived North Carolina 21-20 — in part due to the Tar Heels’ gutsy-yet-unsuccessful 2-point conversion attempt with 1:17 to play. Clemson easily could have lost, and therefore dropped one spot in the rankings.
Of course, these rankings are meaningless. It is the College Football Playoff rankings that matter — the first batch of those are due out Nov. 5, and as long as a team is in the top 4 it doesn’t really much matter.
What is significant about the Tide at No. 1 is that is extends an astounding record.
Alabama has been ranked No. 1 in each of the past 12 seasons, dating to 2008. That is the longest streak in the history of the AP Poll. The 2nd-longest streak belongs to Miami, which had a string of 7 consecutive seasons with an appearance at No. 1 from 1986-92.
This is the 119th time Alabama has been No. 1, most of any school in poll history, and the 88th time it has been top-ranked under coach Nick Saban since he took over in 2007. Only Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Southern California have more total appearances at No. 1 than Alabama has just under Saban.
The Crimson Tide’s ranking in this week’s AP Top 25 Poll marks the 6oth consecutive poll in which Alabama has been ranked in the top 5. That stretch of top 5 rankings is the longest streak in the poll’s history, surpassing the previous record of 54 consecutive weeks set by Miami from Oct. 8, 2000, through Oct. 26, 2003.
Alabama’s run in the top 5 began on Nov. 8, 2015, following a dominant 30-16 victory by the 7th-ranked Tide over then-No. 4 LSU at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
And not to be a David Downer here, because No. 1 is No. 1 — and Saban-led Tide teams have finished the season with that single index finger in the air 5 times in the past 10 seasons.
But the 2019 version of the Crimson Tide is flawed. And while even the Tiffany Diamond shines brilliantly under the spotlights on Fifth Avenue in New York, at one point a whole lot of flaws had to be trimmed and buffed and carved away before the final brilliance was obtained.
Tagovailoa has the Alabama pass offense operating at a level never seen before in Tuscaloosa, as the sweet Hawaiian prince is 1st with 23 passing touchdowns and 2nd in the country with 1,718 passing yards. The Tide is 4th in the country in scoring offense (51.8 points per game) and 4th in total offense (554.6 yards per game).
But all those team offense numbers have been obtained with a rushing game that has taken a backseat this season. The Tide’s 174 yards per game gained on the ground doesn’t even crack the national top 50, with Najee Harris averaging a paltry 67.4 yards per game and Harris’ 110-yard effort against Southern Miss the only instance of an Alabama RB going for 100-plus this season.
“I always say that if you win and don’t play well, that’s not really a good thing,” Saban said after Saturday’s win against Ole Miss. “That’s something our team needs to understand and our team needs to know.”
Saban wasn’t specifically referring to the Tide’s running game with that statement, as he also took exception to his defense’s inability to get off the field against Ole Miss — needing 88 plays against the Rebels and giving up 279 rushing yards to the Rebels.
“We are not really satisfied with the way we are playing defense right now, especially (against Ole Miss),” Saban said. “Especially not being able to stop the run effectively, which is something we have always been able to do around here pretty well.”
In a lot of ways, Alabama’s bye week comes at the perfect time — both to get players like linebacker Terrell Lewis healthier and to do some needed self-analysis.
“We didn’t obviously play a complete game. We got exposed in some areas where we didn’t play very well. And we’ve got to get those things fixed and play better,” Saban said. “I think you can look at the bye week a couple of different way. You can say it’s a week off or you can look at a bye week and say, ‘There’s a lot of things we need to improve on.’ That’s certainly the approach we want to take with our team.
“Players we have are the players we have. They are all capable of playing better, so we want to work with them. And we are excited to work with them, so we can get better.”
Get better. Those two words should be a clarion call to Alabama players who might be puffed up a little bit by yet another No. 1 ranking. But they are also words of warning to Texas A&M in 2 weeks and beyond … because a top-ranked Tide team that can get better is a scary concept for the rest of the nation.