How good is Alabama?

With the final four games of the season here: We ask how good is this year’s Alabama Crimson Tide

By Dave Friedman
Every week, at the very top of Alabama’s nearly 50 pages of game notes that get distributed to the media, there are some indisputable facts. “15 National Championships, 107 First Team All-Americans, 60 Bowl Appearances, 34 Bowl Victories, 23 SEC Championships.” There is no doubt the Crimson Tide have an illustrious history. However, those facts represent the past. The only title anyone thinks about now is four wins away. While the first of those four games is a guarantee game that will help Chattanooga’s athletic department financially, and guarantee Alabama an 11-0 start to the year, Auburn, perhaps an SEC Title Game, and maybe the BCS Championship Game will all be challenges. So, exactly how good is this Alabama team?

Looking at national rankings can be somewhat deceiving. However, every team has been involved in a blowout or two, and rankings provide an apples-to-apples comparison across a large spectrum of categories. The numbers show what we already knew on defense, and an offense that is more efficient than potent. Lets dig a bit deeper.

Alabama’s defense is elite. The Crimson Tide allow the fewest points in the country, rank fifth in total defense, and are among the best in the NCAA on every down that they rank (first, third and fourth). They’re fourth in the nation in the red zone, third against the run, and 13th in passing efficiency defense. Numbers don’t lie, but what happened against Texas A&M?

Johnny Manziel and company lit up Alabama for 42 points and 628 yards. Of course it doesn’t matter, since the Crimson Tide won, but why were the Aggies so effective? Since that game Alabama has allowed a total of 50 points in eight games. Since the meeting in College Station opponents have averaged 236 yards per contest. Is the level of competition not what we think it is?

Since beating Texas A&M, the best offense Alabama has faced is 15th ranked Ole Miss. Colorado State at number 24 is the second best offense over the last eight games that the Tide have contended with. Meanwhile, Tennessee and Kentucky rank 102nd and 104th, while Mississippi State and Arkansas are 51st and 52nd. In other words, Alabama’s statistically dominant defense has been feasting on an average at best group of offenses.

As for the Crimson Tide’s offense, it hasn’t needed to do a lot. When called upon under pressure, it has risen to the occasion. That being said, it ranks 42nd in the nation overall and 59th in passing. However, the aerial assault is the 11th most efficient in the NCAA, and the team ranks among the Top 25 on third and fourth down. Is it a problem that Alabama ranks somewhere between UAB and Army in red zone production? Maybe not.

Against Texas A&M, when the Alabama defense struggled, and the offense was asked to do their part, they responded. AJ McCarron passed for 334 yards, completed 20 of 29 passes, and fired four touchdowns. The team rushed for 234 yards. Alabama went three for four in the red zone and averaged 8.6 yards a play. The only other game where the offense was asked for a lot came at home versus LSU. The game was tied at 17 late in the third quarter. The Tide proceeded to go on three long scoring drives and won 38-17. Against the Tigers, Alabama was four for four in the red zone and and out gained LSU 372-284.

While the offense has risen to the occasion, much like the defense, they have not been facing monsters. LSU’s 24th ranked defense is the best Alabama has faced over the last eight games. No other opponent ranks among the Top 40. Colorado State is number 103 nationally on defense and Tennessee ranks 94th. That said, you can only play the teams on your schedule.

Year-by-year numbers are nice, but the first figure the game notes mention, 15 National Championships, are what it is all about. This year’s set of facts and figures indicate the Crimson Tide have played well against ok teams and thrived when challenged. There are sure to be more challenges over the final three or four games.