No. 1 Alabama hasn’t lost in so long — the Crimson Tide has won 25 in a row — that the thought of being upset by No. 4 Washington in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta is inconceivable to those around the program.
“It would be like a natural disaster,” said Ryan Fowler, who hosts a sports-talk show for 102.9 ESPN in Tuscaloosa, Ala. “If Alabama loses Saturday, it would turn that state upside down. I’d be hosting a funeral for the next 6 to 7 weeks.
“That’s a good question, and of course anything is possible. How would folks here feel if Alabama loses? Shock. Disbelief. … I don’t think ‘Bama fans have really considered it because it hasn’t happened in so long.”
Mississippi was the last team to beat Alabama — 43-37 — on Sept. 19, 2015.
The key to beating the Tide is having a dynamic quarterback, Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said in an interview with Yahoo! Sports.
“Even to have a chance, you have to have a good quarterback,” said Freeze, who saw Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly torch Alabama for 341 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the 2015 win. “I don’t believe you can beat them without that guy. If you don’t have that guy, you might oughta just not show up.”
The Huskies have a good quarterback in sophomore Jake Browning, who has thrown for 3,280 yards and a school-record 42 touchdowns against just seven interceptions.
However, Browning struggled during a 26-13 loss to USC when he was intercepted twice and sacked three times.
“Alabama has a great defense,” said Browning, who completed 9 of 24 passes in his last outing, a 41-10 win over Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game. ” Obviously, very talented. Obviously, won a lot of awards all over the place for a lot of their players.
“They’ve got a lot of All-Americans, highly recruited guys too. So for me, it’s an opportunity to go against what I think is some of the best players and one of the best teams that has kind of ran college football for a while. So, you know, it’s a great opportunity and looking forward to it.”
Alabama has to deal with Washington on the field, but the Crimson Tide is also playing against history.
It’s not often when the computer geeks and football fanatics align in agreement. But the 2016 Alabama team is universally considered among the best to ever play college football.
The website FiveThirtyEight.com ranked the Crimson Tide the No. 1 team over the past 80 years using an adapted ELO power rating, a formula originally created to grade chess players.
To remain ahead of the 1995 Nebraska and 2015 Alabama teams, the Crimson Tide would need to finish the season with a second straight national title.
“Their résumé speaks for itself,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “They’re good. I mean, they’re really, really good. And they’ve been good for a long time. Just impressive.”
Let’s examine that résumé.
The Crimson Tide has made the most bowl appearances in big-time college football with 64. They’ve won 30 conference titles. And they’ve had 11 undefeated seasons.
Alabama has won 16 national championships, including four (2009, ‘11, ‘12 and ‘15) in the last seven years.
This year’s team features a half dozen All-Americans and six players (defensive end Jonathan Allen, linebacker Reuben Foster, offensive tackle Cam Robinson, cornerback Marion Humphrey, linebacker Tim Williams and tight end O.J. Howard) projected to be taken n the first round of next year’s NFL draft.
In 13 games, eight against ranked opponents, the Crimson Tide (13-0) scored at least 30 points 12 times and held opponents to 10 points or fewer on eight occasions. They didn’t allow an offensive TD in November during a four-game stretch.
The strength of Alabama is its vaunted front seven and a defense that’s scored 10 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, freshman Jalen Hurts (2,592 passing yards, 841 rushing yards and 40 total touchdowns) is arguably the most talented quarterback Alabama has had during its recent title run.
Hurts is one of three Crimson Tide players who have rushed for more than 500 yards, along with running backs Damien Harris (986), Josh Jacobs (548) and Bo Scarbrough (539).
“Probably the best college team I’ve seen,” Petersen said. “I mean, these are some — top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses out there. There’s no players, like, ‘Well, he’s a freshman …’ If he’s a freshman, he’s a freshman All-American (and) a whatever-star recruit.
“They’re good. They’re coached well. And the thing that I’m as impressed with (as) anything in that program is how they recruit. They get great talent, and then he does a great job with the culture of their program — playing hard and all those things. There’s no weaknesses, you know.”
At the center of it all is coach Nick Saban, who has compiled a 118-18 record in 10 seasons at Alabama.
He has won four national titles with the Crimson Tide and one at rival LSU. Another championship would put him on equal footing with legendary ‘Bama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Some believe Saban — like the 2016 Crimson Tide — would go down as the best ever if he claims a CFP national-championship trophy Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla.
“In my mind, Saban is the best there ever was because of the way he’s adapted over the years and the success he’s had even though college football has changed so much,” Fowler said.