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Reflecting a bit on the No. 1 Alabama football team's 13-0 season thus far (via Crimson Magazine)

06 Dec 2016 Stan J. Griffin

By Stan J. Griffin: December 6, 2016

Entering the 2016 season, Nick Saban's University of Alabama football team was picked by most pundits to repeat as both Southeastern Conference and College Football Playoff champions, despite the fact that UA had several significant questions at several critical positions.
Those positions included quarterback, running back and various positions along the offensive line and in the secondary.
Although the Tide had a roster full of young talent and some key returnees to fill those spots, many of those players being counted on were extremely inexperienced, leaving some to speculate about whether this might be one of those rare rebuilding, or shall we say reloading seasons, for the Alabama program under Saban, the tenth-year head coach.
That almost seems light years ago now.
Of course we know that things, ultimately, turned out OK for this team, as an Alabama team that began the season with high expectations, but yet many areas of possible concern, is now being mentioned by some as perhaps the greatest Tide football team ever, or at least the best one that Saban has coached in Tuscaloosa.
That is still yet to be determined as 13-0 and top-ranked Alabama has at least one more game, and possibly two to play, beginning with the Dec. 31 Peach Bowl against Washington in Atlanta,  which is a College Football Playoff semifinal contest.
We thought it might be fun, however, just to reflect a bit on the special season that has allowed the Crimson Tide to reach this point in the season as the nation's only major undefeated team, and a team that has the opportunity to perhaps become the first one to go 15-0.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: There have been many contributors for a Lane Kiffin-coordinated attack that averages just over 40 points and just over 471 yards per game, including tailbacks Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Joshua Jacobs and receivers ArDarius Stewart, O.J. Howard and Calvin Ridley, but no one has had more of an impact than true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, the native of Channelview, Texas.  Showing poise and maturity beyond his years since the Tide's opening game against Southern Cal in Arlington, Texas, he has been the centerpiece of the Tide's attack, as he has thrown for 2,563 yards and 21 touchdowns and he has also carried the ball 162 times for 841 yards and another 12 scores and is well on the way to breaking numerous UA yardage records already. He has made his share of freshman mistakes, but his ability to bounce back from those gaffes with huge positive plays and quiet leadership has been stunning.



DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Where to begin with a stop unit that once again leads the nation in total defense, went an entire month without surrendering a touchdown and  is also being discussed as perhaps the program's best-ever unit. The candidates are plentiful, and they include Butkus Award winner Reuben Foster, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams among others. But a slight edge has to go to senior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, the recent winner of the Bronko Nagurski Award. Providing excellent leadership on the field and off for this 2016 team, Allen is tied for fourth on the team with 56 tackles, but he has also contributed 13 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, two passes broken up, 15 quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and he has scored a pair of touchdowns. If he had not chosen to return for his senior season, the Tide defense would still have been solid, but his presence and production has played the biggest role in this stop unit developing into one of the program's all-time best.

BIGGEST WIN OF THE YEAR: Of course the No. 1 seeded Crimson Tide enters the playoffs with quite an impressive resume that includes big victories over LSU, Southern Cal, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Kentucky and Auburn among others, but the view here is that the most critical win for Alabama was its Sept. 17  48-43 comeback triumph over the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford in one of the most entertaining, yet chaotic contests of the season. Facing its first true road test of the season, Hurts and the rest of the Tide team were very shaky early, and by late in the second quarter they had found themselves in a big 24-3 hole. Alabama, however, rallied to outscore Hugh Freeze's Rebels 31-19 in the second half, and that proved to be just enough to survive its scariest test of the season thus far.

BIGGEST SEQUENCE OF THE YEAR: This occurred in that same game against Ole Miss in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Tide trailed by three touchdowns with just 2:47 remaining in the second period, but with 2:10 left, Ridley scored on a six-yard carry to complete a quick three-play, 50-yard Tide drive and trim the Tide's deficit to 24-10.  And with just over a minute left in the half, senior Eddie Jackson returned a Rebel punt 85 yards for a touchdown and Alabama's halftime deficit was suddenly only seven points. This series of events obviously provided much momentum for the Crimson Tide as Alabama outscored the home team 17-3 in the third quarter.

PLAY OF THE YEAR: Again from that very same wild contest from Oxford. Early in the fourth quarter of the contest, the Tide was holding onto a precarious 34-30 advantage when Harris capped a five-play, 58-yard Tide drive with a one-yard run to extend the lead to 41-30. While that was big for Alabama, the play that followed a couple of minutes later for the Tide was even more huge as Allen scooped up a loose ball and rumbled 75 yards for a touchdown to effectively seal the game for UA, even though Ole Miss was still able to score a pair of late touchdowns to make the final score closer. Allen's scoring return gave Alabama a critical cushion in the contest, and also provided yet another key example of how important the non-offensive touchdown has been for this year's Tide team.

MOST IMPRESSIVE STRETCH OF THE YEAR: While the two early big wins against a Southern Cal team headed to the Rose Bowl (Alabama defeated the Trojans 52-6)  and Ole Miss proved to be great tone-setters for this team in terms of building an early head of steam and much-needed confidence, there is no doubt that the mettle of this squad was established during an October-early November gauntlet of games that included consecutive tilts against Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas A&M and LSU, with three of those games away from the friendly confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium.

HEARTBREAKING MOMENT OF THE SEASON: On Oct. 22, during the fourth quarter of the Tide's 33-14 victory against Texas A&M in Bryant-Denny Stadium, Jackson, Alabama's senior safety, sustained a fractured leg at the end of a 17-yard punt return and was lost for the season. Besides being an inspirational leader on and off the field for Saban's squad, he was also performing at an All-American level in the secondary and as a return weapon for the Crimson Tide.

BEST INTRODUCTION OF THE SEASON: The Alabama quarterback battle was the dominant topic of conversation throughout the Tide's spring and fall camp and numerous observers spent most of that time speculating about who the starter would be. Most assumed it would be be junior Cooper Bateman due to the fact that he was the only signal-caller on the Tide roster with any actual game experience. However, it was redshirt freshman Blake Barnett who eventually started the first contest against Southern Cal. After he struggled early, Hurts entered the game and the rest is history as he introduced himself in staggering fashion. He accounted for four touchdowns total (two passing and two rushing) in the Tide's 52-6 romp. He completed 6 of 11 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for 32 yards and another pair of scores. Barnett, meanwhile, is no longer a part of the Alabama program and Bateman also apparently plans to depart Tuscaloosa soon.

BEST TREND OF THE YEAR: Again, while the Crimson Tide has been more than formidable offensively and defensively on the way to its undefeated SEC championship season, one has to wonder where this Crimson Tide team would be without its 14 non-offensive TDs this season, with Allen, Fitzpatrick, Jackson, Jacobs and Marlon Humphrey among others getting into the scoring act this year.

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