What was expected to be the game of the season instead turned out to be a seeming coronation of sorts, as the Alabama Crimson Tide dominated LSU in front of their home fans in Baton Rouge, 29-0. The Tide, who had been dominant heading into the game on Saturday night, passed their biggest test of the season so far with flying colors.
In the aftermath, the conversation turned to the coming weeks, with one familiar question looming. Can anyone beat Alabama? Once again, it looks as if Nick Saban has assembled a metaphorical Death Star capable of destroying anything in its path.
Still, there are a few other potential challengers out there that the Tide could face on the College Football Playoff stage. Clemson, like Alabama, has torn through its schedule en route to an unblemished record. Notre Dame, aside from tough nights against Pitt and Northwestern, has done the same. And Michigan, with a smothering defense and just enough offense, has cruised to an 8-1 mark, with its only loss coming at the hands of the Golden Domers earlier this year.
Those three teams found themselves included with the Tide in the latest edition of the College Football Playoff rankings. So, we caught up with SEC on CBS analyst Brian Jones to ask him the all-important question. Can anyone stop the rolling Tide? (Editor’s note: This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed).
CBS Local Sports: After their shutout of LSU this past weekend, the consensus seems to be that Alabama is the national champion and everyone else is playing for second. Do you agree? Who has the best chance of beating the Tide?
Brian Jones: Maybe their second team? (Laughing) Their backups? I think that would be a pretty good show. I just don’t see it at this point.
I know Clemson has beaten the brakes off of everybody that they have played lately. Their first-team defense here in the last month has not allowed a touchdown in the first three quarters. They’re looking pretty good, and I think their front four, considering they have played Alabama three times already, could hang. But, I’m not so sure their secondary could hang with the receivers Alabama has.
Offensively, Trevor Lawrence has looked outstanding, and he brings an exceptional passing element to that offense. But I’m just not sure they can hang up front with what Alabama is bringing to the table.
I don’t think anyone, at this point, can beat them. On our Inside College Football show, we always do our playoff as we see it each week. I just put ‘Bama in all four spots. That’s how impressive that win was last week. I gave LSU a puncher’s chance, and they just got punched continuously without ever punching back, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.
Alabama are just freaks across the board. We have been watching this dynasty evolve over the last six or seven years, and it has gotten even better, which is amazing.
CBS Local Sports: I’m curious then, based on that answer, what’s the last team you remember feeling was this dominant at this point of a season?
Brian Jones: I grew up watching great Oklahoma and Miami teams in the early to mid 80s, and now watching this is so impressive. Year after year, they do this. The fact that they are able to reload in the manner that they do every season is impressive.
They lost eight guys off their defense, including their top six defensive backs, and yet they haven’t skipped a beat. They have gotten better. That’s not to mention that they have six new coaches on staff this year. You would think these guys have been together for decades.
You have to marvel at the consistency, with the game plans and scheming and also the development of players. It all starts at the top with Nick Saban. He is the best I have ever witnessed, the best I’ve ever seen. You run out of superlatives describing the man.
CBS Local Sports: Now, one of the biggest stories with the team has been the play of Tua Tagovailoa. As a defensive guy, what do you see from him that allows him to be so effective?
Brian Jones: He has been able to activate that offense and make everyone at every position significant, especially in the passing game. You have to account for the tight end, the backs out of the backfield and the wide receivers. He hits all of those guys in stride.
He is making throws that you don’t see often at the collegiate level. I’ve seen guys do the stuff he’s doing in the pros. He throws guys open, throws the ball before guys come out of their cuts and has a sixth sense about him.
He has made this offense fully functional where everyone better be ready, because the ball could be coming your way at any moment. He always seems to hit his receivers in stride, allowing them to continue on into the end zone.
CBS Local Sports: Looking at the playoff rankings that came out Tuesday night, UCF remains at number 12, which of course has their fans annoyed because they have now won 21 straight games. At this point, what do you think a Group of 5 team would have to do to make the playoff? Is there any way you could see one doing so in the current format?
Brian Jones: They have to have some big boys on the schedule in non-conference play. That’s the only thing that can help. Knocking off Auburn in that bowl game last year you would think would provide some cachet, but it hasn’t, as you can see from the ranking.
They’re dealing with the same thing that Boise State had to deal with for a decade or so. Boise was always posting stellar records as a member of the WAC and then the Mountain West. Yet, nobody was really paying attention to it, until they started playing at Ole Miss, Virginia Tech, and winning some of those games.
When you get some of the big boys, who are going to be hesitant to play you, though you would think the Playoff would help with some of that, because those wins help your record regardless of who you are.
I think you have to find a way to get some of those games on the schedule, and then and only then will they begin to garner the type of respect and attention that they deserve.
CBS Local Sports: Can’t let you get out of here without asking about your Longhorns. What do you think of the job Tom Herman has done to this point?
Brian Jones: Well, they haven’t won the line of scrimmage as of late, losing the last two games and giving up 22 explosive plays in those two games. I don’t know what has happened to this defense that we were all lauding during the early part of the season before the bye week.
Now, they come out of the bye week, and for two straight weeks they look like they don’t know how to tackle. They don’t want to be physical, not controlling the line of scrimmage and taking horrible angles to the ball.
It’s been atrocious and horrid to watch the last two weeks. They’re going to have holy hell going to Lubbock this week to face Texas Tech who pushed Oklahoma to the brink last week.
I don’t know what to expect from them defensively. Offensively, they have been outstanding. They have been balling out on that side of the ball and not turning the ball over. But the defense is perplexing to watch, having this precipitous fall over the last two weeks. I’m just scratching my head trying to figure out what’s going on.