Almost nine years ago, Alabama coach Nick Saban asked “Is this what we want football to be?” in regards to hurry-up, no-huddle offenses taking over college football. He was talking specifically about player safety; even still, Saban seemed like the last person on Earth willing to change with the direction of the game.
Entering November, 2020, Alabama’s offense is arguably best in the country. It’s certainly the most talented. It may not be the exact hurry-up, no-huddle concept Saban lamented nearly a decade ago, but it is the type of spread ’em out scheme that puts up big numbers. Alabama isn’t alone here — this is what wins in college football now — but there is a lesson about old dogs and new tricks.
Now college football’s best coach is the best at winning in today’s game. Coming into Saturday’s matchup against Mississippi State, Alabama’s offense was more or less on pace with LSU’s historic offensive output from 2019:
Following the 41-0 victory, the numbers have been adjusted somewhat. Yards per game (555.2), passing yards per game (380) and points per game (47.2) have dipped some, but rushing yards per game (175.2) increased. The point is, the Crimson Tide have been able to do whatever they’ve wanted, however they’ve wanted to do it. While the Tide won’t reach LSU’s season totals due to the shortened schedule, the averages are right there with the best offenses that ever played. There’s also the matter of opposing defenses. Last year, LSU faced some of the best defenses in the country over the course of the year, per FEI, including Alabama, Auburn, Clemson and Georgia.
Both Georgia and Mississippi State grade out well for this year, but overall Alabama, isn’t likely to face the same level of elite defenses as LSU. Still, there’s no denying Alabama is tearing through defenses at a potentially historic rate, even without star receiver Jaylen Waddle for the rest of the way. If offenses are what win games in 2020, Alabama is doing it as well as, if not better, than anyone.
Here are other takeaways from Week 9 of the college football season:
Ohio State in a class all its own in the Big Ten
The No. 3 Buckeyes took care of No. 18 Penn State 38-25 on Saturday. Outside of Nittany Lions wide receiver Jahan Dotson giving future first-round cornerback Shaun Wade the business, there wasn’t much to suggest that Ohio State was ever really in danger of losing. Of all the teams in the Big Ten East, Penn State has been, and was presumed to be, Ohio State’s biggest challenger. With that out of the way, can anyone in the East challenge the Buckeyes? Not without Ohio State soiling itself or a massive COVID-19 issue. What about from the West? Wisconsin? Maybe, but will the Badgers even get to the six games necessary to play in the conference championship? It seems clear that Alabama, Clemson and now Ohio State are just on another level.
Big 12’s playoff picture is getting dim
Speaking of playoff chatter, let’s talk about the Big 12. I’m not about to eliminate any conference from the College Football Playoff yet given that this is, last I checked, still 2020. Also, the Pac-12 hasn’t even started its season. But after No. 6 Oklahoma State’s 41-34 overtime loss to Texas, there are no undefeated teams left in the Big 12. The Cowboys had four turnovers and gave up a touchdown on a kickoff return. Though Oklahoma State is a good team, it wasn’t good enough to overcome that. After a couple of months of football, it’s pretty obvious no team in the Big 12 is good enough to overcome a bad day. That’s not unique to the Big 12, but no conference has beat up on itself over the first two months like this one. The next six weeks or so could be a lot more of the same.
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Georgia needs an offensive spark for Florida
Week 9 had an extra bit of cosmic connectivity. Watching Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields was a reminder of what could have been — not only at Penn State, where he first committed, but at Georgia, from where he transferred. Fields was great, and through two games he has just one more incompletion (7) than passing touchdowns (6). He also completed a pass looking like this:
Compare that to Georgia’s 14-3 win over Kentucky. It got the job done, yes, but only on the ground. Quarterback Stetson Bennett had 131 yards in the air and two interceptions. Did the Bulldogs need Bennett to win? No, but the ceiling is worrisome with Florida on the schedule for Week 10. Georgia has an elite defense and some of the finest blue-chip players anywhere in the country, but we already saw what that got them against Alabama. While Florida may not be on that same level, it does have an elite offense. And there’s only one provable way Georgia can win with Bennett.
Jim Harbaugh has worn out his welcome
This was a bad loss for Michigan. B-A-D, bad. A 24.5-point favorite, the Wolverines fell to the Spartans 27-24. This, again, came one week after Michigan State lost to Rutgers. There are a lot of things that can be said about this game, but here’s the takeaway: things are dicey for Harbaugh. I won’t say he’ll get fired yet, but about once a year he’ll give Michigan a head-scratcher like this. Well, it’s Year 6 and his contract expires after next season. Michigan has been no closer to beating Ohio State and Harbaugh is 3-3 against Michigan State. Somehow, each loss is practically inexplicable.
There’s a pain for Michigan that comes with losing annually to Ohio State. I wonder if dropping these unexpected games to Michigan State stings worse, especially the direction the Spartans have trended over the last few years. Harbaugh was brought in to play for Big Ten championships and playoff spots. He not only hasn’t done that, he can’t even get out of his own way against the program’s biggest rivals.
Of all the great wideouts in college football, and there are plenty, not enough oxygen is used on Bell. In a 31-24 win over Illinois, Bell had nine catches on nine targets for 122 yards and a touchdown. He had one of the most ridiculous catches of the day and literally held on to another ball to help his team win. Keep in mind that Bell has 22 catches on 30 targets for 243 yards and four touchdowns through two games. With Rondale Moore out, Bell is getting a ton of looks and he’s delivering.
Cincinnati making strong postseason statement
Coming into the season, I was skeptical that Cincinnati would be able to do enough offensively to stay up with the likes of SMU, UCF and Memphis in the AAC. Consider that question answered. The No. 7 Bearcats throttled Memphis 49-10 on Saturday, one week after beating SMU 42-13. Cincy has a great defense, but it’s quarterback Desmond Ridder and the offense that has this team primed to make a New Year’s Six bowl run. Ridder had five total touchdowns against the Tigers and the development of the passing game has been one of the pleasant surprises of this team. Cincinnati looks complete, and the Nov. 21 game at UCF seems more winnable by the week.