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John Werner: Alabama easy to root against, hard not to admire

John Werner: Alabama easy to root against, hard not to admire

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Alabama has become to college football what the New England Patriots were to the NFL.

It’s easy to root against them, but it’s hard not to admire them.

Unless you’re a Patriots’ fan, who didn’t get tired of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady winning championships? Six Super Bowl titles from 2002-19 made the Patriots the greatest dynasty in NFL history (Sorry Coach Lombardi).

With Monday night’s 52-24 thrashing of Ohio State, it’s taken Alabama coach Nick Saban even less time to win six NCAA titles. The Tide has won half of the 12 NCAA football titles since 2009.

It’s not even debatable whether Saban is the greatest coach in college football history. Counting his 2003 national championship at LSU, Saban has a record seven now, one more than that other Alabama coaching legend Bear Bryant.

Three of Bryant’s championships came in the 1960s when the NCAA didn’t limit scholarships. Powerhouses like Alabama, Ohio State and Texas could stockpile 150 players, which not only gave them an abundance of talent to choose from but also kept good players away from other schools.

Following the advent of Title IX in 1972, the NCAA put limits on football scholarships, allowing more money for women’s sports. Limitations began with 105 football scholarships in 1973, 95 in 1978, and the current 85 since 1992.

Of course, Bryant’s astonishing success in the 1960s and 1970s made Alabama a brand name in college football, and Saban has benefited from his legacy.

Saban led Alabama to three national titles in the Bowl Championship Series era and three more in the College Football Playoff era. So it hasn’t really mattered what format college football has used because the Crimson Tide has thrived regardless.

I’ve been among the pundits who have argued for an eight-team CFP since the four-team format was unveiled in 2014 when talented Baylor and TCU teams were left out.

The four-team playoff has continued to gather critics since it’s become so predictable. Alabama and Clemson have each made six appearances in seven years while Oklahoma and Ohio State have made four apiece.

I would have loved to see a non-Power 5 conference team like Cincinnati get its shot this season. It would have been interesting to see what Texas A&M could have done in its first CFP appearance.

The Sooners would have given Alabama a better CFP game than Ohio State or Notre Dame, a 31-14 loser to the Crimson Tide in the semifinals. Anybody who saw the Sooners destroy Florida, 55-20, in the Cotton Bowl would have to agree.

But Oklahoma didn’t have a chance at making the CFP after losing to Kansas State and Iowa State early in the season before winning its last eight games.

Even if the Buckeyes had played their best game, they still wouldn’t have beaten the powerful Crimson Tide.

Alabama scored its most points ever in a bowl game as Mac Jones hit 36 of 45 passes for 464 yards and five touchdowns. Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith was spectacular as he made 12 catches for 215 yards and three scores before leaving the game with a hand injury.

Balancing a 621-yard attack was running back Najee Harris, who rushed for 79 yards and two scores while making seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown.

By halftime, the Crimson Tide built a 35-17 lead, and probably could have put 70 on the board if it hadn’t shifted to ball control mode in the second half.

If Steve Sarkisian can run Texas’ football program as effectively as he directed Alabama’s offense, the Longhorns could get back among the nation’s elite.

Give Saban credit for evolving as a coach: He’s transformed a ground-and-pound, run-oriented program into a wide-open, exciting attack that produces great quarterbacks and receivers and still plays strong defense.

Like every other college team, the Crimson Tide had more obstacles to deal with than usual with COVID-19 raging. Even the 69-year-old Saban was affected as he tested positive and had to miss Alabama’s game against Auburn on Nov. 28.

The Crimson Tide pounded its in-state rival 42-13 anyway.

Playing no nonconference games, Alabama swept through the SEC with an 11-0 record before romping to its two playoff wins. Twelve of 13 wins were by double digits.

The eight-team playoff is going to happen eventually. But that doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide won’t be just as dominant in a revised format, at least as long as Saban is around.

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