Alabama Football: For title contenders defense still matters

Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports /
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Alabama Football won the 2020 National Championship with a good defense, often undervalued by Crimson Tide fans. Last season’s Alabama Football version was certainly not one of Nick Saban’s best but it was the No. 1 Scoring Defense in the SEC.

It is true a several-season trend is more scoring throughout the FBS. Among the four teams having won National Championships in the CFB Playoff era, only the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson have done it with teams that averaged scoring less than 38 points per game. The Tide and the Tigers have won five of the seven championships because their defenses were most frequently better than other title contenders.

A common theme in today’s world of college football is defense no longer wins championships. That claim was given strong proof when the 2019 National Champion, LSU won it all with the No. 32 ranked Scoring Defense in the FBS. But, that is only one data point. Ask Oklahoma fans if explosive offense is enough to win championships. An honest Sooner would say it is not.

light. Related Story. 2021 Defense could be Saban's best

Reviewing the top scoring defenses in the Playoff era yields interesting data. Details follow, but a summary conclusion is among national championship contenders, defense still matters. Check out the data below.

To correlate with the seven College Football Playoff seasons, NCAA stats were reviewed going back to the 2014 season. Power Five teams, plus Notre Dame and BYU were compared.

Teams and Scoring Allowed by Top Power Five Defenses (less than 20 points)

Note: Teams listed below are in order of least points allowed to most.

  • 2014 – Eight teams allowed less than 20 points per game: Ole Miss; Stanford; Clemson; LSU; Alabama (18.4 points); Penn State; TCU and Arkansas. The average points allowed by the eight teams was 17.7 points.
  • 2015 – Ten teams allowed less than 20 points per game: Wisconsin; Ohio State; Alabama (15.1 points); Boston College; Missouri; Michigan; Georgia; Florida State; Florida and Northwestern. The average points allowed by the ten teams was 16.3 points.
  • 2016 – Twelve teams allowed less than 20 points per game: Alabama (13 points); Michigan; Ohio State; Wisconsin; LSU; Florida; Auburn; Washington; Clemson; Miami; Iowa and BYU. The average points allowed by the 12 teams was 16.7 points.
  • 2017 – Thirteen teams allowed less than 20 points per game: Alabama (11.9); Clemson; Wisconsin; Virginia tech; Washington; Georgia; Penn State; Auburn; Michigan; LSU; TCU; Ohio State and Iowa. The average points allowed by the 13 teams was 16.7 points.
  • 2018 – Thirteen teams allowed less than 20 points per game: Clemson; Mississippi State; Washington; Kentucky; Michigan State; Iowa; Alabama (18.1); Notre Dame; Auburn; Georgia; Michigan; Utah and Miami. The average points allowed by the 13 teams was 17.5 points.
  • 2019 – Sixteen teams allowed less than 20 points per game: Georgia; Clemson; Ohio State; Iowa; Utah; Florida; Penn State; Oregon; Wisconsin; Notre Dame; Alabama (18.6 points); Kentucky; Washington; Missouri; Auburn and Baylor. The average points allowed by the 15 teams was 16.7 points.
  • 2020 – Six teams allowed less than 20 points per game: BYU; Northwestern; Iowa; Wisconsin; Alabama (19.4 points) and Notre Dame. The average points allowed by the six teams was 17.3 points.

Alabama Football Stands Out

Crimson Tide fans no doubt notice, on Alabama Football made the top Scoring Defense list every season.

Observation No. 1 – The range of points allowed by each season’s top Scoring Defense teams shows little change. The individual teams change some from season to season, but the top defending teams are not significantly giving up more points from 2014, through 2020.

Observation No. 2 – In five of the seven seasons, one of the top Scoring Defense teams was the National Champion. The only exceptions were Ohio State in 2014 and LSU in 2019.

There is no doubt college football defenses are less dominant than they were before the Playoff era. Instead of shutting down opposing offenses, making enough drive-killing plays to hold down the score has become the main goal.

Conclusion – Based on the data reviewed, a very good defense is still an important component to winning championships. The good news for Alabama Football fans is the Crimson Tide could have the nation’s most elite defense in 2021.

Next. Final pre-season projected Depth Chart. dark

A valid complaint about this analysis is the teams cannot be compared because of disparities in schedule difficulty. That is why Group of Five teams were removed from the comparison. Also, a larger sample in the number of seasons might have provided better insight. The seven-season sample was chosen because the game has changed since the BCS era.