Alabama Football: On CFB’s constants, elites and no Cinderellas

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports /

A new Alabama Football season is a week away. There are games on the last Saturday in August and for the teams in them, they matter greatly. To Alabama Crimson Tide fans, no new season has ‘really’ commenced until the first kickoff in Alabama’s first game.

Alabama Football has more than a few players with no memory of Nick Saban arriving in Tuscaloosa. This means they also have no sense of how the game has changed since then, much less the speed by which that change has occurred.

Many Crimson Tide fans talk about the Nick Saban Era. Generally defined, the period covers all of Saban’s 14 Crimson Tide seasons. More precisely there have been two Alabama Football – Saban Eras. One era covers the 2007-2013 seasons, and with three National Championships, the Tide regained lost status as CFB’s most elite program. That era ended with Oklahoma being too much for the Tide in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.

The 2014 season started a new Saban-Tide Era, ushered in with the new CFB Playoff and the hiring of Lane Kiffin. Saban brought Kiffin in to reinvent the Tide’s out-of-date, power football offense. It was a master move by Saban and the benefits are still evident today.

What future year will one day be added to the Saban-Tide 2014-???? Era is not known. The current era already owns its stamp of greatness. Traversing both eras, 2009-2020, Alabama Football has been not just CFB’s brightest star, but also its firmest constant.

The actual game has changed much and so have the rules under which it is played. Today’s college football world is one of few elite programs and the absence of true Cinderella teams.

The Cinderella description can be applied on many levels. National media is on a constant search for each season’s purported minnows that can swim with the whales. Grandiose assessments get applied to programs like UCF and even less likely championship contenders like Coastal Carolina. Every 20-plus point underdog that takes down a whale (like Appalachian State) is packaged as a watershed event. One word summarizes all such fanciful conjecture – hype; hype, devoid of substance.

Let’s be real. Since the CFB Playoff commenced in 2014, making each season’s four-team semi-finals and winning the National Championship has overshadowed all other college football accomplishments. On the day before the start of the 2021 season, most of the national chatter was tied to the Playoff chances of 20-25 teams. In reality, a far smaller number of teams have legitimate Playoff chances.

Each season only Alabama Football and a few other teams have a chance

The 2021 season continues the trend of overvaluing too many teams. CFB Playoff history shows a clear correlation between the preseason AP Poll and each season’s final four teams. Andy Wittry, writing for provides the data from the Playoff era.

As Wittrey reports, the preseason AP Poll is a strong predictor of each season’s Playoff teams. Among the 28, final four slots since the Playoff began, only five have gone to teams ranked outside the Top 10 in the preseason AP Poll.

  • 2015 – Clemson (No. 12) and Oklahoma (No. 19)
  • 2016 – Washington (No. 14)
  • 2017 – Georgia (No. 15)
  • 2018 – Notre Dame (No. 12)

The history shows in the four-team Playoff format, there is no space for a Cinderella team. An expanded Playoff will do little to change the results for a Coastal Carolina, a Liberty, an Appalachian State, or even a UCF or a Cincinnati, along with dozens of other teams.

College football is ruled by a small number of elite programs. With major boosts from the Transfer Portal and NIL, the rich get richer.

Next. Why Nick Saban is the GOAT and always will be. dark

In the Playoff era, the most ‘constant’ of the elites has been Alabama Football. No ‘Alliance’ contrived arrangement is likely to change that, though there is no doubt the other three of the Power Four will try.