This week Joel Klatt explained why Alabama Football is one of his Playoff sleeper teams. Klatt’s perspective does not represent a lone voice. A few others are quietly beginning to voice confidence in the Crimson Tide.
No one, including Klatt, has said making the Playoff will be easy for the Crimson Tide. I’ll add a hunch that nothing (outside the Chattanooga game) will come easy for the Crimson Tide.
Nick Saban would likely agree about how hard the Tide’s tasks will be. One of Saban’s strengths that has fueled so many championships is that he is process-driven rather than scheme-driven. That is more true with Crimson Tide offenses than Saban’s defenses, but the GOAT does not try to make a team into something it is not. Klatt explained such flexibility as a reason for being confident in Nick Saban.
"Nick Saban will find a way to win. He’s one of the only head coaches that I can remember in this sport that has won national championships with multiple different styles, multiple different assistant coaching staffs …"
Halfway through the 2023 regular season, Alabama is an outstanding defensive team. Rapidly the Crimson Tide is becoming the best defensive team in college football.
ESPN Analytics ranks Alabama Football at No. 4 for Defense Efficiency (DE). The calculations used are measured against the strength of opponent offenses. Alabama is the highest-ranked SEC team. Auburn is 11th, Tennessee 12th, Texas A&M 14th. The Georgia Bulldogs are ranked No. 22. Way below every SEC team except Vanderbilt is LSU at No. 100.
Not presented as a refutation of ESPN’s calculation but the three teams ranked above Alabama have much weaker strengths of schedule (SOS). Michigan is ranked No. 1 in Defense Efficiency and has an SOS of No. 111. No 2 (DE) rated Penn State has an SOS of 110. No. 3 (DE) UCLA has an SOS of No. 98. The Crimson Tide’s SOS is No. 3.
Alabama Football and Defense Winning a Championship
An unknown for the Crimson Tide and most of college football is how much defense still matters in winning championships. No one would bother asking Lincoln Riley that question, but not even Nick Saban knows a precise answer.
Klatt pointed out that going forward, because of the defense, Alabama is “gonna be in every game.” But Klatt also explained why doubts about the Tide are warranted,
"No one believes in this team because they don’t have a high ceiling. They don’t have that quarterback they’ve had the last five years. The offense is a concern. They’re ninth in the SEC in scoring."
This Alabama team is not built to win in a shootout. Not yet anyway, and maybe not by Nov. 4th. That LSU game might be the Tide’s toughest challenge because the LSU offense is more explosive than Georgia’s. ESPN has the Bengal Tigers at No. 2 (behind Washington) in Offense Efficiency. Then again Georgia has a defense and LSU does not.
Many Alabama football fans are enjoying and growing more comfortable with the ’23 Tide being led by its defense and special teams. The wins may not always be pretty and they may be hard to come by – but college football championships were never meant to be beauty contests.