It seems so easy now, with the results in hand. The best college football team in America finished its season looking like, well, the best college football team in America. The dynasty did what dynasties do.
Good teams win. Great teams cover.
Yeah, it’s a catchy social media phrase. But in this instance, it also applies. This year, from start to finish, Alabama did plenty of both despite dealing with enormous point spreads and expectations. The Tide finished a perfect 13-0 and a remarkable 9-4 against the spread.
Alabama’s dominant 52-24 win over Ohio State was a fitting cap to a year that seemed constantly in flux. One can go so many places when celebrating this title, and I will do just that shortly. But here’s what won’t change at Alabama despite a long list of likely departures that will mount in the coming days.
The expectations will remain. Alabama opens the offseason as the favorite at BetMGM to win next year’s national championship. The Tide are + 300. They are followed by Clemson (+ 350), Ohio State (+ 500) and Oklahoma (+ 700).
Something about this feels normal.
Nick Saban is about to lose a lot. DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris, Mac Jones (probably), Patrick Surtain, linemen, linebackers. You name it. This will be an enormous exodus of talent, as it often is in Tuscaloosa. And yet Saban’s sheer presence instils such natural confidence that we forget the departures, we ponder the fill-ins and we trust the process.
In gambling, that can be hard to do. But seven national championships later, with the greatest recruiting class Saban has ever had about to join the program, it’s understandable.
Alabama has now been favored in 80 consecutive games. Come next fall, it doesn’t seem like that streak will end.
The hunt for next year’s title begins now. In fact, Saban is probably recruiting as you read this.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
The Appetizer: National Championship Tidbits and Observations
1. DeVonta Smith. Holy #$%^. If you have read this weekly column, you know my feelings about the best player in college football. And somehow, Smith took it to another level. I have never seen a wide receiver make the sport look as easy as he did Monday night against Ohio State. The fact that he didn’t play the second half due to injury remains a colossal bummer, although the performance was historic in nature. Twelve catches, 215 yards and three touchdowns in 30 minutes. This is an all-time year. This is an all-time career. This is an all-time game. With two national championships and a Heisman Trophy in hand, Smith leaves for the NFL as one of the most decorated to ever play.
2. I don’t think Trey Sermon’s presence would’ve changed the outcome, but the loss of one of Ohio State’s key players in the first few minutes of the title game can’t be overstated. Given the way Sermon had performed in the last two games, that was a gut punch. Master Teague III filled in admirably at running back, but this likely derailed a good chunk of the Buckeyes’ game plan. What a bummer for Sermon after such a meteoric rise.
3. Let’s talk about the Under. I liked it. I bet it. I lost. I had Alabama in the first half and for the game. I just didn’t think we would get that kind of output in the national championship. Well, we did. I bet the Under in the Alabama-Notre Dame semifinal, and I won. Trying to ride that momentum for one more game with an offense this dangerous was apparently too much to ask. Ohio State did its part to win this bet. Alabama did too much.
4. I still don’t know quite what to make of Justin Fields as an NFL prospect. He has a ton of physical talent and upside and has had some truly elite moments and throws over the last few years. But there are glitches every now and then — and we saw them in the title game — when he just doesn’t look like one of the dominant quarterbacks in America. A couple of wayward throws really hindered Ohio State’s efforts early in the title game, and that was a bit of a theme all season. I get the interest and the buzz that is likely to follow. His performance against Clemson was electric. I’m just curious what the scouts will think.
5. You should draft Najee Harris. I have nothing else to add. Just do it. What an absolute beast of a running back.
6. This was a weird year. That goes without saying. But I cannot express my gratitude enough for everyone — coaches, players and personnel — who made it possible. If you would have told me in August that we would get a college football season that would look, sound and feel somewhat normal, I would’ve thought you were crazy. Granted, the lack of fans was painful for a sport so united with the audience. But this year still delivered in so many ways, and I couldn’t be more thankful. I’ve said it before and it needs to be said one more time. Thank you.
The Buffet: Three Heisman Futures to Consider for Next Season
Disclaimer: We don’t have the full list of players declaring for the NFL yet, so these thoughts will change fast. But that doesn’t mean we can’t highlight a few early Heisman contenders I like.
Also, I think this is a year when a few chalky selections figure. That makes for boring content. I am highlighting my favorite of the bunch and going down the list.
D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson (+ 650): This is chalk, or semi-chalk, I can get behind. We saw a glimpse of what he is capable of against Notre Dame in 2020. As a result, Uiagalelei will enter the offseason with immense expectations. The Tigers will lose some quality pieces on offense, but this is a young team with a ton of talent and a manageable schedule. Physically, Uiagalelei has incredible tools. Clemson will still win a ton of games. If he limits mistakes, all the ingredients are there for Uiagalelei to explode in short order.
JT Daniels, Georgia (+ 1800): In the four games he played at Georgia this season, Daniels showed glimpses of what he is capable of. Those positive early returns could translate into a massive leap in 2021. While you have to have faith that this is the year the Bulldogs break through — and Georgia fans know how tough that is — there is reason for optimism. Not only should Daniels be better, but he will be surrounded by talent. The USC transfer can finally get comfortable, and that could result in a huge transformation. A lot to like here.
Bijan Robinson, Texas (+ 2500): First, some background. I profiled Robinson in the fall of 2020, and I remain convinced he is the most gifted high school football player I have ever seen in person. Robinson, a true freshman in 2020, validated his five-star hype by averaging more than 8 yards per carry this season. He also accounted for 443 total yards in the Longhorns’ final two games. Having Steve Sarkisian as his new coach should be a lift to a situation already full of intrigue. Texas still has to win enough games, of course. But the potential is there, and a new coach with a massive bag of offensive tricks only makes this more attractive.
The Buffet: Three National Championship Futures to Consider for Next Season
Disclaimer (Part 2): This is a category even more impacted by what happens next, especially considering eligibility was essentially frozen this season. Given the number of key departures, I actually like some value down the odds board.
Georgia (+ 1000): I’ve fallen into this trap before, to which I alluded earlier. But given the way this team has recruited and developed, 2021 might just be the year. I’ve already explained why I believe in JT Daniels. He could become next season’s Joe Burrow. Also, as we know, the Heisman and the national championship often intersect. With Alabama reloading in many places, this could be the year the Bulldogs finally take one gigantic leap forward. To me, as we sit here right now, this will be the best team in college football.
Iowa State (+ 2500): I won’t be alone. Given what Iowa State has returning, this will likely be a team with plenty of backing. And while it feels somewhat peculiar to envision Iowa State holding the trophy at the end, the return of QB Brock Purdy, RB Breece Hall and TE Charlie Kolar is significant. Coach Matt Campbell, barring a last-minute change of heart, is back for at least one more year as well. The schedule isn’t easy. Games against Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma should be challenges. But this is a really explosive team with a brilliant coach. The Cyclones will be offseason champions, though I understand why.
Oregon (+ 4000): It might be a year or two early, but Mario Cristobal has this team in a position to take a gigantic leap forward. The defense will certainly be one of the nation’s best. Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux might be the best player in college football next season. Oregon also has some other tremendous pieces on that side of the ball. To me, the question is more about offense. For a program that has produced so much of it over the last decade, that’s odd to say out loud. But if the Ducks can find some stability at quarterback and a few more weapons, I could see this team taking tremendous strides.