Starting 11: Alabama’s Dynasty Is Still Dead

With a monster performance against No. 18 Auburn, No. 13 LSU’s Leonard Fournette cemented his place in this Heisman race, says voter Cory McCartney. MPX

Last year after a loss to Ole Miss and a narrow 14-13 victory over Arkansas, I said Alabama’s dynasty was over. The 85% of Tide fans, predictably, reacted with fury. As the 85% typically does anytime you say anything other than, “Alabama is the greatest team in the history of the universe and it’s perfectly normal to name your children after Bear Bryant and sell plasma to go to the Sugar Bowl.”

But the simple fact was Alabama wasn’t consistently dominating inferior teams like they had in the past. If there was any doubt that the dynasty was over, Alabama’s home loss to Ole Miss on Saturday night ended it. This was the kind of game that Alabama simply didn’t lose from 2009-2013. Five turnovers, your opponent scores 43 points in Bryant-Denny at night, the Tide scrambling to try and avoid a total implosion, with every loss the excuses become more pronounced.

How about this instead of an excuse — good teams sometimes lose. Great teams, rarely, if ever, lose. Alabama’s just a good football team. The rest of the SEC has caught up with Alabama and Nick Saban, particularly Saban’s defense. Alabama built its dynasty on defense and the simple fact is Saban’s defense is downright ordinary now. What do these numbers represent? 44, 42, and 43, those are the number of points the Alabama defense has given up in three of its past four games against top 15 opponents.

Indeed, in Bama’s last 19 games the Tide is now 14-5. In five seasons from 2008 to 2012, Alabama lost just seven games.

In two weeks, when the Tide roll into Georgia and lose, it will be a perfect capstone to the rise and fall of the Tide dynasty. Remember in 2008 when Alabama went to #1 Georgia and humiliated them in Athens in the black out game? That was the beginning of Saban’s dynasty at Alabama. Georgia beating the Tide on October 3rd will be a fitting end to Saban’s seven year run of conference dominance. The Tide will be virtually eliminated from winning the SEC earlier than in any year since Saban’s first in 2007. 

So long as Saban’s still in Tuscaloosa the Tide can still be good, but I don’t believe they’ll ever be dominant again. 

By the way, odds I would play this song on constant repeat if I were tailgating in the Grove this coming weekend?

100%…SWAG KELLY.  

On to the Starting 11. 

1. Ohio State looks like Florida State last year. 

In three games this year, how many good quarters has Ohio State actually played? The first quarter against Virginia Tech, maybe another quarter midway through the third until midway through the fourth against Virginia Tech, although that was helped by Hokie quarterback Michael Brewer’s injury. The simple fact is Ohio State has been downright pedestrian, playing to the level of the competition, trailing teams they should be beating with quarterback play that has been atrocious.

Who does that sound like?

FSU last year, right?

So what’s going on in Columbus? Fortunately for Ohio State Urban Meyer has until late November to get things worked out on this team, but if Michigan State rolled into town this weekend, I think the Spartans would beat the Buckeyes.   

Stu Mandel pointed out that this year’s Ohio State team also resembles Meyer’s 2009 Florida team, the one that attempted to repeat with Tim Tebow. That year Meyer lost Dan Mullen to Mississippi State and Florida muddled through much of the year, winning, but failing to look impressive or cohesive. Nick Saban eventually crushed Meyer’s Gators in the SEC title game and sent Meyer to the hospital, and soon after to retirement.

This year at Ohio State Meyer is attempting to repeat with a returning star quarterback — two of them, actually — and he lost his offensive coordinator in the offseason. Given how well Herman has Houston playing and how poorly the Buckeye offense looks, it certainly appears Herman deserved a lot more credit last season.   

2. How about Kliff Kingsbury off the top rope on Bret Bielema?

Watch this video if you haven’t already seen it:

Remember, it’s not gay if it’s Kliff Kingsbury. 

Last week I said I wouldn’t panic if I was an Arkansas fan. This week, I’d panic. The Razorbacks have now lost two straight home games as double digit favorites and face this as their next three games: Texas A&M in Dallas, at UT, at Alabama. I think Arkansas starts the season 1-5. If that happens the Razorbacks could still beat Auburn, UT-Martin, Mississippi State, and Missouri in Fayetteville, but that would make 5-7 the top end result.

If that’s the case then Arkansas, at best, would be 15-22 after three years of Bielema.

It’s amazing how quickly Razorback fans have gone from talking about winning the SEC West to asking if Bielema is the right guy for their program. 

3. Georgia looks dominant and no one is really paying attention. 

This means Georgia is totally under the radar, which is good for them. That will change when Alabama comes to town on October 3rd. But if Georgia beats Alabama, which I think they will, then the Bulldog schedule is manageable from there on out. Sure, you have road games at Tennessee, the Cocktail Party against Florida, at Auburn, and a season ender against Georgia Tech, but the Bulldogs figure to be favored in all those games. Hell, if they beat Alabama, Georgia even has a chance to Georgia at least one game and still be in the mix for a playoff spot. 

There’s even a decent chance the Bulldogs could play an undefeated team from the SEC West — either Ole Miss, Texas A&M or LSU — and the SEC could be in position for two teams in the playoff. (I’m writing about this below, but I don’t think the ACC will have a playoff team. Figure the Big Ten gets one, the Pac 12 may or may not get one and we’ll see how the Big 12 shakes out.)

I picked the Bulldogs to win the SEC, and with Greyson Lambert’s play on Saturday against South Carolina — he set an all-time NCAA passing record– that looks downright prescient, breaking Tee Martin’s record set against South Carolina back in 1998.  

4. The ACC is awful. 

The three best teams in the ACC are Clemson, Florida State, and Georgia Tech. So far none of these teams have looked like they belong in the top 15. Georgia Tech was whipped by Notre Dame and if you watched Clemson on Thursday against Louisville or Florida State against Boston College on Friday you saw that both Clemson and Florida State are atrocious on offense right now. 

Clemson has the best schedule of the group — Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and FSU are all at home — but Deshaun Watson is going to have to progress a great deal for the Tigers to go undefeated. And it’s definitely going to take an undefeated record for an ACC team to make the playoff.

Having said that, I picked an undefeated Clemson team to make the playoff before the season started and based on their schedule I’d still favor them in the conference.  

5. Notre Dame got an impressive win over Georgia Tech. 

I’ve been tough on the Fighting Irish, but given in the injury situation and the fact that everyone was picking Georgia Tech to win in South Bend that was an impressive performance. I just don’t see any way that the Fighting Irish are going undefeated this year with road games at Clemson, at Temple — talk about bad schedule timing — and at Stanford still to come. Plus, a home game against USC.

The schedule isn’t brutal, but the injuries have been. 

6. Leonard Fournette is the best player in college football. 

Just give him the Heisman right now. 

LSU ran for over 400 yards against Auburn, a performance that will likely leave Will Muschamp on the edge of spontaneous combustion, and Les Miles soaking in a jacuzzi with a cigar until Thursday.

At some point you figure LSU will have to throw the football, but that doesn’t seem likely at Syracuse — how strange is this game? — home against Eastern Michigan, at South Carolina, and then home against Florida, or Western Kentucky.

LSU should be 7-0 when the Tigers roll into Alabama on November 7th.  

And here’s a bigger question for you that will become a huge topic of debate, why should Fournette have to play his junior season at LSU? He’s ready for the NFL now, right? Yet he’s forced to return for his junior year, when all he can do is get injured and hurt his future marketability. If he was making a pure business decision, wouldn’t he sit out his junior year?

Here’s a ridiculous hypothesis for you that could simultaneously expose the stupidity of the NFL’s age limit restrictions — which I believe are legally impermissible — and the NCAA’s improper benefits restrictions. What if Fournette signed autographs for thousands of dollars this off season, allowed that signing and payment to be “secretly” videotaped and then had that video purposely leaked? He’d be ineligible to play for LSU under NCAA rules, but would avoid all the stigma and criticism that he’d face for being the first college player to sit out a season before the NFL Draft. Instead of blaming Fournette for making a smart business decision, everyone would rip the NCAA for its stupid rules.

 

It’s brilliant.

Hell, I’d probably do this if I were him.  

7. Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and LSU are the class of the SEC West and none of them play each other until November. 

There’s a decent chance that we enter November with three undefeated SEC teams. We talked about LSU and Georgia’s schedule above, well, Ole Miss, A&M and LSU don’t play each other until late October. 

The first meeting of these three teams is when Texas A&M goes to Ole Miss on October 24th. There’s a good chance that’s a 6-0 Aggies team against a 7-0 Ole Miss team.

And either way that end of the year A&M at LSU game looks beyond massive this year. It’s possible that 11-0 LSU could take on 11-0 Texas A&M the week before the SEC title game.

Then if you had a 12-0 SEC West team playing a 12-0 Georgia team in the title game, how would both of these teams not be poised to make the playoff regardless of the result? 

8. UCLA survived BYU, but USC went down to Stanford.

Let’s talk about the Pac 12 for a minute. Every team seems likely to lose a game in this conference. Indeed, only California, Arizona, UCLA and Utah are still undefeated. UCLA plays at Arizona this weekend so one of those teams will lose and Utah plays at Oregon, where it’s likely the Utes will lose.

So we’ll probably be down to just two undefeated teams in the Pac 12 before the month of September is over.

UCLA has a chance to run the table, but I really don’t think anyone else does. And I think it’s more likely that the Pac 12 champ has two losses than it is that the Pac 12 champ has no losses.

What I’m getting at is this, the Pac 12, which may be the second best conference behind the SEC this year, has a decent chance of getting left out of the playoff.  

And if you want a strange coaching situation to keep an eye on, it’s clearly Steve Sarkisian at USC. Giving up 41 points to a Stanford offense that could only muster six points on the road at Northwestern is difficult to explain away. Sark is now 30-25 in Pac 12 games after six full seasons as a coach. How much leeway does he have this year? Probably not much. Would USC fire Sark if, for instance, he finished 8-4 this year? That seems hard to believe, but there’s chatter it’s possible.    

9. TCU hasn’t been very good this season.

The Horned Frogs won by ten at Minnesota, played an FCS school, and then gave up a ton of yards and points to SMU. I haven’t heard anyone talking about TCU’s defensive struggles, probably because even though they’re a top five team, TCU doesn’t really move the needle, but look out this weekend on the road at Texas Tech. 

Strange things happen in Lubbock and I can’t wait to see what the over/under is on this game.

If you are voting entirely based on on-field results so far this season, there’s no way TCU should be ranked in the top ten.  

10. Who replaces Steve Spurrier at South Carolina?

Barring a miracle Spurrier’s Gamecocks will finish with a losing record this year, the first time in his SEC coaching career that Spurrier will have finished with a losing record.

It could be 4-8 bad.

So who would South Carolina hire to replace Spurrier?

Of course, there’s Chip Kelly, whose Eagles are 0-2, but even if he left Philly I don’t think Chip would take the Gamecock job. If he would, congrats for sucking at just the right time, South Carolina. That would be an incredible hire. 

Here’s a couple of names worth floating: Mark Dantonio at Michigan State has to be your first call. Hardly anyone knows that Dantonio was a defensive back at South Carolina. Would he have any desire to come back to Columbia and try and win his school’s first ever SEC title? You have to call. 

If Dantonio says no, what kind of coach can South Carolina attract? Here are a few additional names: Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech, Justin Fuente at Memphis, Mark Stoops at Kentucky, Will Muschamp from Auburn, and, in a total wild card, Charlie Strong jumping ship at Texas and coming back to South Carolina ahead of the scorching hot seat talk in year three at Texas.

I’m fascinated to see how much attention that South Carolina job attracts.  

11. SEC power rankings based entirely on games that have been played so far. 

1. Ole Miss

2. Texas A&M 

3. Georgia

4. LSU

5. Alabama

6. Tennessee

7. Florida

8. Mississippi State

9. Kentucky

10. Mizzou

11. South Carolina

12. Arkansas

13. Auburn

14. Vandy

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.