2015 Alabama doesn’t rank close to best champ of BCS/playoff era
Last week, I was asked by CBS Sports’ Jon Solomon to take part in a media survey about where the 2015 Alabama team ranks among the recent other national champs that included the 16 BCS titlists and the two playoff winners. Here are the results of that as tabulated by Solomon. Below is how — and why — I voted each of these teams.
1. 2001 Miami: These ’Canes destroyed everything in their path. In the national title game, UM led Nebraska 34-0 at halftime. They outscored five ranked opponents by an average of 47-14. This team was loaded on both sides of the ball, featuring 17 first-round picks and 38 draft picks. They also had fantastic leadership with safety Ed Reed and QB Ken Dorsey. UM had the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense (43.2 PPG) and No. 1 defense (9.4 PPG). It’s the best team I’ve seen in 20-plus years covering college football.
2. 2005 Texas: In retrospect it felt like Vince Young took down an undefeated, great USC team single-handedly. Young was a fantastic college player, but truth be told, he also had a stacked supporting cast, especially on D. Safeties Michael Huff and Michael Griffin became first-rounders as did CB Aaron Ross, while the other CB Cedric Griffin went second round. CB Tarell Brown was a fifth-rounder. DEs Tim Crowder and Brian Robison went in the second and fourth rounds. Speedy RB Jamaal Charles provided a good complement to Young. UT’s average margin of victory was 35.3 PPG — only the 2013 FSU Seminoles had a bigger one in the past 18 seasons. UT beat four ranked teams. The win over that USC team in the Rose Bowl is as impressive as anything any team has on its resume. The ’Horns also had a win over No. 4 Ohio State in Columbus, and the Buckeyes were the only team in the regular season to get within single digits of UT.
3. 2004 USC: This was Pete Carroll’s most complete team. They whupped a talented OU team 55-19 in the BCS title game. They went 13-0 and had a ridiculously explosive offense led by two guys who won Heismans, QB Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Fellow RB LenDale White provided a bruising component to the offense while Bush, Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett worked outside. The O-line, anchored by center Ryan Kalil was very solid and the D, sparked by LB Lofa Tatupu, was underrated. Still, for as gifted as the Trojans were, they did have a few close calls on the way to the title, surviving a fantastic performance by Aaron Rodgers in a 23-17 win against Cal; a 28-20 come-from-behind rally at a mediocre Oregon State squad that was just 4-4 at the time; a fourth quarter rally to beat Stanford 31-28. That Cardinal team just went 4-7. And then a 29-24 win over archrival UCLA.
4. 2008 Florida: I was surprised this group wasn’t ranked higher by the voting panel that had them No. 7. This was a fast, physical team led by Tim Tebow on offense and Brandon Spikes and Joe Haden on D. Percy Harvin was Urban Meyer’s game-breaker. They faced four Top 10 opponents and beat all of them by double-digits, including beating No. 4 LSU by 30 and No. 8 UGA by 39. They also beat No. 23 FSU on the road by 30 and No. 24 South Carolina by 50. The downside: they did lose at home to Jevan Snead and Ole Miss, 31-30.
5. 1999 Florida State: They went 12-0 and had a good leader in Heisman QB Chris Weinke and some nice weapons in Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans. The defense had a nasty front led by Corey Simon (21 TFLs) and Jamal Reynolds, and the secondary was terrific too. They didn’t crush everyone but they did beat a dangerous Virginia Tech team led by the phenomenal Michael Vick, 46-29.
6. 2009 Alabama: This team went 14-0 and is best known for crushing Florida and Tim Tebow in the SEC title game. They beat Texas after knocking Colt McCoy out of the game. The Tide’s toughest game was against Lane Kiffin’s Tennessee team in Tuscaloosa, a 12-10 win. Steady Greg McElroy led an offense that featured Heisman winner Mark Ingram and stud wideout Julio Jones. Rolando McClain, Dont’a Hightower and Mark Barron sparked the nation’s No. 2 defense.
7. 2013 Florida State: This was a pretty star-studded group led by redshirt freshman QB Jameis Winston, RB Devonta Freeman and DB LaMarcus Joyner. Jimbo Fisher’s national title team won by the biggest margin of victory of any of these champs — 39.5 PPG. The competition was suspect. Only Clemson, which FSU crushed 51-14, finished the season ranked among their regular season opponents. The ’Noles also needed a last-second TD pass to rally to defeat Auburn in the title game.
8. 1998 Tennessee: I was higher on this group than many of my peers apparently. The Vols went 13-0 in the year after Peyton Manning moved onto the NFL and Tee Martin took over. The Vols had a deep backfield with Travis Henry, Travis Stephens, Shawn Bryson and Jamal Lewis along with a go-to wideout in Peerless Price. Al Wilson led the defense.
9. 2010 Auburn: This was not a deep roster. It had fewer drafted starters than any other championship team of this era. It did however have the best college player of his generation in Cam Newton, and also a dominant D-lineman in Nick Fairley. Despite more than their share of drama on and off the field, they kept winning. Even with Fairley, this was a suspect defense that didn’t even rank among the Top 50 nationally. But they had Newton and did beat seven teams that ranked in the Top 25.
10. 2014 Ohio State: The Buckeyes overcame a bad early season home loss to Va. Tech and overcame hefty injury at QB to both Braxton Miller and then J.T. Barrett and still rolled through the playoff behind an O-line that jelled incredibly well and a terrific RB (Ezekiel Elliott). The D also blossomed behind rising stars Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, Josh Perry and Vonn Bell, which did a great job handling the teams led by the three Heisman finalists — Melvin Gordon’s Wisconsin; Amari Cooper’s Alabama and Marcus Mariota’s Oregon — in the postseason.
11. 2011 Alabama: This Tide team went 12-1. It didn’t even win its division, but it did come back and avenge its only loss, an overtime home defeat against LSU, by dominating the Tigers in the Superdome. As Jon Solomon noted, this group became the first defense to lead the nation in scoring, rushing, passing and total yards since Oklahoma in 1986 but it also only faced one FBS opponent whose offense ranked higher than 86th in total yards (No. 29 Arkansas). First-year starting QB AJ McCarron relied on a potent one-two punch with Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy in the backfield.
12. 2002 Ohio State: Jim Tressel’s team went 14-0 despite an often shaky offense, which only ranked No. 41 in offense. Maurice Clarett was the engine for this team that was very stout on defense and did beat an extremely talented Miami team in the title game — although it did come after a very controversial late pass interference flag on Miami’s Glenn Sharpe. Then again, Buckeye fans would argue there were also some questionable calls that went against OSU earlier in the game. UM managed a pedestrian 369 yards and just 2.0 yards per carry in the game while OSU produced only 267 yards, but the ’Canes did have five turnovers. In all this OSU team won seven games by seven points or less.
13. 2015 Alabama: It was not a great year for the rest of the SEC, but the nasty ’Bama D had something to do with that. The Tide mauled some very talented folks including LSU stud RB Leonard Fournette and Mississippi State veteran QB Dak Prescott. They made Big Ten champ Michigan State look woeful, although Clemson and Deshaun Watson had them on the ropes. ’Bama was shaky early in the season that was low-lighted by a home loss to a talented Ole Miss squad. The Tide also barely survived against Tennessee at home at mid-season. QB Jacob Coker settled in and was very sharp down the stretch, throwing nine TDs and zero INTs in the final five games to help RB Derrick Henry, who had a Heisman season.
14. 2000 Oklahoma: It only took Bob Stoops two seasons to bring a title back to OU and this bunch went 13-0 after bottling up FSU in the title game, 13-2. This wasn’t a team loaded with marquee talent but I had them a little higher than some others apparently because it beat six Top 25 teams with only one of those wins coming at home (a 31-14 victory over No. 1 Nebraska).
15. 2012 Alabama: I wasn’t as big on this 13-1 team as some of the other voters. The D — led by the fantastic C.J. Mosley was superb, ranking No. 1, and the offense with its combo of T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy was sharp, especially with Amari Cooper emerging as a star for AJ McCarron. The O-line, led by road-grader Chance Warmack was also outstanding. Despite routing ND at the end of this season, this wasn’t a dominant bunch in the second half of the season. It lost at home to a Johnny Manziel-led Aggies team that also gave ’Bama fits up front. That came a week after hanging on to beat LSU 21-17 on the road in a game where the Tigers converted on 10 of 20 third downs while ’Bama went just 1-9 and was outgained by over 100 yards. The Tide also barely survived against Georgia in the SEC title game.
16. 2003 LSU: Nick Saban’s first title team actually lost a game to an eight-win UF team in a 19-7 clunker in Tiger Stadium. LSU did thump Georgia 34-13 in the SEC title game, beating the Dawgs for the second time that year. Matt Mauck was a solid QB (28 TDs, 14 INTs) but not spectacular. Justin Vincent, Joseph Addai and Alley Broussard provided some punch in the ground game, but the D was really fierce led by an awesome front featuring Chad Lavalais (16 TFLs), Marcus Spears (13 TFLs) Marquise Hill (10 TFLs) and Kyle Williams (6.5 TFLs) with LaRon Landry, Corey Webster and Randall Gay on the back end.
17. 2006 Florida: This was Urban Meyer’s first title team and probably his weakest. They went 13-1 with Chris Leak running the offense with some help from freshman Tim Tebow. They lost by 10 at Auburn and won by six against 4-8 Vandy, by one against 9-4 Tennessee; by seven against 9-4 UGA; by one at home vs 8-5 South Carolina and by seven against 7-6 FSU.
18. 2007 LSU: The only two-loss BCS champ needed some chaos late in the season just to get into the title game. They lost to an 8-5 Kentucky team and to an 8-5 Arkansas team — both losses came in triple OT. Bruising Jacob Hester powered the offense while Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux handled the QB spot. The D was talented led by All-American DL Glenn Dorsey.
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FS1. He is also a New York Times best-selling author. His latest book, “The QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks,” came out in October 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB and Facebook.