For a brief moment Monday night in Miami Gardens, Alabama looked like a team comprised of human football players rather than supercharged machines hellbent on breaking all records.
Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, with his right hand supported by a team trainer, walked slowly to the medical tent after absorbing a big hit that crunched his fingers early in the second half of the national championship. The record-breaking receiver was out for the remainder of the night, and so the Tide turned to the other former 4- and 5-star prospects for help.
The personnel shift didn’t quite work in the moment, and Ohio State held Alabama to a field goal. The Buckeyes had an opening and marched down the field for a touchdown to pull within two touchdowns.
Was Alabama in trouble? The Tide had been rolling to a touchdown on nearly every possession with Smith (215 yards and three touchdowns on a record-setting 12 catches in the first half) on the field. Was the Tide’s success simply a result of having Smith on the field?
The door, it seemed, was open for the Buckeyes to strike as Smith wandered the bowels of Hard Rock Stadium, watching the game on overhead TV screens as he awaited word on X-ray scans. The question had shifted in a matter of minutes from whether this was the best offense in college football history to whether Alabama was mortal after all.
Then reality returned and the Tide rolled anyway.
Texas-bound offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian kept dialing up plays, throwing the ball early and often as receivers John Metchie and others criss-crossed the eyes of Ohio State’s safeties and linebackers. The Tide scored touchdowns on the next two possessions without Smith to grab a 52-24 lead, which stood as the final score of the game.
An opening for Ohio State? No, just fool’s gold in a fruitless pursuit of the golden national championship trophy.
In a game that featured the two most talented teams in national-championship game history, Alabama still looked like it was two steps ahead of No. 3 Ohio State. Eighty-three percent of Alabama’s scholarship players are comprised of 4- or 5-star prospects. Ohio State sat at 80 percent Monday night. The difference, however, seemed astronomical for most of the night.
Powered by one of the best signing classes in modern recruiting history in 2017 (323.87 points in the 247Sports Composite), the Tide looked invincible during most of this strange and truncated season amid a pandemic. The class produced one Heisman Trophy winner, three finalists and four top-5 vote getters in a span of two years.
Most of Alabama’s stars will leave for the NFL, providing faint hope another team might roll into the playoff next year and beyond. But don’t hold your breath too long. Alabama is on pace to secure the best recruiting class in modern history — again — in February.
Attempting to compare offenses year to year is a difficult task, particularly when competition varies season to season. But Alabama has a legitimate argument to be considered as the best just one year after many analysts put that label on the 2019 LSU Tigers, who broke offensive records thanks to Heisman Trophy quarterback Joe Burrow and receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
By the end of the night, with a shorter schedule but more games against Power 5 opponents, Alabama surpassed LSU in scoring offense: 48.5 vs. 48.4.
They did it with two Heisman Trophy finalists and the first receiver (Smith) to win the top individual award in college football since 1991.
It isn’t just impressive that Alabama scored points with ease, but the fact it could do it playing a variety of styles. Whether it was the hurry-up, pass-happy tempo with pre- and post-snap motions that confuse linebackers and seemingly leave at least one receiver wide open on every play, or slowing things down and replicating the run-heavy plans of 2009, no one slowed the Tide in 2020 or the early days of 2021.
Best offense ever? Possibly. Most versatile and dominant offense ever? Absolutely.
Best signing class ever? Certainly.
Who else can claim half of its offensive skill players in one class (2017) finished in the top five of the Heisman Trophy voting (four of eight)? Who else can claim every single signing class in a 14-year period has won at least one national title? Who else can claim 11 SEC wins in a single season?
No team or program other than Alabama.
Who else can claim seven national championships in the last 16 years? No one but Nick Saban, who surpassed Bear Bryant’s six national titles to officially become the GOAT Monday night in Miami.
“I think we’re the best team to ever play,” said quarterback Mac Jones, who tied the College Football Playoff’s record in a national championship with five touchdown passes. “There’s no team that will play an SEC schedule like that again.”
Saban is the greatest of all time, and this Alabama offense, which steamrolled everybody, might be the best of any time, too — even without DeVonta Smith.
Brandon Marcello is a national college football reporter for 247Sports. You can follow him on Twitter (@bmarcello).
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