It's not necessary for me to say this, obviously, but the last three seasons have been a run of football the likes of which this state has never seen. Three consecutive national championships. Two Heisman Trophy winners. And finally the answer to the question, "Is it possible for Alabama and Auburn to be good at the same time?"
So, because I'm nerd like this — and because God forbid I devote my brainpower to something useful — I have been kicking around a post that would objectively compare the three teams. I suppose there are more qualified people to do this and better ways of doing it — you may remember I attempted to do the same thing with 2009 Alabama and 2004 Auburn a few years back, not long after I attempted to determine the Program of the Decade in the SEC. So I like to think I have an idea of what I'm talking about, at least.
Anyway, here are the resumes of the three teams, as complete as I can make them.
14-0 (10-0), SEC West champs, SEC champs, BCS national champs.
Best player: Mark Ingram, RB — 1,658 yards rushing (6.1 ypc); 1,992 total yards (6.6 yards per touch); 20 TDs; Heisman Trophy.
Best wins: vs. Florida (12-0, SEC East champs) in Georgia Dome; vs. Texas (13-0, Big XII champs) in Rose Bowl.
Thoughts: Without a doubt, the best resume of any of the three. The 2009 Alabama team had an unbelievable point differential (449-164), and of its 14 wins, only two of them — Florida International and North Texas — were against teams below .500. Also, the '09 Tide beat Ole Miss (9 wins) and Auburn (8 wins) on the road, and beat Texas, Florida and Virginia Tech (10 wins) at neutral sites.
The Florida game, of course, is the one that will always stand out: Florida hadn't lost a game in more than 14 months by the time it got to Atlanta, and needed only that win to cement the legacies of Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer as arguably the best quarterback-coach combo in the history of the league.
Really, the only holes to poke in this team's resume is the extraordinary good fortune it received vs. Tennessee, the fact that Mark Ingram's Heisman Trophy may have been by default as much as anything, or that Marcell Dareus knocked out Texas' Colt McCoy in the first quarter of the MNC game in Pasadena. Based on pure numbers, though? Hard to argue.
14-0 (10-0), SEC West champs, SEC champs, BCS national champs
Best player: Cam Newton, QB — 66.1 completion percentage; 2,854 yards (10.2 ypa); 30-7 TD-INT raio; 1,473 rushing yards (5.6 ypc); 51 total TDs; Heisman Trophy.
Best wins: vs. LSU (10 wins); at Alabama (10 wins); vs. Oregon (13-0, Pac-10 champs) at Phoenix.
Thoughts: Look at that stat line again. 51 total TDs?! How is that even possible?! Newton's stat line becomes even more unbelievable over time, considering he did much of that against some pretty good sSEC defenses (LSU and Alabama, specifically).
And we can argue until the end of time about whether Auburn did something nefarious to get him there, or whether his hands were really clean in the whole "$camdal" affair, but the fact is that it doesn't matter. That was the best college football season I ever saw, and I have a hard time believing I'll ever see anything like it again.
He was so good, he basically dragged the rest of his team along with him. Auburn had some good pieces in 2010 — Michael Dyer had a breakout season as a freshman tailback and Nick Fairley emerged as both very good and very, very dirty at defensive tackle — but Cam was the man who made the ship go. Having a favorable schedule that brought every difficult opponent except Alabama to Jordan-Hare Stadium that year didn't hurt matters, either.
12-1 (8-1), BCS national champs
Best player: Trent Richardson, RB — 1,679 yards (5.9 ypc); 2,017 total yards (6.5 yards per touch); 24 total TDs; 2nd in the Heisman voting.
Best wins: vs. Arkansas (10 wins); at Florida (8-5, but 4-0 coming in); vs. LSU at the Superdome (13-1, SEC West champs, SEC champs).
Thoughts: I said this in January, but I do believe the 2011 Alabama team to be the best of Nick Saban's squads. And I also think it's the best of these three teams, at least in terms of pure talent. That sounds a little odd, given that it didn't put together a resume quite like 2009, and it didn't have a single player as dominant as what Cam Newton did in 2010.
That said, this Alabama team played defense about as well as any team I've ever seen, and that includes the 1992 team generally regarded as the best defense ever. Outside of the LSU game — which took on a life of its own — Alabama was barely challenged the entire season. In fact, other than the very last play of overtime vs. LSU, Alabama trailed exactly four times all season: 3-0 to Penn State, 7-0 at Florida, 7-0 at Ole Miss and 3-0 vs. Tennessee. And that was it.
The highest compliment I can pay to them is this: They were a boring squad to watch. That defense was so good and so smothering, it actually took much of the fun out of the game. And the national championship game vs. LSU was a prime example: They knew everything the Tigers were going to do before they did it, and it simply took their spirit away from them.
The competition was a little iffy: Alabama didn't play either of the two best teams in the SEC East (South Carolina and Georgia) and played all its biggest games at home other than the game at Auburn.
Of course, the scar on the season will forever be this: It did not win its division or conference title — and needed a great deal of good luck to jump back into the picture — and thus many (who aren't us) will sort of see it as carrying an asterisk (although if it leads to us finally getting a postseason tournament, maybe that's better for everybody).
All these things are a) very true and b) somewhat immaterial to the final result. Anyone who watched these three teams would say the following: the 2009 Tide played the best schedule: the 2010 Tigers had the best player; but the 2011 Tide was the best of them all.