Friday, December 19, 2014

The Top Four: Alabama

Welcome fellow football fanatics! We have made it to the first ever playoff in college football which was full of controversy and now full fledged conspiracies (I'll get to that later in the article). It was pretty easy to see the top three teams that made it, but it really wasn't until the time it was revealed that anyone could definitively say who the fourth team was going to be. Ohio State, Baylor, and TCU were all in contention, but ultimately the committee decided that Ohio State was the most worthy much to the ire of the Big 12 and those two respective teams. Baylor and TCU do each have some legitimate gripes with the committee, but the lack of a championship game in their conference is what really sunk them. I know that Baylor is really pissed off considering they had beaten TCU head to head, but their out of conference schedule is absolutely pathetic (SMU, Northwestern State, and Buffalo....). TCU had a more convincing overall resume, but as the case with Baylor their lack of a chance to make a final impression while playing Iowa State killed them. So now you have it all set for New Years Day. Alabama will play Ohio State in rematch of Urban Meyer and Nick Saban while former Heisman winner Jameis Winston and Florida State will battle likely recipient Marcus Mariota and Oregon in the other game. I'm not going to do a rundown of the top ten since a lot of them didn't play. Rather, I'll just recap the games that brought these lucky four into the fold.

1) Alabama Crimson Tide
Championship Game Result: Beat No. 16 Missouri Tigers 42-13
Alabama receiver Amari Cooper

Alabama is playing like the best team in the country right now and I think that they were properly rewarded with the first seed in these playoffs. Since their loss against Ole Miss and some close games mid season, they have been lights out. I know they gave up a ton of yards and points against Auburn, but Auburn tends to do that to even the best of teams. The Tide came into this game as big favorites and didn't have too much to fear from Mizzou other than a pass rush, and what they did is exactly what you would expect out of a team that is lacking offensively and defensively. They caught a huge stroke of luck when one of Mizzou's best defenders, Shane Ray, was ejected in the first half for targeting Blake Sims. Despite the huge shot that Sims took on the play which clearly rattled him, Sims had a tremendous day through the air. He stood calm in the face of pressure and hit his guys when called upon. His job is made so much easier by the presence of Amari Cooper who is head and shoulders above the rest of the receiving class. In this game, Cooper just completely abused the Tigers' secondary to the tune of 12 catches for 83 yards. That might seem like a modest total, but consider the fact that he sees some double coverages and is one of the only true reliable targets for Sims. He made a lot of crucial catches on third downs to help keep the chains moving and made some big ones to make second or third and manageable. DeAndrew White also had a big game, catching four passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. White is a solid compliment to Cooper but doesn't always get consistent targets from Sims. That really isn't his fault as Lane Kiffin's system calls for a premier wide receiver to consistently beat his man and be the recipient of most passes. Cooper has caught exactly 50% of Sims's passes this year and is one of the most unstoppable players this year, a big reason why he is a Heisman candidate. Alabama is just as dangerous on the ground with the tandem of Derrick Henry and TJ Yeldon. Yeldon is a very talented running back but has started to lose some time to Henry who has proven to be unstoppable at times. In this contest, Henry carried the ball 20 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns. He has regularly ran well against the best defenses as his 5.6 yards per carry average and 12 total touchdowns would indicate. Yeldon has been hampered by injuries which is why he hasn't played quite as well this year, but he has still come up big in a lot of games. He scored two touchdowns on the ground as well, but only ran for 47 yards on 17 carries. Saban rides the hot hand, so it really doesn't matter who is getting most of the carries as both are easily capable of carrying the offense.

Alabama safety Landon Collins
Defensively, Alabama still boasts one of the best overall units in the country. They are fourth in the country allowing only 16.6 points per game and 312 total yards per game. Saban has built a dominant program by recruiting and building up an insanely talented and athletic defensive line. They have 29 sacks and often play much better than the sack total indicates. But where they really earn their keep is in the run game. They have only allowed opponents an average of 88 yards per game at a grueling 2.8 yards per carry. They are able to hit their gaps early and dominate the line of scrimmage to force running backs to alter their route. So far this season, Auburn has had the best success against Alabama which is really nothing new when Malzahn has been coaching. The best way to beat Alabama's defense is to have an athletic quarterback that keeps the defense guessing and can gain first downs through the air or with their scrambles. The back end of the defense has really come together after a shaky start to the season. Alabama had a lot of youth and inexperience at both linebacker and defensive back, but leave it to Saban to get these guys to gel by midseason. The two most impressive players in the secondary are safety Landon Collins and cornerback Cyrus Jones. Both of them are impressive players against the pass who can make plays on the ball. Collins is a terrific defender as a fifth man in the box against the run, but he has shown the ability to go sideline to sideline and pick of quarterbacks. Jones isn't as good as some of the recent defensive backs to come through Alabama, but has really been able to go toe to toe against some of the best in the conference. Both of these players are a big reason why Alabama had a great game against Mizzou and numerous other teams this season.

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