Who can beat Alabama? It’s the question on everyone’s mind this college football season — more so than ever after the Tide steamrolled No. 3 LSU Saturday. The answer is probably no one. At least not one of the other 130 teams in the FBS, who adorably keep playing out their schedules as if the season isn’t a foregone conclusion. It’s like when LeBron lets his kids play each other in one-on-one before swatting every one of their shots like it’s the NBA Finals.
Right now, you may be thinking to yourself, “I am a USC student reading a USC student-run paper. Why should I care about Alabama and their dominant collegiate football team? Where is Alabama?”
Astute observations, but as USC students, we must all be worried about Alabama for one reason and one reason only: They’re coming. The Trojans play Alabama in the 2020 season opener. I need not remind you of the last time the two programs met, but in the 2016 season opener, Alabama squashed USC 52-6. USC head coach Clay Helton, who has never said a mean word, was seen on the sideline yelling things like “darn,” “oh, goodness” and “oh, shucks.” It was a scary sight.
It gets worse. Since the Tide keep getting better and better with each passing year, by 2020 they should be legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
Since we’ve established that no current college team can compete with Alabama, here’s how they’d stack up with teams from the past, the NFL and alternate dimensions (it takes a lot of digging to find teams who can beat Bama). Let’s get started with hope this column gives USC a road map to beating Bama in 2020 (it won’t).
2004 USC Trojans
(13-0, National Champions (later vacated))
We’ll start here for a couple reasons. The 2004 squad is the most decorated USC football team in recent history. Led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Matt Leinart, USC defeated Oklahoma 55-19 to claim the program’s first unanimous national title since 1972. This USC team holds up as a truly dominant group. They led the nation in scoring defense (7.5 points per game allowed) and placed third in scoring offense (46.1 points per game), en route to a 13-0 record — the program’s first undefeated season in a quarter-century.
But could they hang with the 2018 Crimson Tide? Maybe for a half or so. In 2004, USC won four games by 8 points or fewer. Alabama’s closest game this season was a 22-point drubbing over a ranked Texas A&M. You do the math.
Predicted score: Alabama 40, USC 21
2001 Miami Hurricanes
(12-0, National Champions)
There’s a reason the 2001 Hurricanes are often regarded as the best college football team of all time.
Not only were the ’01 Hurricanes a truly dominant team — they were also loaded with future NFL stars like wide receiver Andre Johnson, running back Frank Gore, safety Ed Reed and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. They are one of the few teams in college football history that could’ve kept up with Alabama from a talent perspective.
The ’01 Hurricanes’ offense, which averaged 43.2 points per game with three future Pro-Bowl running backs, could’ve hung some points on the Tide defense. This year, Alabama is allowing 14.1 points per game. That mark is good for seventh-fewest in the nation, but it isn’t historically ridiculous like most of their other feats (for comparison, Miami allowed 7.2 points per game in 2001).
With most aspects of this matchup being a wash, it would likely come to down to the quarterbacks. Alabama’s human-missile-crisis sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa holds the second-best passer rating in FBS history. Miami’s quarterback Ken Dorsey sounds like the name of a used car salesman.
Predicted score: Alabama 45, Miami 35
2018 Buffalo Bills (2-7)
The Bills are technically not the worst team in the NFL in terms of record (the Raiders and Giants are both 1-7). But I have to believe they’d give Alabama the closest game of any current NFL squad. As an above-average team defensively, the Bills’ three quarterbacks are the three worst judging by passer rating (min. 20 pass attempts). If you put a Swiffer Wet-Jet mop behind center, it may fare better than the trio of quarterbacks Josh Allen, Derek Anderson and Nathan Peterman. Collectively, they’ve thrown over five times as many interceptions (16) as touchdowns. Peterman, the current starter, has been especially impressive in his terribleness, tossing 12 picks and three pick-6’s in just four career starts.
Meanwhile, Alabama’s defense is tied for seventh in interceptions (13) and first in pick-6’s (four). This would be a gritty victory for the Tide defense, but they’d ultimately win behind seven turnovers.
Predicted score: Alabama 17, Buffalo 6
2003 Atlanta Falcons
The 2003 Atlanta Falcons were a very unremarkable team (5-11, missed playoffs), and thus Alabama could have maybe beaten them because they are quite remarkable. However, the video game version of the ’03 Falcons, as featured in Madden NFL 2004, was special for one particular reason. In it, quarterback Michael Vick was and is the most dominant player in video game history. His speed and precision throws traveled at the speed of light. Therefore, Madden-Vick is the closest equivalent we have to real-life Tagovailoa. Plus, they’re both lefties!
If we could somehow transport today’s Alabama team into the video game, we’d witness one of the best quarterback matchups in history. Unfortunately, we just don’t have the technology yet. Bama would still win, though.
Predicted Score: Alabama 156, Virtual Atlanta 153
Trevor Denton is a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “T-Time,” runs every other Wednesday.