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Dr. Saturday

Alabama, 2011 national champion, in context

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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I know you don't have time for like, reflection, this being the 21st Century and possibly the final year of human existence and so forth. I'm aware that we don't really do that anymore. But before we get off and running on the important business of 2012 — recruiting, coordinator hires, the infallible "pre-preseason" polls — it's worth putting into perspective the season just capped by the champions of the actual polls, the ones we spent so many months poring over, and exactly where their triumph fits into the growing annals of BCS history.

As the names fade into myth and obscurity, this is Alabama's entry to the canon:

The Blue-Chip Champ. Sixteen 'Bama starters Monday night came from recruiting classes Rivals ranked as No. 1 in the nation in both 2008 and 2009, including five starters — safety Mark Barron, linebackers Don'ta Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and tailback Trent Richardson — likely on their way to the first round of the NFL Draft in April. (Offensive lineman Barrett Jones could be, too, but has already said he plans to return for his senior year next fall.) In all, the starting lineup included four guys who arrived as five-star prospects and nine who were ranked among the top 100 overall prospects in their class.

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The Defensive Champ. With the exception of Auburn last year, every BCS champion has boasted an elite defense, but the 2011 Crimson Tide redefine the genre. The "BCS era," dating to 1998, is far too small a scale to measure this outfit against.

For the season, Alabama led the nation in every relevant category — total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, passing defense, pass efficiency defense and third-down defense — and finished as the least-scored-upon team in Division I since long before the arrival of the spread. Opposing offenses managed nine touchdowns in 13 games; LSU, the highest-scoring team on the schedule, managed zero in two games. In five years, we're going to look at NFL rosters and wonder how poor Jordan Jefferson even survived the night.

The Balanced Champ. The Crimson Tide offense is an afterthought by comparison, but wound up doing pretty well for itself: 'Bama finished in the top 20 nationally in scoring (34.9 points per game) and very nearly balanced the scales with 214.5 yards per game rushing and 215.2 yards per game passing, the most evenly distributed output of any BCS champion. Including Monday night, the offense hit 150 rushing and passing in ten different games.

The Unburdened Champ. For all the pride the SEC takes in its "grind" of a schedule, Alabama's path to the championship was arguably the least grinding in 14 years, featuring just three games (and just two wins) over teams that finished ranked in the final Associated Press poll. No other BCS champion has played or won fewer than four games against teams in the final polls, a product of the Crimson Tide a) Missing both ranked teams from the SEC East, Georgia and South Carolina, and b) Missing the SEC Championship Game courtesy of their loss to LSU in the regular season. This year, blowout wins over Florida, Tennessee and Auburn just didn't mean what they usually mean.

It's also disappointing that a defense as good as Alabama's didn't get a chance to go up against anything resembling an elite offense — no Andrew Lucks, Justin Blackmons or Robert Griffins in sight, nor any spread attacks to at least attempt some fireworks. Only one team on the schedule (Arkansas) finished higher than 86th in total offense. Then again, none of their numbers were helped any by having to play Alabama, either.

The Second Chance Champ. Alabama isn't the first team to play for a championship without winning its own conference (see: Oklahoma, 2003), or even without winning its own division (see: Nebraska, 2001). But it is the first non-conference champion to actually take the title and the first to do it in vengeful fashion against a team it had already seen — and, in this case, lost to — in the regular season. Of course, there's a certain amount of cognitive dissonance involved in crowning a national champion that wasn't the best in its own league in the regular season, and still has to cede the SEC championship to the team it just mauled in the Superdome because it lost to that same team just two months before. For the vast majority of people who think about and decide these things, it's just already been resolved in favor of the Crimson Tide.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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