Is Alabama’s Dominance Good for College Football?

During his prime, I grew into an “anyone but Tiger Woods” fan of professional golf. Not because I didn’t appreciate his abilities and his tenacity, but because he ruined so many Sunday rounds of major championships. I never watched a lot of golf on TV, but the majors were always fun, especially on Sundays. It just wasn’t that much fun watching the field play for second place while Tiger held a 5-, 10-, or 15-stroke lead. Tiger wasn’t going to choke and no one else was good enough to catch him, so what’s the point when the potential drama was as exciting as a NASCAR battle for ninth place?

I know ratings soared for the networks when Tiger was winning and there was clearly one dominant player plus everyone else in the field. However, I wonder if the same will hold true for Alabama and college football if Bama continues its dominant run?

Tiger Woods held tremendous appeal for the game as he brought in new fans who were previously disinterested in golf. Tiger came from a mixed race marriage and his father was a military man, not a country club blue blood. Alabama is already a college football blue blood. If Bama football was a golf course, it would be Pine Valley or Augusta National. So I wonder how its growing dominance will impact the overall health of the sport?

I had the evening of the Alabama-LSU game teed up perfectly. I had a 7:00 dinner reservation with my lovely wife while I recorded the game at home. This allowed us to have a delightful dinner including dessert at one of our favorite spots. When I got home I could skip through at least all of the first half commercials, and maybe halftime altogether – immersing myself in nothing but great college football. This wasn’t my first college football rodeo. 

I expected a war when the Tide rolled into Baton Rouge. Alabama, of course, was ranked No. 1 in the country, but LSU was a rising No. 3, playing good football and getting better as the season progressed. 

If this game was a war, it was the Iraqi War and LSU coach Ed Orgeron was Baghdad Bob because this war was over before it started. 

Alabama was dominant on both sides of the ball. LSU had 12 yards rushing for the game and less than 200 yards of total offense. Alabama had almost 600 yards of total offense. Save the quarterback position where LSU has inexplicably struggled for the past several years, LSU on paper has enough talent to be competitive with Alabama, and with a break or two falling their way at home should have had a chance to beat Alabama. 

It is usually after a big upset when pundits remark that the games are played on the field and not on paper. After watching Alabama completely obliterate the second best team in the SEC, LSU probably wished this game had been played on paper because it might have been closer. It certainly would have been more interesting.

The problem this raises is, how much fun will college football be when everyone knows the final outcome? Who cares about the college football playoff when you can pencil in Alabama as the winner 3 out of every 4 years…if not 4 out of 4? 

The LSU game was emblematic of “Alabama-challenge” facing college football. The marquee game of the weekend was as interesting as picking up sticks, except to all but the most ardent Alabama fans. Georgia can dance and make faces when they win the SEC East, but their reward is going to be getting dismantled in front of a national TV audience in a game that the networks will promote for weeks as a battle royal. 

Speaking of Battles Royale, unfortunately, in college football, teams cannot combine forces to beat the best team in the land. In professional wrestling, which may become the fate of college football if Bama’s domination continues in perpetuity, when Andre the Giant was in a Battle Royale where 15-20 wrestlers were in the ring together and the last man standing was declared the winner, eventually 4-5 wrestlers would gang up on Andre the Giant to throw him out of the ring, because individually they had no chance of beating him 1:1. It might take the combined talents of Georgia, Ohio State, and LSU to beat Alabama, but since college football doesn’t have a Battle Royale (yet), we will never know. 

Clemson beat Alabama two years ago in the national championship game and Clemson is playing very good football…but so was LSU coming into this weekend. While Clemson has had tremendous success on the recruiting trail, as have LSU and Georgia, no one can top the talent the Nick Saban has brought and continues to bring to Tuscaloosa. Alabama’s 2019 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation – the fourth time Bama has been ranked first in the last five years.

Making matters worse (for everyone “not Alabama”) they seem to have a chemistry that works better than any other program in the country. When Alabama junior starting QB Jalen Hurts lost his starting job to sophomore Tua Tagovailoa, he didn’t pout, he didn’t spout off to the media, and more importantly, he didn’t announce he was transferring. When Clemson starting quarterback Kelly Bryant lost his starting job to freshman Trevor Lawrence, he announced his plans to transfer 48 hours later. The latter is expected in college football, the former only happens at Alabama and is why they are unquestionably the best team in the country, possibly too good to the detriment of the sport at large. 

No one will beat Alabama this year. If Alabama loses, they will beat themselves. The way they have played this season, the probability of Bama beating Bama looks low. It will have to be a fluke like the returned missed field goal against Auburn or a complete blowup of the fundamentally dominating football Alabama has played all year. If you are in Vegas, don’t take “The Field” for the national championship, take the abysmally low odds of the sure thing. 

The bigger question is…how much fun is this going to be for everyone else, and for everyone else’ fans? Will they want to tune into the annual coronation of The Crimson Tide as college football’s best team or will they want to go pull weeds, which might be more entertaining. 

Tiger Woods had a personal implosion which has made his role in professional golf more interesting. Alabama will have to have a similar course diversion to change its destiny in the coming years. I will still tune in to watch Bama’s next “big game”, but I may not bother to record the game while out to dinner. Watching the halftime show and the commercials in the second half might be more interesting than the product on the field. 

Follow David on Twitter @DMRayner.