The Biggest Myths Surrounding the Alabama Football Program

Christopher Walsh@@WritingWalshCollege Football National ColumnistFebruary 21, 2017

The Biggest Myths Surrounding the Alabama Football Program

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    Under Nick Saban, Alabama is 16-4 in dome stadiums, and 16-5 in neutral-site games.
    Under Nick Saban, Alabama is 16-4 in dome stadiums, and 16-5 in neutral-site games.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — You've probably heard a good myth about the University of Alabama football program without even realizing it.

    Maybe it's about the officiating, regarding the constant turnover of the coaching staff or maybe about Crimson Tide players in the National Football league.

    For example, there's a strong belief that Crimson Tide legend Ozzie Newsome, who has been the general manager of the Baltimore Ravens since 2002, loves taking Alabama players in the draft, especially during the Nick Saban era.

    He does, but he just doesn't do it as often as most people would believe.

    In his 14 drafts, the Ravens have selected just five Alabama playersonly three of whom were coached by Saban: C.J. Mosley, Courtney Upshaw and Terrence Cody (joining Le'Ron McClain and Jarret Johnson).

    Similarly, Saban and New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick are close from their years together with the Cleveland Browns, so the perception is there's another pipeline destination for players.

    Actually, since Belichick became the Patriots' head coach in 2000, the team has drafted just five Alabama players: Cyrus Jones, Xzavier Dickson, Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Deaderick. 

    Granted, five is still a lot, but the perception doesn't quite meet reality.

    With that in mind, here are the biggest myths surrounding the Crimson Tide. As with a lot of myths, there may be an element of truth at its core, while some are controversial and open to debate.

Alabama Gets All the Calls from Officials

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    This is not a fish story. Alabama's opponents saw the fewest penalties in college football last season.
    This is not a fish story. Alabama's opponents saw the fewest penalties in college football last season.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    Tell this one to a Crimson Tide fan and you'll probably touch a nerve, especially after last season.

    According to TeamRankings.com, Alabama's opponents had the fewest penalties called against them in 2016, ranking No. 128 out of 128 teams.

    Specifically, opponents were flagged just 58 times for 471 yards. It's the fewest of any Alabama team during the Saban era (since 2007) without even factoring in the number of games.

    Incidentally, Clemson was No. 4 on that list.

    If Alabama's opponents had been called for their average number of penalties, there would have been 86.8 flags thrown.

    Some of that can be credited to referees swallowing their whistles when games were no longer in doubt, and that happened with Alabama. The average score of its games was 38.8-13.

    Additionally, Alabama made more penalties than it usually does, which was partly due to numerous false starts by the offensive line. It had 86 penalties for 660 yards after having 89 for 835 in 2015 with another first-year starter at quarterback.

    Previously, no Saban team at Alabama tallied more that 69 flags (2009 and 2014).

    However, in its two College Football Playoff games, the Crimson Tide's opponents were both flagged just three times (those declined and offsetting penalties excluded).

    Washington was called for a false start, illegal substitution and unsportsmanlike conduct. Clemson's were for roughing the passer, a personal foul and a false start. The Tigers played the entire second half with getting a penalty.

Officials Are Quick to Call Holding on Alabama's Opponents

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    Eight Alabama opponents were flagged three times or less, with just three holding calls all season.
    Eight Alabama opponents were flagged three times or less, with just three holding calls all season.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Alabama led the Football Bowl Subdivision in sacks for the second straight season, finishing with 54 (the 3.60 average was third). Fifteen different players notched one as defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was aggressive with his play-calling.

    Defensive end Jonathan Allen led the team with 10.5, followed by linebackers Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams with 9.0 and Reuben Foster with 5.0.

    So, one would think that it also saw opposing players get a lot of holding calls while desperately trying to protect their quarterback. They didn't.

    Over its last eight games, Alabama's opponents were called for holding just once, versus Florida in the SEC Championship Game. They only saw three all season, the others came against Kentucky and Ole Miss.

Alabama Players Get Too Beat Up

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    Injuries are part of football, but they don't seem to be stopping NFL teams from drafting Alabama players.
    Injuries are part of football, but they don't seem to be stopping NFL teams from drafting Alabama players.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    In 2013, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that some NFL teams were red-flagging Alabama players in the draft because too many of them were physically chewed up from their time with the Crimson Tide.

    Saban took issue and called it an unfair assessment.

    "I don't think this is factual at all, and I resent the fact that anybody in the NFL, with the access we give them, the things we do to try to help them ... that anyone would make a statement like that and hurt our program, if it were true,” Saban told the Seattle-based Brock and Salk radio show last May. 

    "I don't get that. I have heard people in the media say that before, but I haven't heard anybody in the NFL actually say that."

    Yes, Alabama practices hard, plays a physical brand of football in a tough conference and has suited up for more games than anyone else. The outgoing senior class finished with a four-year record of 51-6, setting a college football record for most wins.

    But an overall injury issue doesn't appear to be an Alabama-specific problem, especially since it churns out so many NFL players.

    Regardless, NFL teams don't appear to be avoiding the Crimson Tide, quite the contrary.

    Alabama has had more draft picks over the last six years than any other school in the nation. Of those 44 Crimson Tide players selected, 15 were in the first round and 10 in the second.

    Overall, the only NFL teams who have not selected a Crimson Tide player since Saban arrived are the Broncos, Steelers, Cowboys, Eagles and Panthers.

    Specific to the upcoming draft, Alabama might have a chance to tie the record for first-round selections, six by Miami in 2004. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has eight Crimson Tide players in his top 60 overall, and Ryan McCrystal projected five first-round picks in his latest mock.

Alabama Players Don’t Develop in the NFL

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    New York Giants safety Landon Collins finished third in NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting.
    New York Giants safety Landon Collins finished third in NFL Defensive Player of the Year voting.Rob Carr/Getty Images

    The running back position is probably the one that takes the most heat in this regard as Glen Coffee retired in 2010 and Trent Richardson is trying to revive his career.

    The NFL is becoming more of passing league, and few teams like to feature one running back. Nevertheless, Mark Ingram Jr. just posted a 1,000-yard rushing season with the Saints. Eddie Lacy only had 360 rushing yards for the Packers before having season-ending ankle surgery, but he averaged 5.1 yards per carry.

    Derrick Henry had a good rookie season with the Titans despite playing behind DeMarco Murray (who had a huge year), and Kenyan Drake made the most of his limited opportunities with the Dolphins.

    Meanwhile, when the initial Pro Bowl rosters were announced, Alabama had six players named, the most of any school: Packers free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Giants strong safety Landon Collins, Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper, Patriots inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower, Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley.

    "I think it's great," Saban said. "To see them get recognized now in the league as one of the top players is fantastic for them and I'm really proud of them, and happy for them."

Alabama Gets Preferential Treatment from the SEC Home Office

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    After two years in Birmingham, the SEC Championship Game has been played in Atlanta since 1994.
    After two years in Birmingham, the SEC Championship Game has been played in Atlanta since 1994.Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    This is one that gets under the skin of school officials, that just because Alabama's campus is located only about an hour away from SEC headquarters in Birmingham it gets an unfair advantage.

    Maybe it does when the city hosts an event like the SEC Baseball Tournament, but the football title game moved from Birmingham to Atlanta in 1994. Meanwhile, Auburn, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt are all within a three-hour drive of the home office.

    Actually, a lot of Crimson Tide fans believe the exact opposite is true, and one way they support their argument is with the recent scheduling problems regarding bye weeks.

    In 2010, the Crimson Tide played six straight SEC teams that were coming off a bye. Part of that had to do with some scheduling requests made by both Alabama and other schools, and once it was brought to its attention, the SEC responded by passing a rule stipulating that no team had to play more than three league opponents coming off a bye during a single season.

    It's still a bit of an issue, but just about every SEC team has a complaint of some sort. In 2014, Auburn's schedule featured nine opponents that were coming off winning records. This past season, Arkansas played five straight ranked opponents, and LSU hates having Florida as a permanent opponent.

    You get the idea.

Dual-Threat Quarterbacks Are the Way to Beat Alabama

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    Want to have a chance to beat Alabama? Your quarterback better play a great game.
    Want to have a chance to beat Alabama? Your quarterback better play a great game.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    When ESPN college football analyst Tom Luginbill was in Tuscaloosa to work on Alabama's game against Kentucky this past fall, Saban told him something that characterized the Crimson Tide's change in approach to the quarterback position and being more open to dual-threat players.

    "He said I flat out got sick and tired of covering these guys, and if we're not doing this we're bad coaches," Luginbill said.

    There's a popular belief that the best way to beat Alabama is with a top-notch dual-threat quarterback, like Deshaun Watson, Cam Newton or Tim Tebow.

    It probably is, but it's not unique to the Crimson Tide.

    Every opponent struggled with those quarterbacks. They're extremely rare and becoming harder to find because high schools are going with easier read-option offenses at the cost of developing their quarterbacks.

    "The most important thing you can do in player evaluation of the quarterback position in high school in today's landscape is to never, ever offer a scholarship to a kid who has not attended your camp, worked out and sat down and met with you where you have a chance to spend two or three days with him," Luginbill said. "There's not a better example than Jalen Hurts a year ago."

    Because there are so few teams that can match up physically on the lines and in overall talent, more accurate than saying a kind of quarterback is the best way to beat Alabama is that strong play out from the position may be the only way it has a shot.

Saban Is Impossible to Work for

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    After being promoted to analyst, Steve Sarkisian was Alabama's offensive coordinator for just one game.
    After being promoted to analyst, Steve Sarkisian was Alabama's offensive coordinator for just one game.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Former offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian took aim at rumors that he left Alabama because he couldn’t get along with Saban during a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

    "Obviously, he would have loved for me to stay, but he was understanding," Sarkisian said.

    Although he was promoted from analyst to Alabama's offensive coordinator just before the national championship, Sarkisian was hired away on Feb. 7 to be the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator, per the Los Angeles Times.

    Sarkisian called it a "really hard" decision, but the opportunity was too good to pass up. He takes over the NFL's top-ranked scoring offense, led by reigning MVP Matt Ryan, and arguably the game's best wide receiver, Jones.

    "I couldn't be more grateful to Coach Saban and everyone at the University of Alabama,” Sarkisian said. "It's a tremendous organization. He's not only a fantastic coach, but a great man. I'm fortunate that I was able to work for him in the past six months. I'm fortunate to call him a friend and I really appreciate all that he did for me.

    "I was excited and looking forward to this upcoming season. They have a heck of a football team with some really talented young players." 

    Moreover, Saban has a rich history of rehiring people who had previously worked for him, including defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, secondary coach Derrick Ansley and associate athletics director for football Ed Marynowitz. Previously, there has also been Kevin Steele, Bo Davis, Lance Thompson, Billy Napier, Bobby Williams.

    Is Saban demanding? Of course he is. But name a successful coach who isn't.

Alabama Overclaims Its Number of National Titles

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    Although critics claim Alabama should't claim 16 national titles, it actually could claim more.
    Although critics claim Alabama should't claim 16 national titles, it actually could claim more.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    This is one that gets argued every time Alabama is in the running for another national championship—so, every year since 2008—primarily because there's a difference between claiming a title and a consensus national championship, and the College Football Playoff didn't exist until 2014.

    Overall, the school claims 16.

    During the poll era, which dates back to 1933, Alabama has finished No. 1 in either the Associated Press or coaches' poll 11 times: 1961, 1964, 1965 (AP), 1973 (Coaches), 1978 (AP), 1979, 1992, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2015.

    That's three more than any other program, and it's tough to argue against them because polls were considered the primary standard prior to the Bowl Championship Series (yes, even 1973, when Alabama lost to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, 24-23).

    In addition to the lack of a consensus choice at times, some are also disputable due to timing. The AP and coaches used to conduct final balloting before bowl games were played.

    Alabama also claims four titles before the poll era, 1925, 1926, 1930 and 1934, which are all supported by Rose Bowl appearances. Again, those are hard to refute.

    The one that draws the most fire, and deservedly so, is 1941. Alabama went 9-2 and was 20th in the final Associated Press Poll (which ranked only 20 teams that year). It was listed No. 1 by the Houlgate System, a mathematical rating system that hasn't been around for more than 50 years. 

    Even most diehard Crimson Tide fans will admit that it shouldn't count, but there are other years in which Alabama was No. 1, according to at least one of what the NCAA calls in its record book "major selectors" of national champions (polls, mathematical formulas and now the playoff).

    They include the undefeated 1945 and 1966 Crimson Tide and the one-loss 1975 and 1977 teams. Last season, three prominent computer rankings (Congrove, Colley Matrix and the Dunkel System) still had the Crimson Tide at No. 1 despite the loss to Clemson.

    Although it would come across as greedy and petty, Alabama could actually claim at least 20 titles if it wanted to.

Alabama Is More Dangerous When It's Not Ranked No. 1

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    Alabama was ranked No. 2 when it won its last three national championships.
    Alabama was ranked No. 2 when it won its last three national championships.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Alabama was ranked No. 2 heading into the title game when it won its last three national championships (against LSU, Notre Dame and Clemson). Yet it came up short the two times it entered the College Football Playoff as the No. 1 seed.

    Actually, there are plenty of numbers to support both sides, especially since Saban has defeated more teams ranked No. 1 than any coach in college football history. 

    Consider the following:

    • Alabama has been ranked No. 1 at some point of the season every year since 2008.
    • Heading into January's Clemson game, Alabama had won 16 straight matches against ranked opponents, which was tied for the longest streak ever (USC, 2002-05).
    • Saban has coached 50 games at Alabama with his team ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, the most of any coach at one school. His record in those games is 44-6. Second on the list are Woody Hayes and Bobby Bowden with 40.
    • The loss to Clemson snapped Saban's winning streak in championship games (league and nation) at nine.

Alabama’s Academics Aren't Up to Par

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    When Saturday Night Live recently decided to do a skit with pro wrestler John Cena giving a ridiculous science presentation to make fun of the academic standards of college athletes, he wore a Crimson Tide jersey.

    More accurate may have been to use a team in academic hot water like Notre Dame, Missouri or even North Carolina basketball. Here's hoping that SNL simply went with the marquee team in college athletics to try and draw the biggest laughs, and if so it was sort of a backhanded compliment.

    Of course, some athletes take tougher courses than others. Some would not be in college if not for his or her scholarship, or they don't take full advantage of the opportunity.

    Just to set the record straight, according to the NCAA's academic barometers, Alabama is one of the most successful football programs in the nation.

    The 2016 team had 21 players who had already earned their degrees before participating in the College Football Playoff. Last year's Graduation Success Rate (GSR) score led the Southeastern Conference.

    Since 2010, it's had 14 players earn masters degrees, and in 2012 Barrett Jones won the award that is known as the academic Heisman, the William V. Campbell Trophy.

    "I think this is the great thing about college football that sometimes gets overlooked," Saban said. 

     

    Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

    Christopher Walsh is a national college football columnist for Bleacher Report.