If there’s been one story that stands out in the 2018 College Football season thus far, it would be the outstanding play of Heisman-Trophy frontrunner Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and how well defending national champion Alabama, particularly their offense, is playing thus far.
Imagine after eight games averaging more than 50 points per game and being touted as perhaps the greatest offense in college football history and defeating your first eight opponents by an average of 38.5 points per game. How could a team that good lose?
For fans and media alike that are ready to coronate Alabama as undefeated national champions and the greatest team ever, as ESPN analyst Lee Corso so aptly puts it, “Not so fast my friend.” That team wasn’t this year’s Alabama squad but rather the 1983 Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Cornhuskers went 12-0 and faced the fifth-ranked Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl and lost 31-30 and the national championship on a missed two-point conversion.
After eight games this year, Alabama’s average margin of victory is 38.3 points per game defeating their opponents by 37, 50, 55, 22, 42, 34, 29, and 37 points respectfully, with the best team the Crimson Tide faced being then #22-ranked Texas A&M. On Saturday, November 2nd, Alabama will face its stiffest test of the season thus far when they travel to Baton Rouge to play the fourth-ranked LSU Tigers.
Another team that had a comparable average margin of victory, that being 37.8 points per game, and like Alabama was defending national champion and being touted as perhaps the greatest college football team of all-time were the 1969 Ohio State Buckeyes. In a run-first, lower-scoring era, the Buckeyes defeated their opponents that season by margins of 62, 27, 33, 27, 41, 29, 55 and 28 and then ran into Bo Schembechler and the Michigan Wolverines pulling off one of the greatest and most memorable upsets in college football history beating the Buckeyes 24-12.
Even a team as talented as the 2001 Miami Hurricanes had close calls defeating Boston College by only 11 points, 18-7, and 14th-ranked Virginia Tech by only two points 26-24. You may recall the 2002 Miami Hurricanes were also looking to repeat as national champions and went undefeated during their regular season but lost in a controversial national championship game in overtime 31-24 to Ohio State.
After eight games last year, Alabama was also 8-0 and had defeated their first eight opponents by an average of 33.2 points per game, and that team did not manage to go undefeated on its way to an eventual national championship.
The 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers on their way to a second consecutive national championship defeated their first eight opponents that season by 27, 28, 27, 36, 36, 55, 28 and 24 points respectfully winning by an average of 32.6 points per game. Older Alabama fans remember how good that team was beating number two-ranked Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl.
The one team that this year’s Alabama squad is beginning to be compared to is the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers who are generally acclaimed as the greatest college football team ever. The ’95 Huskers margin of victory over their first eight opponents was 36.5 points per game. That season saw Nebraska defeat their opponents by 43, 40, 49, 42, 14, 57, 24, 23, 59, 38, 37 and 38 points respectfully. The closest game Nebraska had that season was against Washington State winning 35-21.
Will 2018 Alabama be eventually compared to the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers or be like the 1983 Nebraska team? The rest of this season will determine that.
Let’s not coronate Alabama as national champions and the greatest team ever until that crown is earned. There are games to be played before any coronation ceremonies are to take place and Alabama’s first big test is on Saturday in Baton Rouge, but we could indeed be watching perhaps the greatest college football team ever.
John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog: https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/.