Alabama could be the first 15-0 team since the 19th century, and that’s worth celebrating
Every week, SN’s Bill Bender will look at the national landscape in college football in “Around the Bender.” This week, we’ll explore the notion of 15-0, a pair of Big 12 standouts, one of college football’s best divisions (you won’t guess it) and the coach that shake up the last two weeks.
“Upset Saturday” didn’t blow up the College Football Playoff picture as much as you might think.
No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 went down, sure, but Clemson, Michigan and Washington are still alive in the hunt. If those upsets reinforced anything, however, it’s just how difficult it is for a FBS team to go undefeated in a Power 5 conference. Alabama is the lone unbeaten left in the Power 5 — Western Michigan also is undefeated — but both schools are only two-thirds of the way to that 15-0 season.
That would be an accomplishment we haven’t seen since 1899 when Amos Alonzo Stagg won 16 games at Chicago. A school has won 15 or more games six times, but all of those seasons were before 1900. That’s the scope of what Alabama could pull off.
It’s never happened in the modern era, mainly because 15 games wasn’t a thing until the start of the College Football Playoff era. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Alabama’s Nick Saban all have led 14-1 seasons the last two years, but none finished 15-0. Clemson is the only team that went unbeaten in the regular season. Given what happened last week, it’s fair to wonder if 15-0 is a legitimate possibility.
Saban was one of the coaches who led a 14-0 team during the BCS era. He did that with Alabama in 2009. Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher (2013), Auburn’s Gene Chizik (2010) and Ohio State’s Jim Tressel (2002) also led 14-0 teams to national championships in the BCS era. Boise State’s Chris Petersen (2009) and BYU’s LaVell Edwards (1996) are the only other coaches in the AP Poll era to lead 14-0 seasons. It’s a short list.
It’s a lot harder to go undefeated then it used to be. Consider that seven of the first eight champions of the BCS era went undefeated.
But since 2006 — when teams started playing 12 regular-season games — only Alabama (2009), Auburn (2010) and Florida State (2013) went unbeaten. It’s not easy, and the College Football Playoff has made it harder.
Saban and Meyer — who have eight national championships between them — only have one unbeaten season. That’s how hard it is in this environment. The NFL has waited since 1972 to match the Miami Dolphins’ perfect season. Will college football be like, too?
That’s the kind of statement Alabama could make this season. At that point, the Tide could party like its 1899.
Celebrate that if they do. A 15-0 team isn’t going to come around often.
Strike a pose
Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops doesn’t need to say much to describe what makes Dede Westbrook such an explosive receiver.
“Speed, quickness, great hands,” Stoops said on the Big 12 teleconference Monday.
Westbrook has 68 catches for 1,254 yards and 14 TDs this season on an amazing 18.4 yards per catch. He now ranks fourth all time on the Sooners’ single-season receiving yards list, and it’s a good he could catch Sterling Shepard (1,288), Mark Clayton (1,425) and even Ryan Broyles (1,622) by the end of the season.
Westbrook has been remarkable in Big 12 play: he averages 157.1 yards and two TDs per game in conference play. He’ll get a chance to show just how good he is in Saturday’s showdown with West Virginia.
Coach on the spot
Mike Leach. Washington State might be the hottest team in the country right now. The Cougars have won eight straight games since a 0-2 start, and they control their own destiny in the Pac-12 North. Their average margin of victory in those eight wins is 25.8 points per game.
Washington State is paying a heavy toll for those losses to Eastern Washington and Boise State to start the season, but they can at least create a conversation with wins against Colorado and Washington the next two weeks. That’s much bigger than those two losses, right? We’ll let Leach do the campaigning.
Group of 5 focus
Can you name the only division in the FBS with four teams with seven wins or more? We’ll wait…
It’s the Mountain West Mountain Division, which features a three-way tie at the top among Boise State (9-1, 5-1), Wyoming (7-3, 5-1) and New Mexico (7-3, 5-1). Air Force (7-3, 3-3) also has seven wins.
Wyoming has the advantage right now, but they have to play San Diego State (9-1, 6-0) this week before New Mexico. There still could be a Boise State-San Diego State showdown in the championship game, and the winner could easily get that New Year’s Day Six at-large bid. There’s good football in the Mountain West right now.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh continues to be coy about Wilton Speight’s injury heading into Saturday’s game against Indiana.
“He remains questionable for Saturday, and we’ll re-evaluate after that,” Harbaugh said on the Big Ten teleconference Tuesday.
Harbaugh also spoke about the improvement of all the quarterbacks on the roster. If there’s one team left on the playoff hunt that could absorb this loss, it’s Michigan. Speight had been efficient all season, but the drop-off to John O’Korn isn’t as significant as it would be at other Top 10 teams. Picture Louisville without Lamar Jackson or Clemson without Deshaun Watson. Those would be much-more complicated conversations.
Wait and see what happens with Speight and O’Korn this weekend before judging Michigan further.
Think about it…
Texas’ D’Onta Foreman has 1,613 rushing yards this season and is on pace for 2,151 rushing yards this season if the Longhorns make a bowl game, which would clear Ricky Williams’ school record of 2,124.
Foreman likely will pass Earl Campbell, who rushed for 1,744 yards in 1977. Foreman tied Campbell’s record with 11 straight 100-yard games last week.
“He’s a tough runner and a guy that runs behind his pads,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said on the Big Ten teleconference. “You just haven’t seen a back so big and physical who runs as hard as he does.”
It’s also worth knowing that Williams rushed for 1,893 yards in 1997 for a 4-7 Texas team. John Mackovic was fired, Mack Brown was brought in and the rest was history.
Foreman likely will be in the NFL next season, but it’s OK to wonder if Strong will face the same fate as Mackovic here.