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Alabama Becomes the Golden State Warriors

Category: Other Sports,Sports

BATON ROUGE, La. — Alabama’s Crimson Tide are now college football’s Golden State Warriors.

Everyone is just waiting for the postseason to see if anyone can topple Alabama. On one level, that is incredibly boring, but the excitement and joy Alabama brings to the field often outweighs the inevitability of its triumphs.

They are so dominant that their best player, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, usually sits out the fourth quarter, much as Stephen Curry, the Warriors otherworldly star, frequently does.

And, like Curry, seemingly in every game Tagovailoa has at least one moment when he reminds the world how much better he and his team are than everyone else.

On Saturday night against Louisiana State, which entered the game ranked fourth in the country, it happened late in the third quarter.

Alabama was up, 16-0, and L.S.U. appeared incapable of avoiding its eighth straight loss against the dominant program of this era. Facing 3rd-and-8 on the L.S.U. 44-yard-line, Tagovailoa dropped back to pass, but the Tigers’ talented defensive backs had effectively bottled up Alabama’s gifted receivers in man-to-man coverage.

So Tagovailoa took his chance, shifting left and running upfield. He got the first down easily. But then one could almost see the cogs in his mind turning: Do I slide? Or do I show everyone what I have really got? He chose the latter, turning on the jets to beat three L.S.U. defensive backs — he was faster than three L.S.U. defensive backs — to the end zone.

“I didn’t know he had those kinds of wheels,” said Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses after the game.

Asked a different question about Alabama’s most electric star since Joe Namath, Moses tried to manage expectations: “He’s human — I know a lot of people don’t think he is.”

It was the third rushing touchdown of the year for the likely Heisman Trophy winner. He also added two passing touchdowns (as well as his first interception) and, most of all, his ninth win. Alabama 29, L.S.U. 0.

“Tua played really well,” Coach Nick Saban intoned afterward. Given Saban’s dour personality, that counts as unbridled enthusiasm.

Alabama (9-0) failed to improve in The Associated Press poll because it can’t. The Crimson Tide has been ranked No. 1 uninterruptedly since the preseason.

To be sure, there are a few speed bumps on the horizon. With a 34-17 win over No. 12 Kentucky (7-2) in Lexington, No. 5 Georgia (8-1) ensured that this season’s Southeastern Conference championship game on Dec. 1 in Atlanta will pit the Bulldogs against Alabama, in the same building where those two contested last season’s national championship game. It’s a virtual home game for Georgia.

And Alabama still has a few moderately challenging contests to go: not only that game, but home dates against No. 18 Mississippi State (6-3) and Auburn (6-3), which upset Texas A&M on Saturday, 28-24.

Such matchups could prove tough for ordinary great teams. But this could well be Saban’s best team at Alabama — and he has won five national titles there in the past decade. The defense is probably not altogether his stoutest, ranking merely seventh in the Football Bowl Subdivision in points allowed per game. But with Tagovailoa slinging the ball downfield to three or four receivers who all seem bound for N.F.L. rosters, it hardly matters.

“He’s a hell of a player,” said L.S.U. defensive lineman Rashard Lawrence after the game. “And the receivers they’ve got — just as good.”

Tagovailoa was the freshman backup who last year played his first meaningful minutes when he was subbed into the national title game’s second half. He revived an offense that had been shut out, 20-0, during the first half and won the game on a glorious 41-yard strike in overtime.

His statistics this season — 27 touchdowns and only one interception against just 132 passes; 12.2 yards per attempt — are comparable only to Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, who would be a stark Heisman front-runner in most other seasons.

Is there in college football the equivalent of the 2016 LeBron James-led Cavaliers? There are still nine teams in the power conferences with one loss or fewer.

Only Clemson — which Alabama has played in all three of the last playoffs, including two of the three most recent title games — comes close to Alabama’s staggering average margin of winning, which now stands above five touchdowns. (Clemson immolated Louisville, 77-16, on Saturday.) The Tigers face perhaps their toughest remaining test next Saturday at Boston College (7-2), which is ranked 17th.

No. 6 Oklahoma (8-1) or even, if we are so lucky, No. 10 Washington State (8-1) could conceivably engage the Tide in a shootout, though both are far from guaranteed to make the playoff. No. 4 Michigan (8-1) combines a solid Jim Harbaugh defense with, for maybe the first time under Harbaugh, a better-than-O.K. quarterback in Shea Patterson. No. 3 Notre Dame (9-0) beat Michigan and has otherwise not lost against inferior competition.

One team that Alabama will not be facing in the playoff is L.S.U. The past 20 years of SEC football have largely been the story of the two teams’ respective fortunes. L.S.U. was revitalized beginning in 1999 with Saban’s arrival as head coach, winning its first national championship in nearly 50 years after the 2003 season.

But Saban departed after the 2004 season for two years in the N.F.L., then returned to the college ranks in Tuscaloosa. L.S.U. won another championship in 2007. Alabama won its first under Saban in the 2009 season. In his first five games against L.S.U. while at Alabama, Saban was 2-3. But then the two teams met in the Bowl Championship Series title game in January 2012. Alabama dominated, 21-0. L.S.U. has not beaten the Tide since.

Though oddsmakers favored Alabama in Saturday’s game by as many as two touchdowns, L.S.U., with a top team of its own and perhaps the most intimidating environment in football, had cause for optimism.

“This fan base, they just expect L.S.U. to win,” Jim Hawthorne, L.S.U.’s retired play-by-play announcer, said last week. “There’s some who think it’s almost impossible. But these folks, they really believe.”

The crowd showed it, raucous outside and roaringly loud inside during early Alabama third downs. But Saturday night’s party led to a hangover Sunday.

Lawrence, the thoughtful defensive lineman, looked chastened.

“It’s tough,” he said, “when you kind of feel like you got dominated.”


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