The final grades are in for the 2012 season, and we’ll start at the very top with repeat national champion Alabama and work our way through the entire league over the next week and a half.
OFFENSE: When you think of Alabama and Nick Saban, you immediately think of defense. But few teams around the country have been as balanced on offense the last few years as the Crimson Tide. With first-year offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier calling the shots, Alabama set a school record with 6,237 yards of total offense and 68 offensive touchdowns. They scored 32 or more points in 12 of their 14 games and joined Texas A&M as the only two teams in the SEC to average more than 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game. This offensive line will go down as one of the greatest in SEC history. In the Crimson Tide’s final two games against Georgia in the SEC championship game and Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship, they pounded out a staggering 615 rushing yards against a pair of defenses that were supposed to be pretty stout. And if you’re looking for precision at the quarterback position, AJ McCarron threw 30 touchdown passes and just three interceptions and led the country in passing efficiency. That’s what you call playing winning football. GRADE: A+
DEFENSE: This Alabama defense wasn’t nearly as talented as the 2011 national championship defense or the 2009 national championship defense. The Crimson Tide lost six starters off their 2011 unit, and four of those players were taken in the top 35 picks of the NFL draft. So there were obviously some big holes to fill. But when you survey the final results, it’s safe to say the Tide filled those holes just fine. Alabama once again finished the season ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring defense (10.9 points per game) and total defense (250 yards per game). There were a few hiccups along the way. The secondary had its struggles against LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia, and the pass rush wasn’t always what it needed to be. But this defense played with great pride and a bit of a chip on its shoulder and was able to come up with key stops at key times. It’s yet another reminder that great players may come and go at Alabama on defense, but that the level of excellence and defensive standards under Saban and Smart never change. GRADE: A+
OVERALL: How do you improve on a second straight national championship? The only thing the Crimson Tide didn’t accomplish this season was an unbeaten season. The 29-24 home loss to Texas A&M on Nov. 10 was a downer, but they recovered to win both an SEC title and national title. And when you look at the collection of talent that Alabama lost off that 2011 team and how small the senior class was this season, this might have been one of Saban’s finest coaching jobs. The same goes for Smart, who squeezed everything and then some out of that defense. The bad news for everybody else in the SEC is that there’s no end in sight to this crimson stampede. GRADE: A+