The College Football Playoff is approaching quickly, and that means we're closer to finding out which team will emerge as 2017's national champion. As has always been the case, Alabama is in this year's playoff, and this time it's looking to wipe the bad taste out of its mouth following last year's loss to Clemson in the title game.
Alabama has won four national titles under Nick Saban, but even though the Tide have never missed the College Football Playoff, they have only won once in the last four years. That's fantastic for everyone else, but it's a title drought in Tuscaloosa.
So what makes this 2017 Alabama team ready to put an end to the title drought?
1. This is familiar territory for the Tide. Both Clemson and Oklahoma have players that have been to the College Football Playoff before, but neither has the amount of experience that Alabama has. If you're a senior or a redshirt junior on this Alabama team, this will be your fourth time going to the College Football Playoff. While it's hardly a deciding factor in games like this, it's still important, and it can provide an edge.
Just about everybody on the Alabama roster has been through it already. They know what kind of preparations to make while closing out a semester of school and spending time with the family during holidays, all while preparing for a huge game. The moment won't be too big for this Alabama team. It's met it too many times before.
2. It's such a balanced team. Every team has its strengths and weaknesses. There is no such thing as a perfect football team, particularly this season. But what makes Alabama different is that its weaknesses are typically better than your strengths.
When you think of Alabama during the Nick Saban Era, you picture a suffocating defense, and some giant running backs rumbling over opponents and wearing them down. These stereotypes remain true, but they don't paint the entire picture of what Alabama is.
Its defense is amazing, yes. If you use advanced metrics like S&P+, this Alabama defense ranks in the top 10 across the board. Whether it's limiting big plays, stopping the run, stopping the pass, or just getting off the field, Alabama's defense does a phenomenal job.
But it's offense isn't much worse. Using the same advanced metrics, Alabama's offense ranks in the top 10 in success rate and explosive plays. Its passing offense also finished in the top 10 nationally, as it is ranked sixth in the country. That means its rushing attack -- ranked 14th -- is actually the weakness.
And lest we forget about special teams, the Fremeau Efficiency Index ranks Alabama's special teams unit as the No. 15 group in the country. Alabama does everything, and it does it well.
3. Alabama is the best team in the country. And it has been all season. That's not to say that this version of the Tide is the same dominant force we've seen before, but compared to everyone else in college football, it's the No. 1 team. That's why it's favored over Clemson even if Clemson is ranked No. 1 and Alabama is No. 4.
The only reason Alabama isn't ranked higher is that it lost to Auburn late in the season. Well, you'll have to forgive me for not believing that a loss at Auburn suddenly means Alabama wasn't better than everybody else all year long. I'm not trying to knock either Clemson or Oklahoma -- two terrific teams -- but they did lose to Syracuse and Iowa State respectively. Alabama didn't win its division or its conference, but an eight-point loss to your rival on the road doesn't wipe out everything you did beforehand. Not in my book.
Alabama was the best team in college football all season, it's the best team right now, and it'll be the best team once the dust settles after the College Football Playoff as well.