When it comes to assessing talent on college football teams, two obvious barometers are recruiting rankings and the NFL draft.
One that’s in between the coming and going is being named an All-American, the best at each position for a given season.
As demonstrated once again this week, Alabama stands out in attracting top prospects, and its been dominating at the pro level for a while, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Crimson Tide under Nick Saban has ruled the All-American selections as well.
But the level to which it has done so has been stunning.
For consistency and simplicity purposes, this discussion will be limited to consensus first-season All-American status.
For that, a player must be named first-team by the majority of the services recognized by the NCAA: American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp Foundation, The Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America and Sporting News.
A year ago, Alabama had numerous players named a first-team All-American by at least one major news outlet, including Jerry Jeudy, Alex Leatherwood, Xavier McKinney, DeVonta Smith,Jaylen Waddle and Jedrick Wills Jr. However, none achieved consensus status.
Here’s the full list of Alabama’s consensus All-Americans under Saban (* denotes unanimous selection):
2008 C Antoine Caldwell, DL Terrence Cody, OL Andre Smith*
2009 DB Javier Arenas, DL Terrence Cody, RB Mark Ingram*, OL Mike Johnson, Rolando McClain*
2011 DB Mark Barron*, LB Dont’a Hightower, OL Barrett Jones*, RB Trent Richardson*
2012 C Barrett Jones, DB Dee Milliner*, CB C.J. Mosley*, OL Chance Warmack*
2013 DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, OL Cyrus Kouandjio, LB C.J. Mosley*
2014 WR Amari Cooper*, DB Landon Collins*
2015 RB Derrick Henry*, C Ryan Kelly, LB Reggie Ragland*, DL A’Shawn Robinson
2016 OL Cam Robinson*, DL Jonathan Allen*, LB Reuben Foster*, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
2017 DB Minkah Fitzpatrick*
2018 QB Tua Tagovailoa*, OL Jonah Williams*, WR Jerry Jeudy, DL Quinnen Williams*, DB Deonte Thompson
2020 QB Mac Jones, RB Najee Harris* , WR DeVonta Smith*, C Landon Dickerson*, OL Alex Leatherwood*, CB Patrick Surtain II*
The six consensus selections for this past season was a modern-age football record (more on that coming up).
The five consensus selections on one side of the call also set a modern-era record, while the five unanimous selections tied another.
Consequently, since 2008, Saban’s second season, the Crimson Tide had fielded 41 consensus All-American selections earned by 36 players.
That’s more than any coach in history.
The previous leaders were Joe Paterno (33), Bobby Bowden (31) and Tom Osborne (30).
Saban also coached six consensus All-Americans before arriving at Alabama in 2007, giving him a grand total of 47.
There’s only 12 programs in college football history, Alabama included, that have had that many consensus first-team All-Americans.
Here’s what the rest of the SEC West has done in comparison.
Texas A&M 31
Ole Miss 12
Mississippi State 2
As for the SEC East’s all-time selections: Tennessee 40, Georgia 35, Florida 33, Missouri 13, Kentucky 13, Vanderbilt 7, South Carolina 4.
Going back to the Alabama list, the breakdown’s as follows: 11 offensive linemen, eight defensive backs, five linebackers, four defensive linemen, four running backs, three wide receivers and two quarterbacks.
QB: Mac Jones, Tua Tagolvailoa
RB: Najee Harris, Derrick Henry, Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram II
WR: DeVonta Smith, Jerry Jeudy, Amari Cooper
C: Landon Dickerson, Ryan Kelly, Barrett Jones, Antoine Caldwell
T: Alex Leatherwood, Jonah Williams, Cam Robinson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Andre Smith
G: Chance Warmack, Mike Johnson
DL: Quinnen Williams, Jonathan Allen, A’Shawn Robinson, Terrence Cody
LB: Reuben Foster, Reggie Ragland, C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Rolando McClain
S: Deonte Thompson, Landon Collins, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Mark Barron
CB: Patrick Surtain II, Dee Milliner, Javier Arenas
Star: Minkah Fitzpatrick
Note that every player is listed at the position he primarily played when named an All-American. There’s no moving anyone around just to make the list work, although many of the players lined up at more than one spot during their careers.
For example, Barrett Jones was at right guard before he moved to left tackle and then played his final season at center. He was a consensus All-American at both tackle and center while winning national awards at both positions.
The lone spot where Alabama hasn’t had a consensus choice is tight end. The only special-teams player is Javier Arenas, but he’s listed as a defensive back by the NCAA. Alabama has had All-American selections at kicker and punter, just not consensus.
“There’s not much I can do other than be the best in the country at my position,” said Jonah Williams, a unanimous selection in 2018 who probably would have won the Outland Trophy (bets interior lineman) if it wasn’t for teammate Quinnen Williams. “I can’t be the best quarterback in the country, can’t be the best whatever in the country. It’s great recognition. I’m honored to be recognized like that. When you look at all the unanimous All-Americans at Alabama, it’s all the guys that I’ve always looked up to.
“I like John Hannah and the number 73. That’s kind of cool. More recently, in Saban’s era, there are five or six guys, like Cam [Robinson] that I played with. Other guys before, like Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones, Andre Smith, a lot of guys I look up to.”
Most Over a Decade
When checking the numbers for the book Decade of Dominance two years ago, it appeared that it would be nearly impossible for Alabama to improve on its numbers over a 10-year period.
But Saban did.
From 2011-16, Alabama enjoyed a six-year period in which it had multiple All-Americans, during which the school had 21 players land the consensus honor. It corresponded to 29 All-Americans over Saban’s first 10 years leading the Crimson Tide.
“Twenty-nine? Wow,” said College Football Hall of Fame coach and former executive director of the American Football Coaches Association Grant Teaff. “For me it all goes back to the root value, of who he’s bringing in, the way he and his staff evaluate young people both in athletic talent character issues, academic ability to be there in four years and graduate in four or five. It all goes back to fundamental things.
“I’d say Coach Saban is the cream of the crop.”
With the six selections this past season, Alabama has had 33 consensus first-team All-Americans over the past 10 years.
Before college football evolved into the game we know today, it was primarily known as a regional sport in the Northeast, dominated by the Ivy League schools. Princeton can claim 28 championships, Yale 27 and Harvard 12.
Their success was naturally reflected in the corresponding All-American teams, which date back to 1889. Back then, Caspar Whitney and Walter Camp were the primary selectors.
Yale has had the second-most consensus All-Americans even though it hasn’t had player achieve the distinction since 1944. Harvard is third, but all its selections were between 1899 and 1941.
Team No. Players
- Notre Dame 104 88
- Yale 100 69
- Harvard 89 59
- Ohio State 90 69
- Michigan 83 70
- Oklahoma 82 67
- Southern California 82 73
- Alabama 80 74
Alabama didn’t have its first player honored with that distinction until Fred Sington in 1930, five years after winning its first national title (1925).
Even with such a “late” start in this race, the Crimson Tide could be in the top five as early as next year. Saban is averaging an unheard of 2.6 consensus All-Americans per season at Alabama.
Did You Notice?
• As Broad NCAA Change Awaits, College Football Is Facing a Recruiting Reckoning
• Most Concussions Come From Practice, Not Games, an NCAA Study Found
• Forde Minutes: What’s Plaguing College Basketball’s Powerhouses?
• ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has been touting Herb Jones as the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.
• Just in case you missed this part of the announcement this week:
Christopher Walsh’s notes column All Things CW appears on Thursdays. It will soon be part of the BamaCentral+ premium page.