Alabama, owner of the country’s top-rated recruiting class for six years running, might be the most talented college football team ever.
But the second-most talented 2016 roster, based on recruiting rankings, belongs to the team Alabama just disemboweled in Texas, 52-6.
The good people of 247Sports keep an accounting of the talent levels of every roster in the country, based on players' high school recruiting evaluations. They call this the Team Talent Composite, and it’s a great tool. This says nothing about coaching, nothing about under-the-radar studs or big-time busts. It’s just about perceived talent.
USC is No. 2 behind Alabama. That was enough to keep the Trojans within exactly 46 points of the Crimson Tide, who treated them like some puny FCS outfit.
This raises a discomforting question: If Alabama can rip up the second-most talented team like a dog does a piece of raw steak, who’s going to possibly keep up?
It’s a hard thing to answer. Alabama won’t beat everyone by such a wide margin all year long. The Tide are heavy favorites to win every game they walk into, but a few teams on their schedule could challenge them: Ole Miss, probably, and maybe some teams out of LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee. (LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn already have losses of drastically varying quality, while Tennessee came close to a bad one.)
The best guess here is that the defending national champions' most serious challenger won’t come in the SEC, but in the College Football Playoff. That’s not a guarantee the Tide will go 13-0 through the league championship game, of course.
But teams like Ohio State, Florida State, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Clemson also show up at the top of the Team Talent Composite and have the sorts game-breakers who might make a difference against the Tide.
While LSU has the country’s best power back in Leonard Fournette, Alabama can answer him with an elite defensive front. There are fewer obvious answers for versatile weapons like Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers; speed backs like FSU’s Dalvin Cook and Stanford's Christian McCaffrey; or quarterbacks like Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett.
There's more to it than just talent, and those teams also have proven coaches like Urban Meyer, Jimbo Fisher, and Jim Harbaugh, rather than a newer guy like USC's recently promoted interim, Clay Helton. Bama still has Nick Saban, though.
(And let's not forget Ole Miss has beaten Bama two years in a row.)
Maybe one of them will have the Alabama antidote. Maybe an SEC Week 1 goat like LSU will round into top form at some point and do it. But maybe not.
It’s tough. Alabama just played the team that’s closest to its stratosphere in terms of raw talent ... and dunked on it.