Alabama has had an amazing and unexpected season. They vaulted up the rankings with weekly success and eventually found their way to the top at number one. Though they lost to Florida in the SEC championship game, there is no denying what they accomplished this season, since most people, especially Tide fans, believed they were still a year away from competing for a national championship.
So how did Alabama get here? Their journey to the top and eventually the Sugar Bowl, believe it or not, isn't that much dissimilar to Utah's.
Both teams entered the season with decent expectations but uncertainty with what they could realistically accomplish. Both were on the cusp of the top-25 in the Coaches Poll and began the season against two programs that would eventually prove to be overrated opponents. Utah opened with 24th ranked Michigan and won, while the Tide defeated 9th ranked Clemson. Those victories pushed both teams into the top-25, where they would stay the remainder of the season.
Now obviously there is a fairly large split here, as the Tide cruised up the rankings while Utah stagnated and lingered in the top-14 for a prolonged period between week two and week eight. By the time Utah cracked the top-10, Alabama had found its way to the second spot, firmly cementing itself as a true national champion contender.
Along the way, Alabama had some not-so perfect wins (a 20-6 victory over Tulane, a 17-14 victory over Kentucky and a 27-21 overtime victory over LSU), some surprisingly dominant wins (a 34-10 victory over Clemson, a 41-30 victory over Georgia) and then the rest, which often proved to be filler for the Tide. Those victories included a mediocre Arkansas program, a decent Ole Miss team and the struggling Vols, Bulldogs and eventually Auburn to end the regular season. As mentioned earlier, their loss to Florida is the lone blemish on their record and that game was the closest any team has played the Gators since their stunning 30-31 loss to the Mississippi Rebels in September.
Looking at the Tide's schedule and you see a schedule very much like Utah's. There were some good wins (for the Utes, Oregon State, TCU and BYU), some decent wins (Air Force) and some wins over bad programs (everyone else). That is not to say a team like Wyoming compares to Tennesse, but...oh wait. Of course, I understand the SEC is a tough conference and Alabama had a more difficult schedule than Utah, but I would wager their best win, Georgia, stacks up very well against Utah's best win, TCU. With that said, you must give the Tide credit for the way they won. Unlike Utah, it was not at home and it didn't come in the final moments of the game. Alabama walked into Sanford Stadium and put the beat down on the then 3rd-ranked Georgia Bulldogs.
Outside of that, though, there isn't one victory that jumps out at you. This isn't to say Alabama is overrated, they're not, or not worthy of being favored, they are, but I believe there are more similarities between both Utah and the Crimson Tide than there are differences. Hopefully that means this game will be closer than many believe.