Alabama is 13-0, favored by about 16.5 points over Washington in the national semifinals, and is the prohibitive favorite to win the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive season. The Crimson Tide have a dominant defense, a dynamic offense and NFL talent at seemingly every position.
With that in mind, I wondered if Alabama is the best team UW’s assistant coaches have ever prepared to play. So I asked four of them -- defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake, offensive line coach Chris Strausser and offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith -- about the best team they’ve ever faced. Here is what each said.
PETE KWIATKOWSKI: “It’s probably this team (Alabama). Every year, there’s always a team that you play that’s got really good players, extremely (well)-coached, they play extremely hard and physical. Yeah, this is one of those teams.”
JIMMY LAKE: “To date, it would be when I was here (at UW) back in 2004, the Reggie Bush/Matt Leinart USC team. (Dwayne) Jarrett. (LenDale) White was the backup, Reggie Bush was the starter. That was a talented team. I can’t name all the guys off the top of my head right now. It was a long time ago. But I think that was the most talented college football team that I’ve faced in coaching.”
Might that answer change in a couple weeks?
“We’ll see,” Lake said. “You never know until you play them up close and they’re right there, and you see how they match up against your guys. But definitely going into that USC game back in 2004, you knew Reggie Bush was going to be a special player. They had a lot of special players on the field that day. But we’ll see how it goes on New Year’s Eve. Definitely, when you watch the tape, it looks like (Alabama) has first-round picks across the board, offense, defense. So it’s going to be a heck of a challenge.”
USC went 13-0 in 2004 and defeated Oklahoma, 55-19, in the BCS national championship game (though its final two victories of that season have since been vacated). The Trojans beat UW, 38-0, in Los Angeles. Lake was the Huskies’ defensive backs coach at the time under coach Keith Gilbertson. Quarterback Matt Leinart went on to win the Heisman Trophy, and six USC players wound up as first-team All-Americans.
CHRIS STRAUSSER: “When I was at Oregon State as a graduate assistant and we played the 1991 Washington team. That was the best team I’ve ever seen on a football field. The fastest team, for sure, I’ve ever seen. They just had no weaknesses anywhere. That was a long, long time ago, so it’s hard for me to compare teams.”
Does Alabama remind him of that UW team?
“(They’re) similar in the fact that there’s just no weaknesses, all the way across the board,” Strausser said. “They lose one of their starters to an ACL, the guy that’s behind him is a very, very good player. So there’s no weaknesses.”
Washington went 12-0 in 1991, beat Michigan, 34-14, in the Rose Bowl, and split the national championship with Miami. The Huskies outscored their opponents 495-115. They beat Oregon State, with Strausser in his second season as a graduate assistant, by a score of 58-6 in Corvallis.
JONATHAN SMITH: “Oh, this one. This one, for sure. On tape and what they’ve been able to accomplish, yeah.”
What about before this season?
“Yeah, this one. You’re talking about my coaching career? Been here at UW for three years, played a couple good teams at Boise, for sure. But these guys are good.”