Back in January, in the championship game of the College Football Playoff, Tua Tagovailoa had an introduction that seemed hard to top. With the Alabama Crimson Tide trailing the Georgia Bulldogs 13-0 at the half, Tagovailoa—then a little-known freshman from Hawaii—came on in relief of the Tide starter Jalen Hurts. Alabama had won four national titles since the arrival of the head coach Nick Saban in 2007, establishing itself as the decade’s superpower; pinning its hopes to a player who had never started looked like a desperate move. But where Hurts had been cautious, Tagovailoa was daring, zipping the ball from sideline to sideline and directing his team to 20 second-half points. In overtime, needing a field goal to keep the game alive and a touchdown to win, he arced a 41-yard pass over the Georgia safeties to DeVonta Smith in the end zone. Alabama won the game, and Tagovailoa went from second-stringer to legend in the space of a couple of hours.
Eleven games into this season, Tagovailoa and the Tide have yet to produce a moment as iconic as that one—if only because they haven’t needed to. Tagovailoa is widely seen as the best quarterback in college football and is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, throwing for more than 2,800 yards and 31 touchdowns against just two interceptions. Following his lead, Alabama has dominated to a degree that’s rare even in its own gilded history. The team has won each of its games by at least 22 points, and on five separate occasions it has scored at least three touchdowns in the first quarter alone.