If it wasn’t already, the Sabanization of college football is officially here. The national conversation has changed from how to stop the SEC’s dynasty to how to end Alabama’s dynasty. Three BCS championships in four years by Nick Saban leave Alabama with a title run that not even Bear Bryant accomplished.
As if to rub salt in everyone else’s wounds, Saban then landed his fifth mythical recruiting national championship in six years. Eight of the past 11 No. 1 classes by Rivals.com won a national title within three years.
The recruits continue to sign. The players continue to develop. The crystal balls continue to be raised.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
So what can stop Alabama? There are some potential pitfalls.
7 Threats to Alabama's Dynasty
1. Nick Saban leaves
Every year Alabama fans read tea leaves and convince themselves that Miss Terry won’t let her husband leave Tuscaloosa for another college job, the NFL or a lake house in Georgia. And every year, Saban slams the door on the NFL more loudly than ever.
“I closed the door,” Saban said of the NFL on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike in the Morning” in January. “The damn hinges are wore off, dog.”
The truth is, Saban has the best job in the world for him. He’s a control freak who wants to impact players and not be hamstrung by salary caps and salary egos.
Saban, who spent two years with the Miami Dolphins, could win in the NFL. But he could never win as much as he does at Alabama. Bill Belichick, Saban’s buddy, won three Super Bowls in four years and hasn’t won another in the eight years since.
NFL teams have multiple front office voices who draft one new player each round. At Alabama, Saban’s one voice makes the final call while signing as many talented recruits as he wants — or as the rules allow.
Never say never about coaches leaving. There’s too much money, ego and pressure ever to rule it out. But unlike with the Dolphins, Saban’s words and actions continue to line up at Alabama.
It’s the most dangerous obstacle in sports to a team on top. Alabama experienced it in 2010 after its first national title under Saban, turning a talented team (albeit a young one on defense) into a three-loss Capital One Bowl team.
It’s always a fight at the top. Every opponent gets fired up for Alabama, leaving no room for feelings of entitlement.
Go ask Florida. The Gators won two BCS titles in three years under Urban Meyer. Then they collapsed to 8–5 in 2010 after Saban destroyed a 2009 Florida team that may have been Meyer’s most talented — and most entitled — team in Gainesville.
Go ask USC. Pete Carroll won two national titles and played for a third within three years. In Carroll’s final season, USC slipped to 9–4. Today, the program is depleted, partly due to Lane Kiffin and partly because of No. 3 on the dynasty-killer list.
3. NCAA penalties
This would be the quickest way for Alabama’s dynasty to end. The NCAA would have to hit a program like Alabama hard to have an impact. Imagine Ohio State’s postseason ban for lying about tattoos, rather than Alabama’s probation for impermissible sale of textbooks.
Forgotten in Alabama’s dynasty: The Crimson Tide won its first BCS title while on NCAA probation. In fact, in January 2012, Alabama and LSU staged the first BCS Championship Game in which both teams were on NCAA probation.
This isn’t to suggest that Alabama finds itself in danger of being hit by the NCAA. But rival coaches and fans are always on the lookout for players’ curious photos, vehicle purchases and living arrangements — especially if those players are on the No. 1 team.
4. SEC challengers
This just in: No SEC coach plans to kneel and kiss Saban’s feet. They’re paid too much money and are under too much pressure to play for second place.
Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin beat Saban last year. The Aggies are on the rise with their new SEC brand while Texas is declining, opening up even more talent in their football-rich state.
LSU’s Les Miles is 3–4 vs. Saban since 2007. The Tigers may take a step back this year, but Miles takes games personally against Saban, and LSU isn’t going anywhere.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is a once-in-a-generation pass-rusher. What happens to Alabama’s dynasty should Clowney dominate the SEC Championship Game, which has essentially become a BCS semifinal?
Georgia’s Mark Richt (left) could have been a national champion and the Saban vanquisher right now if not for falling five yards short at last year’s SEC Championship Game. Georgia and Florida — where Saban protégé Will Muschamp resides — both acquire enough talent annually to challenge Alabama in Atlanta.
Sign of the times on how the SEC won’t cave to Saban: James Franklin of Vanderbilt — Vanderbilt! — vowed to outwork “Nicky Satan.”
5. No-huddle offenses
Tempo is the name of the game now in some SEC circles. Saban hates the no-huddle, because it impacts his substitutions over the course of lengthy drives. Alabama mixes and matches defensive personnel based on down and distance as if it were an NFL team.
Days after facing Ole Miss’ up-tempo offense last season, Saban questioned how fast college football should allow the game to go for player safety.
“It’s obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense when teams are scoring 70 points and we’re averaging 49.5 points a game,” Saban said. “With people that do those kinds of things, more and more people are going to do it. I just think there’s got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking, is this what we want football to be?”
“Yes!” shout many coaches challenging Saban.
Texas A&M shredded Alabama with tempo last season. Gus Malzahn rejoins Auburn, after giving Saban fits in 2009 and 2010. Even Hugh Freeze’s no-huddle offense produced Ole Miss scoring drives of 13 and 16 plays against Alabama last year.
6. Mobile quarterbacks
Quick: Name the past six quarterbacks to beat Alabama.
Florida’s Tim Tebow. Utah’s Brian Johnson. LSU’s Jordan Jefferson (twice). South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia. Auburn’s Cam Newton. Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.
They have one trait in common: Mobility. Some were more elusive than others. Almost all of them could make plays with their feet, either to move the chains on designed runs or to escape pressure for a scramble or throw downfield.
Manziel befuddled Alabama last year with his arm and legs, amassing 92 yards rushing. Think Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart spent the offseason watching film for the Sept. 14 rematch in College Station?
7. Luck runs out
Alabama may have dominated its three BCS Championship Game victories, but it did lose one game in two of those three seasons.
In 2011, if Oklahoma State hadn’t lost to Iowa State, if Boise State hadn’t missed a field goal against TCU, if Oregon hadn’t scheduled (and lost to) LSU, or if Stanford hadn’t fallen to Oregon, Alabama wouldn’t have played for the BCS title. In 2012, if Stanford hadn’t upset Oregon or if Baylor hadn’t stunned Kansas State, Alabama would have stayed home.
The BCS is around only one more year before a four-team playoff arrives with the whims of a selection committee instead of computers and polls. The SEC is already wondering aloud what happens if an elite team loses in the SEC Championship Game, positioning itself for the chance to have two teams in the playoff.
Dynasties are constructed with that type of forward thinking. Eventually, though, they always end.
Sometimes you never see it coming.
Written by Jon Solomon for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2013 SEC Regional Preview Editions.
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