The Alabama Crimson Tide are coming off yet another national championship, but they have some major rebuilding to do. Even so, they’re still going to be more than good enough to do it all again – or, at least, demand nothing less.
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History would suggest the end is coming at some point. It’s just a question of how many more national titles Nick Saban can throw on the pile before it happens.
Florida State’s epic run of consistent greatness from 1987 up until the 2001 Orange Bowl loss to Oklahoma didn’t have the national titles that Saban’s current streak has, and playing in the ACC in the 1990s doesn’t even come within 20 miles of what Alabama has faced with its SEC schedule. The Seminoles didn’t necessarily get complacent, but losing offensive coordinator Mark Richt and one mediocre defensive year were just enough to drop the program out of the elite of the elite status.
USC’s downfall under Pete Carroll was obviously the Reggie Bush disaster, while Miami was hit by two scandals to stop the steamroller. Alabama doesn’t appear to have those problems on the horizon, especially given the current climate of NCAA regulations complacency.
Or, maybe, Alabama is more like Ohio State and never really dips or strays too far from the upper-echelon. Maybe, a total and utter disaster is a two-loss season or not winning the national championship – the same bar set for the Buckeyes – and even if Saban leaves, or something weird happens, the machine is so strong that it’s just never going to slide into mediocrity like former powerhouses Nebraska and Texas recently have.
But if there’s ever going to be a demarcation between an era of utter dominance and a fallback, this could be the season.
Alabama has been so good under Saban over the last eight years that of course it’ll be a player in the national title chase again this season, even though it lost its starting quarterback, its Heisman-winning running back, his NFL-caliber backup, a starting NFL center, two starting NFL defensive tackles, a starting NFL inside linebacker, a starting NFL-caliber corner and kick returner, and in all, 11 starters off a national champion.
Why wouldn’t Alabama be able to find another guy to replace Jake Coker, who replaced Blake Sims, who replaced AJ McCarron? It’s not like they have to find another Jameis Winston or Deshaun Watson.
Why can’t the next running backs up be just as strong as Derrick Henry and Kenyon Drake? After all, they were Next Backs Up stepping in for T.J. Yeldon, and Eddie Lacy, and Trent Richardson, and Mark Ingram, and Glen Coffee.
Why can’t the next linemen ready to roll in the rotation be every bit as good, and why can’t there be more linebackers ready to shine just like all the recent stars who went off to the big leagues?
The fact is that all pieces are ready to fill in everywhere, and they’re all just as talented as their predecessors. And if they’re not, their backups are, because that’s what years and years of elite recruiting into a top-flight system with tremendous coaching does for a program. However, though there’s no doubt whatsoever that this will once again be one of the most talented teams in college football, all it takes is one extra little slip for the sky to fall.
The difference between 11-1 on the way to the conference championship and 10-2 and on the way to a New Year’s Day bowl is miniscule in the SEC. Ask Georgia, and LSU, and Missouri – before last year – and all the other programs just how hard it is to make a dent in the best league in college football.
With a schedule that includes USC in Arlington, at Ole Miss, at Arkansas, at Tennessee, Texas A&M, at LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn, could a team that loses so much talent lose that one extra game? And even if it doesn’t, there’s still an SEC championship game to deal with. Remember, the Crimson Tide have only gone unbeaten once – 2009 – in the Saban era.
And that’s the pressure. That’s why Saban is Saban and has to be so meticulous and such a task-master at all times. One extra misfire, and the empire comes crashing down.
Or at least that’s what it’ll feel like if there’s anything less than a fifth national title in the Saban era.