Alabama Crimson Tide fans are celebrating an unprecedented fifth national championship in the last nine years, while critics are forced to at least begrudgingly acknowledge that, despite all the hopes and predictions to the contrary, the kings of college football still reside in Tuscaloosa.
As the great Roger Daltrey and The Who sang, “Meet the new boss … same as the old boss.”
This time, the national championship was accomplished on the strength of a true freshman quarterback who has achieved legendary status before ever starting a game.
Tua Tagovailoa to fellow true freshman DeVonta Smith in overtime to win the national championship will immediately take its place in Crimson Tide lore alongside the Goal Line Stand against Penn State and George Teague’s Sugar Bowl Strip against Miami.
The scary part for future Tide opponents is that Alabama’s leading passer (Tagovailoa), receiver (Smith) and rusher (Najee Harris) Monday night were all in high school last year. The same is true for the left tackle who helped key the second half (Alex Leatherwood) as well as the receiver who caught Alabama’s first touchdown pass (Henry Ruggs).
Monday night will be remembered as the night Nick Saban tied Paul “Bear” Bryant with his sixth national championship.
But don’t forget that the narrative in recent weeks was whether Alabama’s dynasty was finally starting to show some cracks. Alabama wasn’t supposed to even make the playoff after losing its last game of the regular season to Auburn. Not only did the Tide not win the SEC, they didn’t win the SEC West division or even the state championship.
They certainly weren’t supposed to be able to overcome the most unlikely streak of injuries at the linebacker position, then injuries to Lester Cotton and Anfernee Jennings in the semifinal win over Clemson after both had played the best games of their careers.
But they did all that and ran Saban’s record to 12-0 against his former assistants by beating Georgia in the national championship game, adding Kirby Smart to a list that already included notable coaches Jimbo Fisher, Mark Dantonio and Will Muschamp.
But the focus of this week should not be on the fact that Saban and the Tide worked and willed their way to another national championship to extend their college football dynasty by at least another year.
The real question is whether this is the absolute apex of the Alabama dynasty. Is it possible that Alabama’s dynasty has never been so strong?
The statistics and the players who led the Tide to the title very clearly point to an emphatic “yes.”
For all that Saban has accomplished since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, he had never had a three-year stretch in which his teams won 41 games. Until now.
He had never had a team with a three-year stretch of one loss or fewer. Until now.
He had never avenged a playoff loss or eliminated the reigning national champions. Until now.
Beyond that, the seniors who just completed their four-year run at Alabama won 53, which is the most wins by any senior class in college football history. They broke the record of the class that immediately preceded them in Tuscaloosa.
But here’s the thing: Their record will probably stand for only one year. The last three Alabama teams have won 14, 14 and 13 games. The rising class will need to win “only” 13 games next season to surpass the 53 wins and establish a new college football record.
So, instead of concentrating on what Alabama has accomplished in winning 125 of 139 games since 2009, let’s take a look at what the future likely holds for the Tide.
First, the talk of Kirby Smart and Georgia surpassing his former team after just two seasons was always suspect. Yes, Smart has done a terrific job at Georgia and he is going to be a long-term success in Athens. But 31 quality seniors made it obvious that this would be a great year for the Bulldogs even if it took a few more years to get the program on the consistent footing Smart wants.
Fans will soon have to come to grips with the fact that, while Smart is a good coach who is going to be successful, there is no special Saban formula that can be duplicated. When Saban talks about “The Process,” it’s not some catchphrase or branding slogan. It’s about the work it takes every day and the focus demanded to worry only about improving without regard for what the outcome of any particular game will be. That includes dominating lesser opponents or making one more dramatic play against a very good opponent like Georgia Monday night.
Saban’s streak of helping his recruits earn a national championship ring has now been extended to a ridiculous level. Dating back to 1999, every player to sign with Saban and stay for four years has won at least one national championship. That includes every single player who has inked with the Tide under Saban.
Alabama is again the champion of the college football world.
Despite all the young stars in the spotlight Monday night, there are a lot of key contributors who will soon be moving on to the NFL.
But Saban and the Tide have proven that won’t matter. The Tide’s latest championship proves again that the Saban dynasty is not only alive but it has never been so strong.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of Sports Drive every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.