How do dynasties end?
Maybe it’s like this: It seems that for the first time since 2009, Alabama’s football team won’t sign the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class as assessed by the 247Sports Composite rankings. The Crimson Tide has sat atop that perch, squashing the rest of the college football world just as you would expect a pachyderm on top of a pile to do, for seven consecutive seasons.
That dominance has paralleled an on-field run that ranks among the sport’s best. Between 2008 and this January, Alabama has won 112 games and lost 13. It has won four national titles and won fewer than 12 games in a season just once in that span. At nearly a decade of dominance, the run is nearing the top of the college football dynasty longevity scales.
Even the other truly great dynasties in the sport’s history finally lost their steam about this point. Bud Wilkinson’s 1940s and 50s Oklahoma Sooners stayed at the pinnacle for a full 11 seasons from 1948-1958, winning 107 games, every conference title in that span and three national titles. Bobby Bowden kept Florida State in the nation’s final top four every season from 1992-2000, and the other USC, Southern Cal, went from 1967 until 1979 with two coaches totaling 122 wins and four national titles.
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Most of the rest of the sport’s other iconic runs slowed their pace after five or six seasons, which makes what Alabama is doing truly historic. It also feels like the rest of college football might be due a break from it, and the clouds might be parting a little now.
This has nothing to do with Clemson’s 35-31 victory in the national title game, a spectacular performance from an excellent team with a generational quarterback. This goes to the foundation of the thing – recruiting. What Nick Saban has done on the recruiting trail is a remarkable testament to his skill and his will and has started his team lengths ahead of the rest of the field entering almost every season he’s been at the school.
However, Alabama has only two verbal commitments for the Class of 2018, and while that group is nine months from being complete, the experts don’t like the Tide’s chances of getting to the top spot. The class ranks No. 62 nationally at the moment, according to 247Sports. Ohio State has 10 verbal commitments from four- or five-star prospects and is in the mix for several more five-stars for the upcoming class.
Certainly, Saban will get close to the top of the rankings by February, but the math doesn’t give him much hope of getting to the pinnacle, which has become almost a birthright in Tuscaloosa. That’s hardly a spectacular fall from grace, but it might be the crack the rest of the college football world has been waiting to see.
For years, the wider college football universe waited for the rest of the SEC to stage a palace coup and bring down the Tide from within. The league has proven impotent in that attempt.
LSU looked like it was on to something for a while under Les Miles, but hasn’t really recovered from a 21-0 loss to Alabama in the 2012 national title game. Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel stormed the castle briefly only to tumble back down that hill just as quickly, establishing a pattern of lots of flash with no finish that has come to define Kevin Sumlin’s tenure at the school. Even Ole Miss was within a converted fourth-and-25 by Arkansas away from stealing a division title from Alabama, but the Rebels are saddled with 15 Level 1 allegations from the NCAA. The SEC East, frankly, has been no help at all.
That has left it up to Clemson and Ohio State to chisel notches out of the Tide’s defenses. If this is finally a thwarting of the Alabama momentum, it’s now up to the rest of the SEC to take advantage of a break none of them could create on their own.