It was at this time last year, on the morning following Alabama’s 21-0 beat down of LSU in the 2012 BCS National Championship when I wrote a column proclaiming the win “Nick Saban’s Masterpiece.” That morning I explained how the victory was a beautiful convergence of a brilliant coach and talented team, executing a flawless game-plan that was as close to college football perfection as we’ll ever see.
Here is part of what I wrote following that victory:
And as I watched last night’s BCS National Championship, I couldn’t help but think back to that quote.
Because really, reflecting on Alabama’s 21-0 win, it wasn’t just about the victory itself. It wasn’t just about the Tide dominating one of the best teams we’ve seen in recent college football history. It wasn’t about sucking the life out of LSU one tackle for loss at a time. It wasn’t about Jeremy Shelley’s field goals or A.J. McCarron’s emergence. It wasn’t even about one of the best defenses of all-time finally getting their proper due.
Nope, Monday night was bigger than that. It wasn’t just about a championship, but about a team and coach achieving something that is as close to perfection on the football field as we've ever seen.
In every sense of the word, Monday night's BCS National Championship Game was Nick Saban’s masterpiece.
Well if last year’s win over LSU was a masterpiece, what does that make Monday night’s 42-14 beat down of Notre Dame? Sure Saban had a heavy hand in the victory, but he didn’t do it alone. No, no, he got plenty of supporting help from A.J. McCarron and Eddie Lacy, Barrett Jones and 11 members of a defense that made Monday night a living hell for Everett Golson and all his Notre Dame teammates.
If anything (and I hate to go all Tom Rinaldi on you), Monday night was more like a symphony, a beautiful blend of overwhelming talent and brilliant coaching mixed together to make sweet, unparalleled gridiron music. It wasn’t about one man, but instead the convergence of 100 or so, each playing their role and doing their part to help the team acheive victory. It was about Saban yes, but it was also about McCarron’s deep passes to Amari Cooper and Lacy and T.J. Yeldon picking up an extra couple yards after contact on every carry. It was about the Alabama defense sniffing out everything Notre Dame was trying to do before they did it and special teams brilliance from future superstars like Landon Collins. It was about Alabama being better than Notre Dame in every way a football team could be.
More importantly, it was also about Alabama officially becoming a dynasty, the greatest team in modern college football history.
Of course to fully appreciate what happened Monday night in Miami, it only seems appropriate to go back a year, to last January’s LSU game and give it all some perspective.
Alabama wasn’t the favorite going into that game, and at the time it actually seemed like LSU was in the beginning stages of a college football dynasty. It was LSU which entered the game as the undefeated SEC champion. It was LSU that had won in Tuscaloosa in the regular season and had beaten Oregon, Georgia, Arkansas and West Virginia along the way too. And it was LSU with the oodles of young talent while the Crimson Tide one game away from a major rebuilding (or at least reloading) project. Alabama was the team of veterans like Mark Barron, Dont’a Hightower and Trent Richardson, all likely on their way out to the NFL. LSU was just getting going, with Tyrann Mathieu, Odell Beckham and Sam Montgomery set to return for another run in the fall of 2012.
It certainly was the start of something special. At the time we just didn’t realize which team it was the start of something special for.
Then the two clubs took the field and Alabama went ahead and ripped the BCS Championship trophy that had already been given to LSU right out of their hands. The Crimson Tide rode their defense, found just enough leaks in LSU’s facade to take a 15-0 lead on five straight Jeremy Shelly field goals, and by the time a late Trent Richardson touchdown sealed the deal, college football history had been re-routed even before it was written. Alabama was the 2012 BCS National Champion, and had enough talent returning to make a serious run again into the 2013 calendar year.
Well they did that Monday night in a game that was just like the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, and also nothing like it all. Yes Alabama was dominant against Notre Dame, but not in the flawless, meticulous, spectacular fashion they were a year ago. Instead Monday night was about simple domination, sheer, violent and unquestioned domination. From the first kick to the last whistle Alabama was simply a better football team than Notre Dame in every way a football team can be. In all the years and all the SEC’s BCS victories, nobody has put up a performance quite like… that.
Alabama’s domination started on the first drive of the first quarter, and never really let up the rest of the game. It showed when the Crimson Tide’s offensive line bullied the much hyped Notre Dame front seven on the very first snap of the game, and later when Eddie Lacy broke a weak Manti Te’o arm tackle and rumbled in untouched for the game’s first touchdown just minutes in. It showed on the Tide’s first defensive series when they forced the Irish into a three and out and punt.
And then, it just turned ugly.
Alabama scored on its second possession to go up 14-0 midway through the first quarter, and by the time they went up 21-0 at the start of the second quarter, Notre Dame had just 23 yards of total offense, period. The Crimson Tide took a 28-0 lead by halftime and a 35-0 lead before the Irish got their first, meager touchdown of the game. By then the game was long over, and the final score of 42-14 was by design; had Alabama wanted it to be, the game could’ve been much uglier. Notre Dame’s two touchdowns were simply out of pity, and will go down as little more than box score fodder for historical purposes.
Speaking of that box score, it shows how one-sided this game was better than any written words ever could. Lacy was named the game’s Offensive MVP with 140 yards rushing, a number that was actually kind of low considering that his back-up T.J. Yeldon rushed for over 100 himself. McCarron had another epic title game performance with 264 yards passing and four touchdowns, proving that he has moved well beyond his “game-manager” label and into the pantheon of one of the best big-game quarterbacks in recent college football history. Did you know that with his victory last night, McCarron currently has more championship rings (three) than losses as a starter? Think about that for a second (also, thanks to ‘Bama fan Chad Wilson for sharing that stat with me).
Beyond that were the team stats, which only put Alabama’s victory into an even more impressive light. On Monday the Crimson Tide put up more yardage in the first half (304) than Notre Dame typically allowed per game this season (286.6 entering Monday). The Irish also gave up 529 yards of total offense, the first time they allowed more than 400 yards since they played Stanford in November…of 2011. Finally, let’s not forget about that cute Irish front seven, which had given up two rushing touchdowns all season long. They gave up their second to the Crimson Tide just four seconds into the second quarter.
And while Monday night was a total team effort, it still does all come back to Saban, who undeniably etched his place in College Football’s Mount Rushmore on Monday night. A year ago I wasn’t comfortable trying to figure out where Saban fit in college football history, but this morning I have no problem doing exactly that: He is undoubtedly the greatest coach of the modern era and certainly one of the two or three best of all-time. Even if he doesn’t go down as the best ever (and with time he probably will), he is in the discussion, which admittedly, is a damn good place to be.
By now most of you already know that with last night’s victory, Saban has now helped the Tide became the first team \ to win back-to-back titles in the BCS era.(USC won two in a row, but one was a split National Championship not awarded by the BCS). They also became the first club since Nebraska in the mid-1990’s to take three in four years (and one of theirs was split as well). Those stats alone put Saban in the discussion as the best ever.
Of course while that’s all well and good, let’s look in the bigger picture, with some broader stats that tell us just how truly great Saban is. Did you know that in the last eight seasons Saban has been a college football head coach, he’s won titles in exactly half of those years? Heck, even if you factor in those two years in the NFL, four championships in 10 years ain’t too shabby either. Or how about another one, which is my favorite single Saban stat out there: With his win last night, Saban himself now has the same number of championships in the BCS era as the Big XII (two), Pac-12 (one) and Big Ten (one) have combined.
Please stop and think about that one for a second.
No seriously… stop… and think about that for a second. IT’S INSANE!!!!!
To me though what’s most impressive isn’t just the raw numbers, but the context that goes with them. Winning four titles in any era is an incredible feat, and three in four years overall is the stuff that legends are made of. But to get three in four years, in this era, and under these conditions? I simply can’t imagine we’ll ever see it again.
Understand that no matter how much we want to compare this era to previous ones, you can’t. It’s apples and oranges, black and white, Johnny Manziel and John Brantley. Keep in mind that every single rule which has been enacted in college football the last few decades has been designed to keep anyone from ripping off a run like the one Alabama is on right now. Yet all Nick Saban does is laugh at your rules, laugh at your logic, and keep winning football games.
Looking at it in the big picture though, let’s really digest how much college football has changed over the last several decades, and how much harder it is to sustain success now than it was even just a few short years ago.
Let’s remember that 25 years ago recruiting was largely an old boys network, where top coaches could accumulate talent like Eddie Lacy did first downs last night. Now it’s a cottage industry where the best players are identified as high school freshmen and recruited by everyone in the country, coast-to-coast, conference-to-conference, team-by-team. Now it’s hardly uncommon to see California kids go to Florida (like Ronald Powell did a few years ago) or Florida kids go to California (like Nelson Agohlor did last year). In other words, if you’re good enough you’ll be found. And will have a choice of any program in the country, not just the two or three local ones like back in the day.
Let’s also remember that once upon a time schools got access to 95 scholarships and had liberal use of many more; when Bear Bryant ran out of football scholarships, he famously brought in more players on tennis scholarships (much to the chagrin of the tennis coach I’m sure). Now every school is limited to 85 scholarships and legislation makes it darn impossible to bring in more than 25 a year. A decade ago only a handful of schools played on national TV and even fewer had the money to build the best facilities. Now we live in an era where every team is on TV every week and billion dollar television contracts allow everyone to have the great facilities and feed and train their players properly. Not to mention that expanded conferences, a 12th regular season game and conference championship games have all made it that much tougher for teams to achieve and accumulate sustained success. Well, everyone that is, except for Nick Saban and Alabama anyway.
And what’s scary is that things don’t appear to be slowing down any time soon in Tuscaloosa. Yes Alabama will lose plenty of talent off this roster, but let’s also remember that they were one of the youngest teams in college football with just nine scholarship seniors. Even if underclassmen like Lacy, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker join the graduated Barrett Jones, Robert Lester and Jesse Williams in the NFL, the Crimson Tide are still losing significantly less talent than most title teams. They’re certainly losing less than this same Alabama club did last year.
So what do they return? Oh, I don’t know, how about a two-time National Championship winning quarterback and Heisman Trophy favorite in McCarron. How about his top receiver (Cooper), a 1,000 yard rusher (Yeldon) and a first round NFL left tackle (Cyrus Kouandjio) to along with him? How about a number of future NFL stars on defense like C.J. Mosley and Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and plenty of other young players like Landon Collins to fill the void? How about another Top-5 national recruiting class which has the chance to be No. 1 in the country by the time the ink goes dry on Signing Day?
Not to mention that we all know that a number of guys will step up next year that we can’t possibly anticipate now. After all, how could anyone have predicted back in January 2012 that one year later Eddie Lacy would be the Offensive MVP of the 2013 BCS title game? Or two years ago that an unheralded junior college recruit named Jesse Williams would become one of the most feared nose guards in college football. Or that McCarron would do, umm, basically anything he’s doing right now??!?!?! As I joked on Twitter Monday night, Kenyan Drake was quite literally a human victory cigar for the Crimson Tide this year. If history is any indication, he’ll rush for 150 yards in next year’s BCS title game.
As a matter of fact, looking at this realistically, it’s hard to imagine any scenario (short of McCarron eloping with his girlfriend in the off-season and never coming back) where Alabama doesn’t enter 2013 ranked No. 1 in the country. Sure Texas A&M, Stanford, Oregon and Ohio State will be worthy challengers. But for now, someone still needs to step up and rip the crown off Alabama’s head.
Of course that is the future and it’s only fair that for the time being we focus on the present. We’ve got plenty of time to talk 2013 (too much time, actually) and even Saban himself will at least take all day Tuesday to soak in the Notre Dame victory. We should too.
The 2012 Alabama Crimson Tide might not have been a once-in-a-lifetime team, but we are in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime run right now.
Alabama officially became a college football dynasty on Monday night.
And it appears as though things are just now getting started.
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