After falling to Clemson earlier this month, there's a temptation for some to convince themselves the Alabama dynasty is nearing its end. It's an indisputable fact the Tide have won just -- "just" -- one of the last four national championships. Before digesting that statistic, I would caution you to remember what Mark Twain had to say about numbers like that.
While it's true Alabama has won only -- "only" -- one of the last four crowns, they're this close to winning seven of the last eight titles. Dating back to 2008, Alabama has entered the final game, the final play, of the regular season out of the national championship exactly once. The Tide was No. 1 until falling in the SEC Championship in 2008, won the title in '09, took its only down year in '10, roared back to titles in '11 and '12, was No. 1 again until the Kick Six in '13, entered the College Football Playoff ranked No. 1 before losing to eventual champion Ohio State in '14, won the title again in '15 and lost to Clemson as the No. 1 team with, again, one second to play in the CFP title game in '16.
As dominant as you think Alabama has been over the past eight years, they've been better.
At some point, though, a certain inertia arrives that splits a dynasty in two. The laws of the universe demand it. Shaq and Kobe split up. Michael Jordan retired. The '90s Cowboys broke apart, and the early 2000's Yankees went their separate ways, too. But college sports is different. Because of the transient nature of college sports -- and because the players are 18-to-22 years old playing without multi-million dollar contracts -- coaches exert outsized influence compared to professional sports. The coach sets the culture.
The best comparison to Nick Saban's ongoing run at Alabama stretches beyond football, to John Wooden's run at UCLA that saw the Bruins win 10 national championships and reach 11 Final Fours in the 12 years from 1964-75. Saban's only current comparison is Geno Auriemma at Connecticut, with his active run of six national championships over the past eight years.
But enough about the past, what about the future?
We have anecdotal evidence the Crimson Football Locomotive is only gaining steam -- this behind-the-scenes account of Saban's meeting with new Alabama AD Greg Byrne:
Alabama was able to get all the necessary parties together on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, with Saban inviting Byrne over for dinner. Saban liked what he heard from Byrne and left the meeting energized about the future, according to sources. He was on board with Byrne taking the AD job.
We also have numerical evidence Alabama is only getting better. According to Bill Connelly's S&P+ rankings, Alabama's 5-year average jumped from 26.2 to 27.5 over the past year. Their next closest competition? Ohio State at 20.7.
And then there's the old-fashioned proof: recruiting.
On Wednesday, Alabama will sign a recruiting class that's ranked No. 1 by 247, No. 1 by Rivals, No. 1 by ESPN and, gasp, No. 2 by Scout. The 2017 class will join a roster that ranked, according to the 247Composite formula, No. 1 in 2016, No. 1 in 2015, No. 1 in 2014 and No. 1 in 2013.
Clearly, the end of the Alabama dynasty won't come because the Tide were passed on the field. It would have to come from within. Like, say, letting their offensive coordinator walk away a week before the national title game. (And even then Alabama arguably only lost because battering ram Bo Scarborough -- 16 carries, 93 yards, two touchdowns -- left the game with the Tide leading 24-14 in the third quarter.)
With Lane Kiffin gone, Steve Sarkisian slides up to the offensive coordinator chair. He loses left tackle Cam Robinson and wide receiver ArDarius Stewart to the NFL Draft, but gains No. 1 offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and No. 3 wide receiver Jerry Jeudy in recruiting. If Jalen Hurts fails to progress from his freshman to sophomore seasons, No. 1 dual threat quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will be ready to replace him. If Scarborough goes down in another title game, No. 2 running back Najee Harris is already on campus. This, of course, says nothing of the talent already stacked up on the current roster. DaShawn Hand, the No. 5 overall prospect of the 2015 recruiting class, needed three years just to get on the field. On and on it goes, a factory producing products faster than it can spit them out.
If those players don't perform under Sarkisian, he'll be gone faster than Kiffin was. That Peach Bowl episode proved beyond the shadow of the tiniest sliver of doubt that no details are left to chance, no feelings are spared in the pursuit of greatness.
After that Clemson loss, you could squint into the horizon and try to convince yourself the train that printed a crimson streak on the rest of college football is finally losing steam. But that setback isn't the sign of a breakdown -- no, it was a mere pit stop, a break to fine tune a machine that is now set to turn back around and bear down upon the rest of the country yet again.