Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – On the morning after securing his fourth BCS championship ring, Nick Saban was asked what he does with his BCS championship rings. Does he wear them all at once? Rotate them by month, by week, by day?
Said Saban: “I just put ‘em on the coffee table for recruits to look at.”
This drew a huge laugh — such a kidder, that Nick! — but it does underscore the problem facing the rest of college football. Success on the field begets success in recruiting, which begets even bigger success on the field, which is how one team in a cutthroat conference has come to claim consecutive BCS titles and three of the past four.
And Alabama now has bigger fish to fry. Only three programs — Notre Dame in the late ’40s, Nebraska in the ’90s and Saban’s Alabama — have taken three (legitimate) national championships in four seasons. No school has ever won three in a row, or four in five seasons. But who’s apt to derail this Bama locomotive?
After his Crimson Tide crushed Notre Dame 42-14 on Monday night, Saban spoke of how difficult this latest journey had been. “We got here by five yards. Georgia was five yards away from scoring (in the SEC Championship game). So it’s a pretty tough league that we play in, and we’re going to have to continue to try to improve as a program to have an opportunity to win the SEC Championship or the national championship ever again because of the competition in our league.”
Then this: “Look, we’re really happy, we’re really pleased, we’re really proud of what we have to do here. We’re going to enjoy it for 24 hours.”
And then back to work. For Alabama, the next game will come Aug. 31 against Virginia Tech in the Georgia Dome. The Tide will enter the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game ranked No. 1, perhaps by unanimous vote. But what teams will be in closest — not to say truly close — pursuit? An early look at the 2013 Top 25.
1. Alabama. Duh.
2. Ohio State. Urban Meyer is the only active coach with even half as many BCS titles as Saban, and the Urbanator just went undefeated in Year 1 at his latest stop. It’s intriguing that Meyer has had two unbeaten seasons, neither at Florida. This tells us what we already knew: He can coach a little, too. And in Braxton Miller, Meyer may have his next Heisman winner. (His first was a guy named Tebow.)
3. Oregon. The most stunning development of the month wasn’t Florida losing the Sugar Bowl to Louisville but Chip Kelly apparently choosing to stay in Eugene. For months his departure to the NFL had been seen as a fait accompli, but he hasn’t gone anywhere yet. Assuming he doesn’t, the offensive onslaught will continue. (Provided the NCAA doesn’t intervene.) Think of sophomore-to-be quarterback Marcus Mariota as the Johnny Football of the Far West.
4. Texas A&M. No team — not even Alabama, which lost at home to the Aggies — was playing better at season’s end, but some remain skeptical. Is Johnny Manziel really that good? Will Johnny Football be the same without left tackle Luke Joeckel, who’s leaving for the NFL? Will the raging Aggies offense rage on without coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, gone to Texas Tech as head coach? Will flavor-of-the-month A&M be the same the second time around the SEC.
5. Georgia. The Bulldogs could play them themselves out of the Top 25 by the end of September — or they could stamp themselves as the biggest threat to Alabama. They open at Clemson, and then they play host to South Carolina and LSU in two of their next three games. The Bulldogs’ defense will be radically reconstituted, but with Aaron Murray’s decision to stay in school the offense should be even better.
6. Clemson. The road to ruin has been paved with rosy forecasts for the orange Tigers, but the Clemson that beat LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl really did seem more forceful. (Skill was never an issue.) The runner Andre Ellington departs, but quarterback Tajh Boyd and bookend receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins return. And Clemson is finally starting to play a little D.
7. Notre Dame. In the aftermath of Monday’s thrashing, SEC zealots were heard to wonder if Notre Dame would even finish in the top half of the only league that matters. Wrong question. The right question: Could any college team have held up against Alabama playing at its absolute zenith? (Answer: No.) Forget 42-14. Do not underestimate the capacity of a famous program that has, after many false starts, gotten it going again. Do not underestimate the recruiting pull of the Fighting Irish.
8. Stanford. Remember when USC was supposed to reclaim the Pac-12 for Troy? That lasted only until the Trojans ran across Stanford, which has weathered the recent losses of coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck to remain robust. In David Shaw, the Cardinal has its new Harbaugh; in Kevin Hogan, it has its new Luck. Coming off its first Rose Bowl victory in 40 years, Stanford eyes even bigger prizes.
9. South Carolina. Jadeveon Clowney might or might not win the 2013 Heisman Trophy, but barring injury he’ll be the nation’s best player. Steve Spurrier has proved he can win without the great back Marcus Lattimore, gone from Columbia after a second knee injury, and the Gamecocks stunned Clemson in Death Valley without injured quarterback Connor Shaw. But in 2013 Carolina will play Georgia in Athens, and the Bulldogs are past due in that game.
10. Florida. The bloom came off a return-to-glory season in that Sugar Bowl — even Gators fan Chipper Jones Tweeted his displeasure — and now Florida faces tough questions. Can its pedestrian offense, ranked 103rd among 120 FBS teams, improve enough to play for championships? This is no trifling matter, given that the Gators’ defense is losing seven starters. And, in case you missed it, the Georgia alum Will Muschamp has yet to beat his alma mater.
And the rest: 11. Louisville. 12. Florida State. 13. Boise State. 14. Oklahoma. 15. TCU. 16. Vanderbilt. 17. LSU. 18. Northern Illinois. 19. Oregon State. 20. Kansas State. 21. Oklahoma State. 22. Miami. 23. Georgia Tech. 24. Nebraska. 25. UCLA.
By Mark Bradley