FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Barrett Jones was definitely not going there.
Alabama’s All-America offensive lineman has spent five seasons with coach Nick Saban, and he knows better than to talk about stuff like legacies and the Crimson Tide’s place in history.
“Do you know what would happen if Nick Saban watched this interview and heard me say the D word?” Jones told a reporter who tried to lure him into the forbidden zone.
The D word would be dynasty, and it is definitely off-limits around Alabama. But make no mistake, if the Crimson Tide can beat No. 1 Notre Dame on Monday night it will become the first team to win consecutive BCS championships and join a select list of college football programs with three national titles in four years.
In short, Alabama will lay claim to one of the great runs in history.
“I think what we’re really focused on is what we have to do in this particular game,” Saban said moments after Alabama arrived in south Florida. “Michael Jordan always says it doesn’t make any difference how many game-winning shots I’ve made in the past. The only one that matters is the next one.”
Since The Associated Press started crowning a college football champion in 1936, a team has repeated as champion 10 times, including Bear Bryant’s Alabama teams twice.
No team has won three straight titles in the poll era. The standard is three out of four, and only two teams have done that. Notre Dame won AP titles in 1946, ’47 and ’49. But that’s ancient history. Back then the final poll came out before the bowls were even played.
The other three-in-four-year champion was Nebraska, which won back-to-back AP titles in 1994 and ’95, and capped a remarkable run with a perfect season and coaches’ poll title in 1997, Tom Osborne’s final season as coach. Michigan was voted No. 1 in the final AP poll that year.
Over that four-year period, Nebraska went 49-2.
Alabama’s gone 48-5 since 2009, fueled in large part by the recruiting class of 2008. That group has already produced eight NFL draft picks, including 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and star receiver Julio Jones.
Four members of that class are still with the Tide, all starters: Jones, the two-time All-American, safety Robert Lester, defensive end Damion Square and tight end Michael Williams. Linebacker Nico Johnson and guard Chance Warmack from the class of 2009 are the only other current players who have played for the two previous Alabama championship teams.
“I respect all the guys that came in in 2008,” Lester said Friday. “[Alabama] just came off a ... 7-6 season.”
It seems hard to believe now, but not everybody was convinced Saban would turn Alabama into a juggernaut at that point. The Tide had been down a while and Saban was not far removed from two unimpressive NFL seasons. But he proved he hadn’t lost his touch in recruiting with that class.
“For those guys to believe in the system and to come in and help turn it around, it speaks wonders for those guys,” Lester said. “We’re down to the last four of us, playing in the national championship down in Miami, going out like this, there’s nothing more you can say about it.”
Certainly not the D word, right?
“I don’t want to use that and call us something that we might not be,” he said.
The last time the D word was getting tossed around freely in college football was the 2005 season.
The last team to go back-to-back was Pete Carroll’s Southern California squad in 2003 and ‘04, though even that one comes with a “but.” In 2003, USC was left out of the BCS championship game, despite being No. 1 in both the AP and coaches polls at the end of the regular season, and LSU beat Oklahoma to take the BCS title. The Trojans were the AP’s champs after beating Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
The Trojans of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush went into ‘05 as overwhelming favorites to become the first major college football team to three-peat. Vince Young and Texas stopped all that talk of the Trojans being the greatest of all-time in the Rose Bowl.
There hasn’t been a similar buzz around Alabama this season, though it’s no surprise the Tide have reached this point. Alabama started this season ranked No. 2, and spent more time at No. 1 than any other team.
Maybe the Tide haven’t earned the same kind of hype because they’ve had some good fortune the past two seasons. Alabama lost to LSU last year and got a second shot at the Tigers in the BCS title game. This season, ‘Bama lost in November at home again, but got the benefit of the doubt from poll voters ahead of other one-loss teams such as Oregon.
“I don’t believe they should have been in the national championship game last year. You lose one time to a team you shouldn’t get a second bite of the apple,” said former Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown, who works as an analyst for Sirius XM Radio.
Maybe it’s because this Tide team doesn’t have the star power that USC team did. The Trojans had two Heisman Trophy winners. The face of the Tide now is Jones, a center.
While the Tide’s signature defense is ranked first in the nation yards allowed per game, the consensus is that it’s not as good as last year’s version.
“Alabama is not what it was when it comes to having guys that can do everything,” said ESPN’s David Pollack, a former All-American defensive end for Georgia. “This is the worst defensive talent Alabama’s had in at least four seasons. But their system is so strong and so precise. Now he’s got everybody Sabanized.”
Don’t think Pollack was knocking Alabama.
“Ridiculous,” was how he described the Tide’s latest national championship run, with only nine senior starters. “That’s not right. That’s not human.”
It’s Saban. He’s the constant and with one more championship he’ll have four, tying Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy for second-most among coaches. Only the Bear, with six, has more.
And when they start asking if you’re better than the Bear, then there’s no avoiding the D word.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap