It’s funny how things work out sometimes.
On Saturday, I was sitting around towards the end of the Alabama-Ole Miss game, when I sent out a tweet with the picture above and the caption “When you come to the realization that your dynasty is officially over.”
At the time, I honestly didn’t think much of it.
Alabama was down by double-digits, about to lose to Ole Miss for a second straight season (the first time that has happened… ever) and was set to lose for the fifth time in 19 games dating back to the Kick-Six game against Auburn two seasons ago. Clearly Alabama wasn’t quite “Alabama” anymore. Just like their loss last year to Ohio State in the college football playoff there was nothing fluky about the Rebels’ win over the Tide (outside of a goofy Chad Kelly touchdown pass off the helmet of one of his teammates). Ole Miss wasn’t running double-reverse, wide receiver passes for touchdowns, and Alabama hadn’t played its worst game in decades, but instead, reasonably well.
The simple truth was that Saturday was a battle between two really good SEC opponents. And after 60 minutes, Ole Miss happened to come out on top.
At least that’s how the game appeared to me.
Of course as soon as I sent out that tweet, Alabama fans flooded my feed… and most, umm, disagreed quite heavily. They told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. They guaranteed that the dynasty wasn’t over. They referenced last year’s loss to Ole Miss, and all their top-flight recruiting classes. Alabama was as strong as ever, they told me. There was nothing to worry about.
Which is a great narrative, it really is. It’s also wrong.
Because while I respect the hell out of what Nick Saban has created at Alabama, I stand by what I said Saturday: Alabama’s dynasty is over. No, they’re not going to go 4-8 this season and fall completely off the map. But they also aren’t an 11-1 juggernaut and guaranteed National Championship contender either.
By definition, to be a “dynasty” you have to annually be in the National Championship discussion, and win quite a few of them. And while Alabama is good, those days are over.
The funny thing is, most of Alabama’s “fall” has nothing to do with Alabama at all. Saban is still recruiting at an insanely high level (I won’t disagree with Alabama fans on that) and still putting a damn good product on the field. If this were four or five years ago, what Saban is doing would be good enough to keep the Tide in the National Championship discussion and keep the dynasty alive.
The problem though is that this isn’t four or five years ago. A lot has changed in the SEC. Alabama has raised the bar. And the truth is, everyone has gotten better around them.
Seriously, think about how much has changed since Saban first arrived in the SEC in 2007.
If you look back on that time frame, you’ll realize that while the league was still good, it wasn’t nearly as tough as it is today. Sure the conference was coming off Florida’s National Championship, and LSU would win one that same season. But after that, the SEC was…. how do I say this nicely… not very good. There were two really good teams (Florida and LSU) and a couple decent ones behind them (Tennessee and Georgia). As for everyone else? They were kinda meh.
Don’t believe me? Again, just look at the SEC that Saban entered in 2007.
At the time, Sylvester Croom was still at Mississippi State… a sentence which feels so dated, I feel like I should be typing it on a typewriter. Ole Miss was in the process of transitioning from Ed Orgeron to Houston Nutt… which literally just made me laugh thinking about. By Saban’s second year Tennessee and Auburn were going through coaching changes, replacing Phil Fulmer and Tommy Tuberville respectively. Texas A&M and Missouri were still in the Big XII. I don’t even know what Arkansas was, but I wouldn’t describe it as “good.”
Point being, that at the time, the SEC was at best going through a “transitional phase.” At worst, it just wasn’t very good. At least not top to bottom like it is today.
Well, fast forward to 2015 and it’s safe to say that the “transition” is complete.
Ole Miss and Mississippi State have made drastic, significant program-changing upgrades at head coach. Texas A&M is a recruiting juggernaut; they’re a legit playoff contender this year and should be even better next year as well. Tennessee is as strong as it’s been probably since Saban’s first season at Alabama, and Georgia and LSU haven’t dropped off either. Even though Auburn and Arkansas aren’t very good this year, I’d argue that they’re in better shape overall as “programs” than they were when Saban arrived.
Put a different way, let me ask you this: Name me one program in the SEC that is definitively worse today than it was when Saban got to Tuscaloosa in 2007. There’s Florida, and then… well, that’s actually it.
Again, Alabama hasn’t gotten worse. Everyone else has just gotten better around them.
And while nobody is talking about it, let me mention something else: The biggest difference between the SEC today, and the SEC just a few years ago, is that no one is afraid of Alabama anymore. It’s a huge factor that no one is talking about.
Understand that when Saban really had things rolling, really owned this league like no one else, they didn’t just have a major physical advantage over everyone, but a mental one too. It seemed like back in the 2011/2012 Alabama heyday, everyone was legitimately afraid of them. It seemed like the Tide took control of games the second they walked in the building and elicited fear in the opponent. It seemed like they were going to score every time they touched the ball on offense, and force a three and out every time they got it on defense.
They were a juggernaut. They were a force of nature. They inflicted their will on everyone.
And understand, that’s not just my opinion. That’s a fact.
Just look at the final scores of Alabama’s games from the last time they won a National Championship in 2012. They really were a freakin’ juggernaut.
They beat Michigan 41-10 in their opener, and then just kept rolling. In SEC play they won by scores of 52-0 (Arkansas), 33-14 (Ole Miss), 42-10 (Missouri), 44-13 (Tennessee), 38-7 (Mississippi State), 49-0 (Auburn). The only games that were even close were LSU and the SEC Championship game against Georgia, plus the loss to Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. And oh by the way, they also beat Notre Dame 42-14 in the National Championship.
Again, that was just three years ago. But at the same time, it’s realistic to think that everyone was afraid of the Tide. And why wouldn’t they be? Alabama destroyed everyone.
Now, fast forward to 2015 and let me ask you: Who is afraid of Alabama? The answer is basically “no one” and the reason is easy: Everyone has either beaten them outright or played them tough through the years. Why would Ole Miss be afraid of Alabama? They’ve beaten them two years in a row. Auburn and Texas A&M have beaten them too, and just last year, LSU Arkansas and Mississippi State all could have beaten the Tide as well.
At this point, why would anyone be afraid of Alabama? Everyone has either beaten them, or nearly beaten them over these last few years. In essence, they’ve all proven to be Alabama’s equals. The gap has narrowed exponentially over the last few years, to the point that there’s basically no gap at all.
Now of course, Alabama fans will disagree with this.
Again, they will mention last year’s loss to Ole Miss, and how the Crimson Tide ended up winning eight straight games after it, another SEC Championship and could have very easily won another National title.
Which again, is a great point, it’s also overlooking a few different things.
LSU and Texas A&M are both significantly better than they were a season ago, and both bona-fide playoff contenders. A home game with Florida has been replaced with a road game at Georgia, who also looks like a playoff contender. Tennessee is tougher than they’ve been in a long time.
Add it all up, and I stand by what I said at the beginning: Alabama feels a lot more like a “9-3” team this year, than an 11-1 title contender.
No, the Crimson Tide aren’t going to fall apart tomorrow, nor are they going to finish 4-8.
But the dynasty is over. The glory days are a thing of the past.
Alabama is no longer the “Alabama” we once knew.