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The Times' college football countdown: No. 2 Alabama

Nick Saban has been the best coach of the 21st century so far, leading two programs to BCS titles. The defending champion Crimson Tide has lost some star power but could be back in the title game.

August 28, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Nick Saban is the best coach of this century so far.
Nick Saban is the best coach of this century so far. (Dave Martin / Associated…)

Bob Stoops had first crack at Coach of the 21st Century when he led Oklahoma to the national title in 2000.

The Sooners, though, haven't won since.

Jim Tressel took Ohio State to the 2002 title, but it would be a lie to say he established more than a one-crown legacy.

"Pep-Talk" Pete Carroll led USC to two Associated Press trophies in his first four years but took off for the Northwest just as the Trojans were heading south.

Urban Meyer, with his two Bowl Championship Series titles at Florida, was the coach to beat before he burned out, then back in, then out, and then back in.

The debate, at least for now, is over.

The best coach this century so far is Nick Saban. He is the only coach to win three national titles and the first to lead two programs to BCS nirvana.

That's pretty good for a guy who spent lost years in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. But look at him now. Love him or loathe him, Saban is king.

He dominated last season's title game in that he had already won BCS titles for both schools — Louisiana State in 2003 and Alabama in 2009.

Saban broke the tie by outcoaching his LSU successor, Les Miles, en route to a 21-0 victory.

Saban has reached the point where it really doesn't matter what Alabama has coming back just as long as he's coming back. The Crimson Tide loses seven starters on defense, plus five on offense, and no one bats an eye.

LSU has more returning talent, but Alabama has the returning coach.

Alabama is an assembly line again, plugging in new All-American parts.

Saban is not necessarily the most personable guy. Someone once, in 1993, saw him smile.

Yet, let's face it; Saban is perched on the cusp of all-time greatness.

We picked Alabama No. 1 last year largely because of Saban-metrics, and Tuscaloosa won it all.

We're picking Alabama to reach this year's title game based on Saban's ability to keep everyone, including the team videographer, focused.

"The goal of this team is to be relentless competitors," Saban said at Alabama media day. "To be a team nobody really wants to play."

We'll know by mid-September where this Alabama team stands. By that time, the Crimson Tide will have played Michigan in Arlington, Texas, and Arkansas in Fayetteville.

These Alabama people, though, think only about football. The team's website has a running clock counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until opening kickoff.

Alabama loses star back Trent Richardson but returns starting quarterback AJ McCarron, who grew up on the job last year as a sophomore and played at a high level through the BCS title game.

The offensive line, maybe the nation's best, is humongous and might be quarterback-sack proof.

If you think Alabama will measurably suffer on defense after losing some star power — Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Barron — please contact any number of websites that evaluate recruiting.

There's a chance Alabama could fall back a bit. The team that followed the 2009 squad was considered subpar after finishing only 10-3.

There's also a theory floating around that Saban will never let that happen again.

The countdown so far: 25. Notre Dame; 24. Texas Christian; 23. Utah; 22. Kansas State; 21. Louisville; 20. Boise State; 19. Clemson; 18. Stanford; 17. Michigan State; 16. Oklahoma State; 15. Wisconsin; 14. Nebraska; 13. Arkansas; 12. West Virginia; 11. Florida State; 10. South Carolina; 9. Ohio State; 8. Georgia; 7. Michigan; 6. Texas; 5. Oklahoma; 4. Louisiana State; 3. Oregon; 2. Alabama.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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