How long can Alabama sustain its peak? Can the Tide adapt to the continually-evolving college football landscape? Will other top programs surpass Bama?

When one team is so good for so long, those are the kinds of questions that fascinate us. But they’re not new. Despite coming back to the pack, relatively speaking, creating a smaller margin for error, the Tide continue to win, compiling a 36-5 record the last three seasons with just three regular-season losses.

The Nick Saban era could end now and be considered a rousing success. Three national championships is enough to make any coach a legend, even at Alabama. Everything from here equates to minor adjustments in Saban’s final resting place in college football lore.

Despite facing challenges — a below-standard secondary and an offense that must replace some of its biggest stars — Alabama has shown it is a program capable of dealing with obstacles as well as any program in the country.

Whether or not that changes in 2015, as of today, Bama remains one of, if not the best, college football programs.

Let’s take a look at the State of the Union, taking into account the last three years and expectations for 2015.


SEC standing: Best in the conference

Grade: A

Looking at the results since the 2012 season, the Tide claim one BCS national championship and two Sugar Bowl losses. In all three seasons, Alabama has reached the Iron Bowl with a chance to win the SEC and national titles. In two seasons, Bama made it to at least the national semifinals.

Anything other than a national title feels like a disappointment at this point, and that’s somewhat unfair to coach Nick Saban and moreso to the players.

In 2014, Alabama came within two wins of another national championship with a defense that’s lagging from the impenetrable, historic force it once was, a weaker offensive line (by program standards) and a first-time starting quarterback replacing one of the most accomplished players in school history.

Whether everything in your closet is houndstooth, you’re a “hater” or something in between, what Alabama continues to do on an annual basis is better than any program in the SEC and maybe the country.


SEC standing: Best in the conference

2015 rank: No. 1

Grade: A+

The current Alabama era is historically great at recruiting. It’s supposed to be harder than ever to maintain dominance in recruiting.

Many mid-level power conference programs now have facilities that not even the Alabamas of the country could dream about just 10 years ago. It’s easier and easier for out-of-state coaches to poach talent. A steady influx of dollars and the rise of social media are big deals.

But, most of all, it’s difficult to recruit the top talent in the country when that talent knows it could show up to Tuscaloosa and barely play for two or three years, vs. becoming an immediate starter at another reputable program. Yet based on the 247Sports Composite, the Tide has continued its streak of No. 1 recruiting rankings.

If there’s a single arena that marks Saban’s dominance at Alabama more than any other, it’s recruiting. The Tide signs locker rooms full of four- and five-star players annually, like clockwork.


SEC standing: The fringe of the upper third

Grade: B-

It’s difficult to grade Alabama on this front.

A team like Missouri excels at player development, but it’s easy to get credit when a three-star recruit becomes an All-SEC player. In contrast, at Alabama, a five-star who becomes an important backup or a serviceable starter is a major disappointment.

The more top-end talent you recruit, the more chances you have for your players to be viewed as disappointments.

Still, within the last three years, there are programs who have done just as much with lesser talent. It’s a cynical point of reference, but an argument can be made that relative to the talent on Alabama’s roster, the team has underperformed — if not as an overall group, then at least at certain positions.

I’m interested to see if hiring a defensive backs coach will have an impact on the development of some young cornerbacks and safeties filled with as-yet-to-be-realized potential, or if the secondary will continue to fall short of the lofty expectations established by recruiting rankings.

Alabama has been good — great, even — at times the last three years, so it’s hard to dock the team much. But look at the 2008 and 2009 classes, and look at how many dominant, impact players emerged. Compare that to the last few years.

Everything with the Crimson Tide’s talent level has to be graded relative to the program’s recent history, because there’s not much that’s comparable in the country — maybe Urban Meyer’s Ohio State teams. And right now Alabama’s on-field success is more due to talent than development.


SEC standing: At or near the top of the conference

Grade: A

Alabama isn’t the first program that comes to mind when the discussion of college football’s coolest facilities — perhaps the team doesn’t need to flaunt its facilities, or prefers to tout its championships — but in no way are the Tide lagging.

Not surprisingly, though the team does enjoy some cool digs, most of Alabama’s resources when it comes to facilities appear to be channeled toward performance: nutrition, training, meeting rooms, even academic help.

The team completed a state-of-the-art, 30,000 square foot facility for its football players and staff in 2013, and it belongs up there with every other program in the country.


SEC standing: At or near the top of the conference

Grade: A

Saban and the Bama staff are not beyond reproach.

The team hasn’t adapted especially well to the uptempo, quick-strike offenses that have overwhelmed college football in the last three years. The run defense remains solid, as long as the players don’t have to stay on the field for long drive after long drive. The pass defense has hit a dip.

On offense, Saban made what’s looked like a tremendous decision to hire Lane Kiffin as coordinator.

Even with occasional defections, the Tide does a tremendous job of hiring great recruiters, very good coordinators and plenty of assistants that are head coaching material.

On occasion, it appears as if Saban isn’t the best Xs and Os coach in the game, and sometimes it seems like the staff could be better at teaching and day-to-day player development. But the coaches usually do a tremendous job at game planning and at self-evaluation, both with holes that need correcting and in identifying the best players from a roster loaded with talent.

Expectations are soaring at Alabama, and the Tide has more or less met them despite a lofty bar. The coaching staff deserves a good amount of credit for that.