Love them or hate them, a dominant Alabama benefits the SEC and college football
PHOENIX, Ariz. — A coach constantly rumored to be headed to the NFL. Seven top-5 finishes in nine years. Multiple Heisman Trophy winners. Multiple national championships. An .836 winning percentage. A 34-game winning streak. Fifty-six players selected in the NFL draft.
No, we’re not talking about Alabama.
Those enviable statistics belong to the Pete Carroll-coached USC Trojans, which finished 11-2 or better from 2002 to 2008.
The game that ended the 34-game streak? The 2006 Rose Bowl. Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White and others faced Vince Young’s Texas Longhorns. The machine faced a mobile quarterback that captured the nation’s attention.
America was enthralled. That game drew the highest Nielsen ratings for any Rose Bowl in 20 years. The ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Trojan War,” recently added to Netflix, has kept the story of that team and that game very much alive.
Sports thrives on villains. LeBron James when he left Cleveland for Miami. The New York Yankees. Mike Tyson. Terrell Owens. Bill Belichick. The 1990s Chicago Bulls.
Alabama and Nick Saban — Nicky Satan, if you prefer — are the perfect examples.
You know all about the Tide’s three national championships since 2009, which also happens to be Carroll’s final season in Los Angeles before skipping town for the Seattle Seahawks.
Whether you root for or against Bama on Saturdays, chances are you’ll watch them Monday night.
ESPN executives, ad agencies and College Football Playoff committee members must have done a few silent fist pumps when Alabama toppled Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. With the casual fan sacrificed due to two New Year’s Eve kickoffs and a myriad of blowouts in the lesser bowl games, TV ratings were awful.
Can you imagine the relative interest in Clemson-Michigan State today?
The Tigers may be 14-0, ranked No. 1 in the country and arguably feature the best dual-threat quarterback in the country in Deshaun Watson. The defense is stacked, the receiving targets are deep and coach Dabo Swinney is one of the hottest in the industry.
Yet from the way the Clemson players talked about Alabama on Saturday, the Tide may as well be the defending national champions and No. 1 seed.
It was cornerback Mackensie Alexander who brought up the Texas-USC comparison. To a man, the rest of his teammates independently repeated the maxim “to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.” Throw out the records — Alabama is the favorite in Vegas, Alabama is the team that’s supposed to win a title every year and Alabama is the team with Saban.
It definitely means more facing Alabama. I think if you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best,” Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said.
“They’ve proven it over a long time that they’re the best team in the country. They’ve proven it this year that they’re one of the best teams in the country, too. If you want to be the best you’ve got to beat the best, and right now, that’s Alabama.”
There are some who are tired of seeing the script A or those Crimson helmets with the white numbers.
If you’d rather see those Houndstooth hat-wearing, Gene Stallings-loving men and women in Crimson have to stumble back to Tuscaloosa disappointed, well, the national title game gives you a strong rooting interest as well.
In an era of parity, it’s been a godsend to the SEC and to college football to have such a polarizing program constantly in the news for winning. If the Tide win Monday night, Saban will get within one title of Bear Bryant, and it will be historic. If the Tigers win, it will be against the largest collection of NFL defensive talent in the country.
Either way, chances are we’ll remember the 2015 season.