Alabama avoiding the D word – for now

Barrett Jones was definitely not going there.

Alabama’s All-American 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.

Good point.

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