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CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

King him: Saban System leads to yet another championship


NEW ORLEANS -- It is just a different world they live in down here. A world where touchdowns and quarterbacks are optional, certainly not required. A world where the family budget is busted for $350 tickets to watch a kicking contest.

A world where football and Nick Saban are king. In an age of parity, Alabama has done to college football what he would probably like to do to media now and then.

Apply a choke hold.

That gasping you heard from LSU on Monday night at the BCS Championship Game was rematch revenge. Only this time, it counted.

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This is what we're left with in a two-game series that was split and a season that, elsewhere, was fractured.

Might as well fracture it one more time. Alabama became the first team to win a national championship without winning its conference.

Other first in the BCS era? A shutout. 21-0. A team that finished second in its division beat the consensus No. 1, and there is no question about this season's national championship.

You noticed that goose egg, did you? That was basically the difference, given the choice of two worthy national championships. In the end, AP voters, those responsible for a possible split, were impressed with three words -- Alabama, Saban and zero. 'Bama is simply a better brand name than Oklahoma State, which was narrowly beat out for a berth in this game. The performance certainly left little doubt. 'Bama won its second championship in three years and eighth overall in the wire service era. The shutout was the first in a 1 vs. 2 game in the AP poll since 1946.

Saban? The Scowl did it again. Given 44 days to prepare to beat No. 1 LSU in a winner-take-at-least-a-share of a national championship, he concocted a beauty of a game plan. Quarterback AJ McCarron became a weapon. LSU was held to a measly 92 yards -- the second-fewest yards given up in a BCS bowl. Option quarterback Jordan Jefferson, the key in the first meeting, looked like Thomas Jefferson. At least our former president was a pillar of democracy. Jordan Jefferson was more familiar with the ground.

"He saw the future of this game," defensive lineman Nick Gentry said of Saban, "and said 'We're going to dominate these kids.' "

Even in the giddy 'Bama aftermath, it was hard to dig down on Saban's influence, only that it happened again. Kicker Jeremy Shelley said he hadn't received any particular words of encouragement after his performance in the first meeting on Nov. 5. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said the final words spoken by Saban were, "We fight." The Tide said it three times, then headed out to the field to apply an epic butt kicking.

The only hint of the effort put in came from defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.

"I don't want another bowl week like this," Smart said. "The stress level was out of the roof."

Two years ago, Marcel Dareus knocked out Texas' Colt McCoy, and that was basically that. This was more inexorable. Alabama led only 9-0 at halftime, but it seemed like 36-0.

"In many ways, we won the battle on the field, but the points didn't show up on the board," Gentry said of the first game, a 9-6 LSU overtime victory.

In many ways, the rematch was a replay. In the two-game "series" there were 10 field goals. Alabama got five of them Monday from Shelley. That was all the offense needed. Trent Richardson ran for the only touchdown in the two games of the century. You know, just to taunt the rest of college football. Hey, they can score.

This time, Alabama, clunky offense and all, successfully convinced themselves and the voters that it was a one-game season. If it had been a close Alabama victory, there was the possibility that AP voters, unanimous for LSU at No. 1 going in, could keep the Tigers on top.

"We always talk about leaving a legacy," Gentry said.

Maybe it was fitting in a season that distracted us from football, that even football couldn't save us. The only constant was Saban, an iconic coach who has not only rigged the system, he has defined the system. Alabama won the only way it could -- with Bear Bryant-quality defense. McCarron was great -- a career-high 23 completions -- but the defense was greater. LSU didn't cross the 50 until eight minutes were left.

"I'm sure when we watch the film, these guys know we always have a good, bad and ugly reel," Saban said stone-faced. "I can always find something ugly to talk about."

Not much. At least 44 Alabama players now have a pair of championship rings. If he were a school, Saban alone would lead everyone with three BCS titles. Only three coaches have won more titles in the wire service era -- Bear Bryant, USC's John McKay and Notre Dame's Frank Leahy. Every recruiting class he has had since coming to LSU in 2000 has experienced a national championship. That would be 2003 with the Tigers and 2009 and this season in 2011 with a Miami Dolphins dalliance in between.

That surprised Saban as he sat on the back of a cart waiting to be whisked away for an interview. "There's no other word that symbolizes it -– domination," said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. "He [Saban] said we were going to win one [against LSU]."

You want to win? You come to Alabama. It's like that sausage factory. You might not want to see how the stuff is made, but the end product is enjoyable.

Those deep-throated Tide fans who matched LSU's homestanding crowd 50/50 in the Superdome split didn't give a rip about qualify. They care about quantity. They're the ones bursting with pride now that Bama has pulled even with Notre Dame. Each has eight titles in the wire service era. They're the ones ready to lionize the linebackers -- Courtney Upshaw, Nico Johnson, Dont'a Hightower and Jerrell Harris -– who played themselves into legend status Monday harassing Jefferson all night.

The Tigers' biggest offensive play might have been Jefferson's tackle of Moseley. Moseley intercepted Jefferson, who then took down the sophomore linebacker, who seemed to injure his right knee.

Didn't matter. 'Bama won despite missing its leading receiver -- Marquis Maze, injured early -- and one of its best linebackers. It won with Saban, who knows the only currency that counts in the SEC is defense. That explains why 'Bama had to defend more than 400 plays fewer than No. 3 Oklahoma State. That's how opponents averaged less than eight points per game.

Maybe this is what Les Miles meant by "big boy football."

"I think we proved to everybody in the country we should have been in this game," Gentry said. "I'm sorry for Oklahoma State. I would have liked to play them, if we could. I guess we'll never know. Maybe they'll make a playoff one day for this situation, but right now it's our time."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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