Alabama has a chance to become just the third team in modern football history to go wire-to-wire No. 1, joining 1999 Florid State and 2004 USC. It's a unique honor, especially since both of those squads represented not only a great team but a program at the peak of its powers. The best talent comes in, the best talent goes pro and for Nick Saban the results so far are four national titles in seven years with a chance to make it five in eight in the College Football Playoff.
Saban's run with Alabama only compares to Bobby Bowden's Florida State teams during that incredible stretch from 1992-2000 when the Seminoles won every ACC championship right after joining the league and never finished outside the top-five in the national rankings, but even those teams only totaled two national championships (1993, 1999) during that run. Alabama, like those FSU teams, has created a separation in expectations from the rest of the league by bringing in the top talent and sending many of them on to the NFL. Unlike those FSU teams, Alabama is producing pros with multiple national title rings from their college career.
As a college football fan, it's important to pinch yourself and take time to appreciate history in the making. It drives rival fans crazy and in many ways represents just how big programs need to get -- hello, offensive analyst Steve Sarkisian -- in order to deliver sustained dominance to the football-hungry alumni and fans. As long as those future pros are talking about "The Process" and buying in, we might as well and buckle up for the ride with Coach Saban enjoy a few of Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies while we watch.
Here's five reasons why this 2016 edition of the Alabama Title-Gobbling Machine can win the College Football Playoff.
1. There's been an distance from the rest of the competition all season for a reason: Alabama has been a double-digit favorite in every lined game this season except one: the much-anticipated LSU game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Tide covered that spread in a 10-0 win and also covered the number in eight of those other 11 games as a double-digit favorite. This Alabama team was expected to beat every team with ease, and on most Saturdays they did just that. To think that gap between Alabama and the rest of college football will shrink magically during the layoff is to predict a drop-off on the Tide's part, and I wouldn't bet on that in 2016.
2. Many of these guys are pros in college pads: Jonathan Allen and Reuben Foster could be playing on Sundays right now but happen to be chasing college football success with such determination that it seems like every quarterback or ball carrier represents that ultimate success players dream about as kids. Maybe that's "the process" playing out in front of our eyes, as the country's most athletically gifted and well-trained football players treat every down like it's the play of the game. That kind of drive will power great things on the field, like Jonathan Allen going Superman-style to sack Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight during their SEC West clash earlier in the year.
3. Jalen Hurts got better through the year, and he's had 15 more practices to get ready: The first true freshman to start at quarterback for Alabama since 1984, Hurts' 2016 season has been a slow burn into superstardom. He started the season as a change-of-pace option against USC in the opener and never looked back, going on to set single-season school records for rushing yards by a quarterback and knock on the door of breaking single-season records for both touchdown responsibility and total offense. He's got the top completion percentage in the SEC (65.3), but his versatility has been the key to opening up the offense and helping power the Tide to the top overall seed in the College Football Playoff.
You can bet that Hurts won't sneak up on on the Huskies or anyone else in the playoff, and while this title (should Alabama win) will be an honor tied closely to the defensive dominance, it's also the launching point for the soon-to-be-sophomore's follow-up campaign in 2017.
4. No offense needed, though: Alabama's offense has improved as Hurts has gotten more comfortable and confident, but that process has been helped by non-offensive scores that in some cases are enough on their own to beat the opponent. The Tide set records with 14 non-offensive touchdowns this season, doubling up the second-best total from Ohio State (seven) in that category. Alabama's defense and special teams actually outscored the opponent in five different games this season (USC, Kent State, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida), a credit to that group's ability to both score and keep other teams from the end zone.
Chalk it up to the incredible depth (having five-stars replace five-stars on the depth chart helps) or a "steel sharpens steel" theory with the best talent in college football pushing each other on every single snap of the game, but it's defined the 2016 team in the conversation of other great Alabama squads.
5. Arguably the greatest coach in college football history is on the sideline: Getting to the top is a challenge for any coach or program, but no one in the game has been better at No. 1 than Saban. Alabama has played 48 games as the nation's No. 1 team since Saban arrived in 2007 (first reaching No. 1 in Nov. 2008) and won 43, giving Saban-coached Tide teams a .896 winning percentage when heading into the game as the top team in the land. Saban's coached more games at No. 1 at one school than anyone else in college football history, with Woody Hayes (Ohio State) and Bobby Bowden (Florida State) tied for second with 40.
Saban's the best doing it, and arguably the best to ever do it, and each year that Alabama continues this ridiculous tear through college football it makes it harder to bet against the Tide. College football results are ultimately determined by the actions of 18-to-22-year-olds in high-pressure situations, so the unlikely is possible, but there's no likely outcome from the College Football Playoff aside from hearing "Roll Tide" in Tampa on Jan. 9.