Can Nick Saban stand with Bear Bryant?
Once, the very idea of anyone doing that would have been unimaginable. But the championships crystal balls are starting to stack up, and Monday night's wrecking of Notre Dame was a remarkable encore. A tour de Saban.
And when it was over . . . the answer. Yes he can.
Did you see this coming? Did the most ardent crimson-wearing zealot in Tuscaloosa? But maybe we all should have.
Alabama . . . Nick Saban . . . national championship. Stop me if you've heard this one before. College football has turned into the movie Groundhog Day, and the Crimson Tide haul only keeps getting more of a load for history to carry.
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You could say Monday night's 42-14 rout was a coronation, but they were already kings. It was an ascension to something even more special.
Three undisputed national championships in four years for Alabama, seven straight for the SEC. We can all agree on the unprecedented majesty of the run by Crimson Tide by just looking at the record book. No one else has ever done it quite like this.
The combined score of the last two national championship games, against unbeaten teams: Alabama 63, LSU/Notre Dame 14. Should we applaud or gasp?
Saban vs. Bryant is a trickier matter. Bryant is credited with at least a piece of six titles, while Saban's three have come in a four-year volcanic eruption, plus his 2003 championship at LSU. Bryant's glory passed from generation to generation, across four different decades. Saban has been there but six years. That should not be forgotten in the current giddiness. Edge to the houndstooth hat.
But there is no question this is a more perilous age to stay on top, with early departures to the NFL, and BCS showdowns, and a culture that tends to erode the special chemistry of winners. Glory can be fleeting. Ask Auburn.
Conclusion: You now could make a reasonable case they belong in the same club, breathing the same rarified air. That in itself is amazing, for immortals are thought not to be approachable.
Maybe Saban needs a nickname. Or headwear.
But he lacks for nothing else, and Monday night was a vivid and devastating display of how this man has somehow found the magic formula of knowing all the right buttons to push. He has now hit for the cycle - winning his four national titles in all four BCS venues, from Pasadena to Arizona to New Orleans to Florida.
Now ``threepeat'' becomes part of the Alabama lexicon. The Tide started 15 non-seniors Monday but will lose several key faces from these champions. Think it'll matter? Saban is the reloader of his era.
Notre Dame brought an unbeaten record, aura, a sense of destiny. The Irish had no chance. Joe Montana could not have saved them in this one.
The 44-day layoff a factor? A couple of unlucky calls early? Please. This was SEC speed running past a northern team that sometimes looked as if it was playing in snowshoes, especially when vainly trying to tackle Eddie Lacy.
Four seconds into the second quarter, the Tide had 21 points, more than all 12 Irish opponents had scored the entire game in regulation. By halftime, Notre Dame - the No. 1 defense in the nation in points allowed, remember -- had given up 28. The same total its basketball team gave up in the first half Monday night against Cincinnati.
Maybe Oregon would have been a better date. But as the pounding grew worse, what you wondered was how Texas A&M ever beat this team in Tuscaloosa. Maybe the Aggies should be No. 2.
Go back to defensive end Damion Square earlier this week, telling us how it would be.
``We come to play Alabama football. I think we'll be fine just doing that.''
The outside world sees Saban smile more infrequently than it sees total solar eclipses.
``Neither do we,'' Lacy said. ``He smiles randomly.''
Saban was smiling late Monday night, as his unstoppable machine celebrated once more.
A dynasty. Legend. What other word to use? Move over Bear.
(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)