Though the answer to the question posed in the title above may seem as simple as “win another national title,” actually crowning Alabama as the dynasty of all dynasties may be a bit more complicated than just capturing another crystal football.
Yes, another national title certainly wouldn’t hurt Alabama football’s current high place in history, but for the program to leave its mark on eternity, more than just another title needs to happen for the Crimson Tide in 2013.
To set the stage, first it’s important to put what the Tide have done since 2009 into historical perspective. This is key because it lays the foundation for the argument that the present Alabama program deserves mentioning as one of the best in the history of the game.
After making this important comparison, we’ll look ahead and lay out the blueprint for what the Crimson Tide need to do in 2013 to seal their fate as the best dynasty in the history of college football.
First things first: Alabama has gone 49-5 since 2009. It’s won three of the last four BCS national titles (the last two consecutively), two of the last four SEC crowns and it hasn’t lost a game by more than five points since falling 35-21 to South Carolina on Oct. 9, 2010.
The last time that a team captured three of four national titles was when Notre Dame won it all in 1946, 1947 and 1949.
The major difference between this achievement and what Alabama has just recently pulled off is that the Irish shared their ’46 title with Army and their ’48 championship with Michigan.
Alabama’s most recent trio of titles was completely unique in nature due to the way the way the BCS scheme is formatted.
For the last time a program managed a three-peat, we have to go all the way back to the Army teams of the WWII era, from 1944 through 1946, when the boys from West Point ironically won three straight while the men they represented were overseas in combat.
Again, you have to quantify Army’s ’46 title by pointing out that it was shared with Notre Dame.
Prior to this you have to go back to the 1930s to find a three-peat winner, when Minnesota earned national titles in 1934, 1935 and 1936. But, again, these are shared titles, as the Gophers split with Alabama in 1934, Princeton, SMU and TCU in 1935 and Pitt in 1936.
Though there were certainly plenty of repeat champions prior to this, especially since the AP poll didn’t crank up until 1936, college football back then was nowhere near the same animal in the 1930s, '40s or even '50s that it is today.
Indeed, many college football historians place the beginning of the “modern era” of college football in the 1960s, when the two-platoon system was first employed.
Though you could argue that things continued to evolve and change dramatically through the decades leading into dawning of the BCS era in 1998, it’s safe to say that college football in the '60s and '70s looked a lot more like it does today than it did back in 1945.
That said, this makes the current Alabama product, with no further accolades, already the most dominant and yes, dynastic program in the modern era of college football (again, using the definition of the '60s and onward).
To clarify, the Nick Saban-led Tide have already done, by virtue of winning three out of the last four national titles, what no other team in the “modern era” of college ball has managed to do.
And, even without a third consecutive national title, the fact that the Crimson Tide haven’t shared a championship with anyone over the last four seasons makes a strong case that their run is at least equal to the three-peats put up by Notre Dame, Army and Minnesota.
Now that we’ve established Alabama's place in history—which is arguably on par with the greatest dynastic powers of the past—what do the Crimson Tide need to accomplish in 2013 in order to gain the title of the “best dynasty in college football history?”
Win the SEC West and the SEC Championship
Though repeating as the divisional and conference champion in 2013 seems simple on the surface, Alabama needs to capture another pair of SEC titles almost as badly as it needs to win another national crown.
Yes. One of the biggest blemishes on the Saban-led Tide’s record, especially from a long-term, comparative approach, is that their 2011 BCS National Championship was won without a divisional or conference title.
And though this fact will get a bit hazy as time goes on and we rank teams looking from some far-off place in the future, solid sports historians aren’t likely to forget that Alabama—a team that didn’t even win its division—slipped into the 2011 title game by virtue of Oklahoma State dropping a game to Iowa State late in the season.
Indeed, LSU was the undefeated champion of the SEC in 2011 while the Crimson Tide were the champion of, well, nothing, and made their way rather ironically into the title game via a bizarre BCS calculation putting two teams from the same division in the national championship.
The public outcry over this pairing actually wound up being one of the final nails in the coffin of the original BCS format, ultimately leading to the mini-playoff which will kick off in 2014.
And this all means that Alabama needs its next championship run, presumably the one that is a part of its three-peat, to come complete with a divisional and conference title.
The Crimson Tide must win the SEC West and SEC championship in 2013 to be deemed the best dynasty in college football history.
Zero Rumors of NCAA Sanctions
This point may be the real deal-breaker for where Alabama ultimately winds up ranked among the great programs in the history of college football.
The truth is, even if the Crimson Tide were to stop winning championships now—or, even if they win three or four more under Saban, if some sort of solid evidence is uncovered about a major scandal during the current run, the “dynasty” could be considered tainted.
The unfortunate truth is that this sort of thing could range from wild, media-saturated rumors that get everyone talking to solid allegations with actual proof.
No matter how it happened, it could be devastating to how Alabama’s stunning successes are seen by posterity.
Simply put, if at some point some statistician is forced to place an “asterisk” after some of the Tide’s wins, or if certain parties assert that they “should” be there, then suddenly the discussion regarding Alabama’s place in history becomes contaminated.
And unfortunately, concepts such as fairness, justice and integrity are often thrown out of the window in these passion-fueled instances.
The only way to steer clear of this, obviously, is for the Tide to work hard to keep their noses totally clean, which is no small job, especially given the media-driven world in which we live. This situation is made even more difficult because the more Alabama wins, the brighter the spotlight will shine on Tuscaloosa; the world will be eager to uncover what would be the scandal of the century.
You don’t have to even like Alabama to have at least a measure of sympathy for this looming paradox.
The Tide must manage to stay clean throughout the Saban era, and afterwards, to be considered the greatest dynasty of all time, and that obviously includes the 2013 season.
Another small stain on the Crimson Tide’s otherwise sparkling record since 2009 is the fact that only one of the three Alabama teams that have won the whole enchilada has done so with a perfect record.
The only Saban-led national championship squad at Alabama to go undefeated was the 2009 team which went 14-0; the 2011 product went 12-1, while the most recent champ in 2012 went 13-1.
While this is not as a big of a deal as not winning the division and/or conference, in 50 years' time when some other hack is ranking the “best dynasties of all time,” it will matter which teams went undefeated and which did not.
And the truth is, perfect seasons tell the tale of total dominance, even if all the games were close. One hundred years from now, 14-0 will look a lot better than 12-2, no matter how you slice it.
If Alabama could manage a 14-0 campaign in 2013, that would mean it had won the SEC and the national title, meaning that its place in history would be sealed.
The Saban-led Tide would be the greatest dynasty in the long history of college football.
Win the BCS National Championship
Now to the most obvious point of all.
If Alabama wants to go ahead and lock up the title of the "best dynasty in college football history" in 2013, it needs to win the national championship in 2013.
What’s important to point out is that the Tide could fall short of the national championship this season and still lock up the “greatest dynasty” title sometime in the next three or four seasons with a couple more championships.
But if it’s going to happen in 2013, it’s difficult to sell the “greatest run ever” concept without the BCS national championship to go along with it.
What really, really seals the deal is the idea of the first-ever three-peat in the “modern era,” the first-ever three-peat in the BCS era and the first three-peat since WWII.
It’s hard to argue that this wouldn’t be the greatest team accomplishment in the history of the game, especially given the current recruiting climate, the changes in the way the actual game is played, the amped-up level of difficulty in terms of competition, and so forth.
If Saban can lead Alabama to the SEC West title, the SEC championship, an undefeated season, its third straight BCS national championship and its fourth national title in five seasons…then the 2009 through 2013 Crimson Tide will indeed be…the best dynasty in the history of college football.