January 9, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Alabama not likely to cede its reign atop college football

So, who gets the next shot? Who even wants the next shot?

Alabama and the Southeastern Conference keep lining 'em up and knocking 'em down, and the carnage probably isn't over yet. Notre Dame was the latest to trot in and slink out with welts and yelps.

Notre Dame discovered what many already knew, what Michigan knew, what Michigan State knew, what Ohio State has known and would have learned again. The Crimson Tide has won three of the past four BCS championships after its 42-14 pummeling of the Irish, and could be even better next season. The SEC has won seven straight titles, and the only single-digit margin was Auburn's 22-19 victory over Oregon.

Hey, maybe it's Michigan State's fault. If the Spartans had just hung onto Nick Saban back in 1999, when he bolted for LSU, perhaps we'd be lauding the Big Ten. OK, perhaps not.

Saban has won four national titles at Alabama and LSU and is the best football coach in America not named Belichick. No matter what Michigan State did, he was going to find a place where he could dominate. Many figured he'd take another shot at the NFL, but he strongly denies it. He has a chance to become the new-age Bear Bryant, the best there ever was, unless someone cracks the code.

And here's the SEC code: It's not only about speed, it's about power.

Notre Dame and Brian Kelly knew it, and still couldn't stop Alabama's mammoth offensive line and powerful running tandem of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Ohio State's Urban Meyer knows it, and so does Michigan's Brady Hoke. At least they're recruiting like they know it. Michigan State's Mark Dantonio gets it, but as everyone in the Midwest recognizes, getting it isn't the same as implementing it.

A balance behemoth

This is the genius of Alabama's run. It's not about one player, like it was with Auburn (Cam Newton), or a unique style like it is with Chip Kelly at Oregon. It's about collecting the biggest cache of imposing interior talent and surrounding it with just enough skilled players and a decent quarterback like AJ McCarron. If it takes Newton or superhero Johnny Football, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, to beat you, so be it.

Notre Dame didn't come close, just as Michigan didn't come close in a 41-14 loss to Alabama, just as Michigan State didn't come close in a 49-7 loss to Alabama. TV ratings are still very good and college football is still very popular, so I won't declare SEC domination the ruination of the sport. But eventually it has to be slowed, and it's not as simple as waiting for the four-team playoff in two years. Heck, that could feature two or three SEC teams.

You want hope to warm your frozen Midwest soul? OK, I'll dish a little.

It's been shown the best coaches can win anywhere, from Kelly at Oregon to Chris Petersen at Boise State, despite the distance from the South's fertile recruiting grounds. And I'll add this: There's a chance the SEC dynasty is just as much a Saban dynasty. He's won four national titles, and LSU's Les Miles landed another with many of Saban's players.

It's a theory that will be tested by Meyer, who won two championships at Florida and was 12-0 his first season at Ohio State, where his good fortune extended beyond the field. Thanks to their nicely timed probation, the Buckeyes didn't get exposed by the Crimson Tide.

Ohio State has the best Midwest shot at snapping the SEC's streak, with Notre Dame, Michigan and Nebraska next. I base that mostly on tradition and recruiting. In the Rivals.com recruiting rankings, Notre Dame is No. 1, Ohio State No. 3 and Michigan No. 5. Of course, Florida is second, Alabama fourth and LSU sixth.

Mission nearly impossible

Hoke has focused feverishly on the offensive and defensive lines, although it might be a year or two before we see the full effects. Michigan State and Wisconsin remain the wild cards, built similarly in the trenches, capable of doing more with less-touted classes.

Oddsmaker Bovada posted its 2013-14 BCS championship lines, and naturally, Alabama is the favorite, followed by Oregon, Ohio State, LSU and Texas A&M. Nebraska is the second-highest Big Ten team, followed by Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State.

The SEC's biggest challenge again will come from the SEC, with Florida, LSU and Auburn winning national titles the past seven years, and Georgia not far behind. Nationally, Oregon, USC, Texas, Oklahoma and Florida State recruit well enough to make a run. The last non-SEC team to win was Texas in 2006. Ohio State beat Miami in 2003 under Jim Tressel, but was blasted by Florida (41-14) and LSU (38-24).

There's a ruthlessness about Saban and the SEC hard to replicate anywhere, and shouldn't be replicated everywhere. But the Big Ten ceded the high moral ground a while ago with its scandals. It's not just about winning the nasty recruiting battles; it's about a maniacal attention to detail.

Saban doesn't soften often. It was reported before the championship game he ordered ESPN cut off in the players' hotel rooms, so they couldn't be mesmerized by the hype. When Saban endured the celebratory Gatorade shower at the end, his facial expression barely changed. He didn't look happy or shocked, like he expected it and expects more. If Meyer, Hoke, Dantonio or any of the Kellys want what 'Bama has, it must be taken with brutal force.



Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron will go for his third straight national title next season, and he has a good chance to do it. / Associated Press
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