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The Decline of the Alabama Empire

For real, this time. Honest!

CFP National Championship
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

With their loss in Monday’s national title game, Alabama has won one of the last four national championships. From 2009-2012, the Tide won three of four, though Alabama has not had an unbeaten team since 2009, the very beginning of the dynasty.

This was supposed to be the team that re-asserted Alabama’s total and complete dominance over college football. It was arguably their best team ever, loaded with NFL talent at nearly every position, and the results bore that out. Bama had a margin of victory of 303 points headed into Monday’s game, and unlike the two teams with even larger margins (2011 and 2012), this one was unbeaten.

But the tighter you squeeze, the more that slips through your fingers.

Alabama’s football program looks a lot like LSU did right after the Game that Shall Not Be Mentioned. Still at the top of the football mountaintop, but looking at a lot of important talent about to leave the program. That lethal front seven, especially, will be decimated by attrition this offseason.

Even more troubling for the Tide, that air of invincibility that Bama wielded like a club has been sucked out of the room. It’s not just that Alabama lost, it’s how they lost. When was the last time Alabama blew a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter? This was like watching Ivan Drago bleed for the first time.

Yeah, don’t believe any of that.

Alabama’s dominance is fueled by talent, and Bama still has more talent than anyone in the country. Their seven consecutive top-ranked recruiting classes will likely be joined by another this February. The pipeline of talent will continue unabated to Tuscaloosa.

That vaunted front seven full of five star recruits leaving for the NFL? All of their backups are four and five star recruits as well. There will be no talent drop-off. Okay, maybe a little one, as Reuben Foster really was a special player.

Want to take a guess who will be the preseason No. 1 next year? Here’s a hint, it won’t be Clemson. Alabama will enter next season with more talent than any other roster in the country, and they will have one of the best coaching staffs in the nation. That’s a pretty lethal combo.

Next year’s Alabama team likely won’t be quite as good as this one, but it won’t even matter. Let’s say Bama is a touchdown worse next season. Well, they only played one game decided by less than seven points, and that’s because they let Ole Miss score some meaningless points at the end of the game to cover the spread. Their only other competitive game was the 10-point win over LSU. Their next closest regular season game was an 18-point thrashing of Auburn.

On top of that, there is a huge climb for any SEC team to remotely challenge Bama right now. No team in the conference had less than four losses and no team other than Bama won 10 games. Bama can take a step back and still be two steps ahead of anyone in the conference. They are doing a pretty good impression of Florida State in the 1990s, with the rest of the SEC playing the part of the ACC minnows.

Okay, don’t believe that either. That’s too bleak to consider. However, this does show the power of one play. One play goes the other way, and that’s the overwhelming offseason narrative. Instead, it went against Bama, so we’re instead looking at ways to say the dynasty is over.

Neither extreme is entirely true, yet both are built on truth. There is an opening to catch Bama, and they do lose a lot of talent this year, but they still are in great shape as a program.

The question for LSU is whether there is any lesson to be learned in taking down the Tide. From the ten-thousand-foot view, LSU is doing exactly what it needs to do to narrow the gap. Bama’s two big advantages are talent and coaching, and LSU continues to haul in great recruiting classes and while you can be skeptical of the head coach, LSU has assembled probably the best combo of coordinators in the nation. The coaching staff, taken as a whole, is excellent.

The door is open for LSU, the problem is not just walking through it, but reaching it in the first place. Right now, that open door remains frustratingly just out of reach.