Alabama's Dynasty Is Dead and Texas Is Back
No, we're not overreacting. The reign of Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide is done, and Texas might be taking their spot.
Alabama lost a game. You know the routine.
On Saturday, Texas took Tuscaloosa, 34-24. The Longhorns snapped Alabama’s 21-game home win streak, the longest-active run of such in the country, and ended the Crimson Tide’s 43-straight victories in non-conference contests at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
With every Alabama loss since Saban’s second season 15 years ago – of which there have now been a grand total of 22 – Auburn, Baton Rouge, Knoxville, and the ever-encompassing anti-Alabama enclaves across America exude excitement at the prospect of the tyrant’s tumble.
The dynasty was over before it began when Utah upset the Crimson Tide in the 2009 Sugar Bowl, 31-17. It also ended when Trevor Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the 2014 Sugar Bowl to shock Alabama. Ole Miss outdoing its border opposition in back-to-back matchups meant all was doomed. LSU axing an eight-year curse in 2019 guaranteed the collapse of the Crimson Tide.
Between these blips, Saban’s side scooped six national championships, six College Football Playoff berths, eight SEC titles, and a share of at least 12 SEC West crowns. Not bad for a has-been Death Star.
Even the most optimistic homer has to admit that this one feels different, though. Never before had a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team fallen at home by double digits. The offensive line – which has remained an issue for multiple seasons – floundered, allowing five sacks. Conversely, the defensive line registered zero sacks and never came all that close to bringing Quinn Ewers down in the backfield. Ten penalties, another problem that’s plagued Alabama for longer than this one game, set the team back by 90 yards. Perhaps most alarming: there’s no Bryce Young to bail this team out.
There appear to be deeper structural issues at play rather than the previous bounce-of-a-helmet fluke or Kick Six miracle previously needed to outdo the dynasty. That is notable.
It is mid-September. Alabama has not yet played a conference game, and no one else in the SEC West has staked a strong claim as the division’s frontrunner. Nothing is off the table yet – not an SEC title, nor a national championship – and we know the Crimson Tide aren’t working with scrubs on the field or sideline. To declare a death to the dynasty now when there is still so much more to go this season would be impulsive. Even if Alabama were to miss the playoff for the second-straight season and/or not win the SEC, the dynasty wouldn’t be dead. We’re talking about 15 years of the most unprecedented dominance in college football history; that isn’t undone in a week or even one year. Nobody, not even Alabama, lifts every trophy.
But this blemish is impossible to ignore, as is the uncomfortable truth confronting the Crimson Tide right now: college football is changing.
Change is inevitable. All things, good and bad, come to an end. Some sooner than later, but entropy excels. T-Town will not escape its wrath.
NIL, conference realignment, the transfer portal – a new set of rules means a new set of circumstances, and a new set of circumstances means that what worked before might not continue to work, or at least not as well. Any player unsatisfied with his playtime in Tuscaloosa can easily find a ticket out rather than waiting a few years for his shot, loading opposing coffers and eroding Alabama’s recruiting advantages. Fellow SEC schools are putting together truckloads of cash to entice talent with mouthwatering NIL deals. Nothing lasts forever.
In these winds of change, new players rise. Why not Texas?
After all, the Longhorns were Saturday’s winners as much as the Crimson Tide were the day’s losers. Ewers was outstanding, solidifying the theory that Texas would have done this same thing in Austin in 2022 had he remained in that game, as he threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. Tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders was his favorite target, gashing the Tide for 114 receiving yards, 50 of which came on one play. The defensive front completely controlled the line of scrimmage. Every time Alabama counter-punched to regain the lead or get back within a possession, the Longhorns answered forcefully.
This game didn’t feel like two preseason pretenders masquerading behind high rankings that will struggle for bowl eligibility come November. This was a high-level showdown with two titans of the sport slugging it out, and Texas won. That’s not something Longhorn fans had seen for a long time, and it’s a sight that may startle the SEC’s current 14.
What was a non-conference clash in 2023 will be an in-league one in 2024. The narrative for some time has been that the newcomers – Texas and Oklahoma – will transition to fodder in their new conference, sure to assume positions in the middle of the pack. Maybe that won’t be the case after all, at least in Austin.
Texas has wallowed in the doldrums for the better part of a decade, and not just by its own standards. The team has achieved one 10-win season since its undressing in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game, courtesy of the Crimson Tide. The Longhorns are on their fourth head coach since that night, a sign of a program in constant search of something.
That something might be Sarkisian. Texas took clear steps forward between 2021 and 2022 under his guise, and it looks like it’s upped its game even further in 2023. This is the healthy progression required to reach competing at an elite level regularly.
For as long as Ewers is receiving snaps, you cannot underestimate Texas. The sophomore racked up more than 2,100 passing yards last season and is already on track to obliterate that number this time around. The challenge for longevity will be finding the new guy, but with him on the field, Texas will be a factor.
His presence, along with Sarkisian’s even-keeled nature, have made a clear difference in the culture around the program. When the Longhorns stunned No. 10 Notre Dame in two overtimes in 2016 and Joe Tessitore anointed Texas as back, the Longhorns players lifted then-head coach Charlie Strong up in the air and paraded him around the end zone as if they’d clinched a conference title in November, not opened up 1-0 in September. The hype machine overcame the reality of the situation – a win that meant nothing for the Big 12 championship race and came against a team that collected seven more losses that season. The rat poison was plentiful.
Following the triple zeroes this weekend, ESPN’s Holly Rowe, who coincidentally conducted the on-field interviews after the Notre Dame-Texas in 2016, dangled a dramatic carrot in front of Ewers, offering him the opportunity to relish in the famous last words of Longhorns past.
“The whole world, the whole media, everybody’s going to say something about Texas after this game,” Rowe said. “What should it be?”
He paused for a moment, seemingly absorbing the question and its seven years of context.
“Nothing, we still got a lot of games to win,” he responded as he faced Rowe, then checked back at the bevel of burnt orange singing in celebration. “We’re still gonna roll, though.”
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