Football

In Peach Bowl, Alabama has the chance to continue building its dynasty

Alabama coach Nick Saban speaks during an NCAA college football press conference, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, in Atlanta, for the Peach Bowl. Alabama takes on Washington on Saturday.
Alabama coach Nick Saban speaks during an NCAA college football press conference, Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, in Atlanta, for the Peach Bowl. Alabama takes on Washington on Saturday. AP

Nick Saban does his best not to emphasize it.

His players are aware but don’t pay too much attention to it.

The Alabama fans know about it and want it to continue.

The rest of the college football world has seen it unfold and every team wants to be the one that puts a stop to it.

But since 2009, the Alabama Crimson Tide has been a college football dynasty.

In summary: a 99-10 record, five Southeastern Conference championships, four national championships and two Heisman Trophy winners.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide can continue to build the legacy on Saturday when it faces fourth-ranked Washington in the Peach Bowl.

But as Alabama prepares for its third consecutive College Football Playoff appearance and the last step before being able to defend its most recent national title, the school isn’t looking to its past credentials to define the present.

“In the playoffs, you’re all in,” Saban said. “You have to go 1-0 every week or you’re out.”

Alabama’s upperclassmen know that feeling all too well. When senior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and senior tight end O.J. Howard look back at the first two years of their Alabama careers, they sum up it up by looking at three games.

Forget about the 23 wins, the 2014 SEC championship and the opportunity to play in the first installment of the College Football Playoff.

All the seniors remember from those two years were the last-second loss to Auburn — infamously known as the “Kick Six” — and the two Sugar Bowl losses, a 45-31 loss to Oklahoma to end the 2013 season and a 42-35 loss to eventual national champion Ohio State one year later in the CFP semifinal.

The Crimson Tide has won 27 of its past 28 games since then, including its past 25. It took home two more SEC championships and a national title along the way.

If Alabama wins its next two games, another national title will come home to Tuscaloosa.

“It’s just a mind-set that you develop here,” sophomore running back Damien Harris said. “You’re never satisfied.”

And it’s not just winning. The Crimson Tide has made it a mission to dominate its opponents to the point where they eventually quit all together.

Alabama players say they can see it in their opponents’ eyes as it happens. After the defense forces a few three-and-outs, their optimism begins to wane.

As the Crimson Tide’s lead grows to 15, 20, sometimes as high as 30 points, the opposition becomes passive, subtly asking for the game to end.

“At that moment,” Allen said, “you know you’ve got them.”

It has been a common occurrence over the past eight years. Of Alabama’s 99 wins since 2009, 61 have been by at least 20 points, with 18 of those wins coming against ranked opponents.

“Everybody wants to be remembered and have their names etched in stone,” Allen said. “If you want to do that, you have to have that relentlessness in your work ethic and the grind.”

That grind will have to continue Saturday against Washington, the Pac-12 champion boasting a high-scoring offense and turnover-forcing defense that looks to play the role of spoiler in Alabama’s postseason run and win its first national championship since 1991.

And while the Huskies have averaged 44.5 points each time they stepped on the field, it’s their nation-leading turnover margin (plus-21) that will give them a fighting chance against the two-touchdown favorite Crimson Tide.

In Alabama’s 10 losses since 2009, the Crimson Tide lost the turnover battle seven times.

“It’s one game,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said. “You’ve got to try to win the turnover battle in this one game.”

That’s been the Huskies’ focus all week. Even when they were asked about the dominance of Alabama, having to go against Alabama and if there’s even a way to defeat Alabama, Washington’s players have remained upbeat and confident heading into the game.

“No team is perfect,” Washington linebacker Psalm Wooching said. “Thank God.”

But when Saban’s team walks into the Georgia Dome on Saturday, he’ll still expect as close to perfection as his team can give if his team wants to fight for another national championship.

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