LB C.J. Mosley, Defensive MVP of the title game, is one of 19 starters scheduled to return in 2013. (US Presswire)
Ours is not exactly the age of reflection, especially on the Internet, where there are always a dozen new reasons to leave the present moment for the next. There is much serious business to be gotten with, plus arguing about A.J. McCarron's girlfriend. But before we get off and running on the important business of 2012 — recruiting, coordinator hires, the inimitable "pre-preseason" polls — it's worth stopping for a few moments to put into perspective the season just capped by the champions of the actual polls, the ones we spent so many months poring over, and exactly where their triumph fits into the growing annals of BCS history.
As the names fade into myth and obscurity, the 2012 Crimson Tide enter the canon under the following headings:
The Repeat Champs. Alabama is the first team in the 15-year history of the BCS to win back-to-back national championships, finally putting to rest a series of all-too-familiar failures by its predecessors. The last three champs that made it back to the big game a year after winning it -- Florida State in 2000, Miami in 2002, USC in 2005 -- all lost in their return trips against heavy underdogs. The last team to come that close, the 2009 Florida Gators, followed its 2008 triumph with a 12-0 regular season, only to run head-first into a determined crimson wall in the SEC Championship Game. Including the '09 title, Bama is one of only five schools (along with Army, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Ole Miss) that can realistically claim three national championships in a span of four years.
Before the BCS, the last repeat champion was Nebraska in 1995, proud owner of a 25-game winning streak in 1994 and '95. Despite even more impressive runs in the subsequent decade by Miami (34 straight from 2000-02) and USC (34 straight from 2003-05), and a considerable amount of angst on the Hurricanes' and Trojans' behalf when they were left out of the championship game in 2000 and 2003, respectively, neither was able to hoist the crystal ball two years in a row. Alabama has.
The 2012 national title is Saban's fourth, giving him twice as many as any other coach in the BCS era. (US Presswire)
The Reloaded Champs. What really sets the Crimson Tide's achievement apart, though, is just how much of the championship lineup had to be replaced. Unlike USC in 2005 and Florida 2009, which returned virtually intact from their championship runs in '04 and '08, Alabama had to endure a huge exodus for the next level. Eight starters from the 2011 team were drafted by the NFL last April, six of them off the nation's No. 1 defense, four of them in the first round, one of them a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. The 2012 Tide began the season facing major question marks at cornerback, outside linebacker and wide receiver, and to a lesser extent, in the backfield.
The result: With seven new starters, Bama still finished No. 1 nationally in rushing defense, total defense and scoring defense, and significantly improved its turnover margin by forcing more takeaways. Eight opponents were held to a touchdown or less, and a couple more (Michigan, Notre Dame) tacked on scores only after the game was well out of hand. None of them could tell the difference.
The Blue-Chip Champs. It's easy enough to bridge that gap when you take a glance at the last five Alabama recruiting classes, four of which – in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012 – were ranked by Rivals.com as the No. 1 incoming class in the country in those years. Twenty-one starters on Monday night arrived in one of those four classes, 17 of them as four- or five-star prospects. Among regular starters this season, six of them (tailback T.J. Yeldon, offensive tackles Cyrus Kouandjio and D.J. Fluker, linebacker Nico Johnson, cornerback Dee Milliner and safety Hasean Clinton-Dix) were once five-star recruits, a staggering number considering that fewer than 30 incoming prospects in the entire nation earn that status in a given year.
The Balanced Champs. The Crimson Tide have always been defined by defense, but 2012 also produced one of the most productive offenses in Alabama history, one that obliterated school records for points (542), yards (6,237) and touchdowns (71). The Crimson Tide also produced two 1,000-yard rushers, Yeldon and Eddie Lacy, for the first time in school history, as well as the most efficient passer in the nation, AJ McCarron, the first Bama quarterback with 30 touchdown passes in a season.
Despite its conservative, salt-of-the-earth reputation, the offense thrived on balance, averaging 227.5 yards per game rushing and 218 yards passing, and was one of only five that went over 3,000 yards by both ground and air.
The Returning Champs. The most terrifying part of the Tide's run? Just how young they are. Ten starters in the championship game were freshmen or sophomores, including Yeldon, who finished as the most prolific freshman rusher in school history, and the leading receiver, fellow freshman Amari Cooper, who went over 100 yards receiving in four of the last five games and finished just one yard shy of 1,000 for the season. Along with a handful of other first-year contributors and redshirts, Alabama led the nation in yards from scrimmage by freshmen. Of the top dozen tacklers on defense, five were sophomores.
In all, 20 full or part-time starters are scheduled to return in 2013, a number that should still rank among the best in the SEC after the inevitable handful of early departures for the NFL Draft. One guess where they're expected to start in the preseason polls.
* National Rank
MOV = Margin of Victory
Shaded Boxes: Best in category • Outlined Boxes: Worst in category