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Has Alabama been dethroned as college football's top program?

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Photo | USA Today
Photo | USA Today

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Losing the national title is one thing, but has Alabama been dethroned as the kings of college football?

Following Alabama's embarrassing 44-16 defeat to Clemson in the national championship game, there have been murmurs concerning the Crimson Tide’s place in the college football landscape. The loss was the largest in the Nick Saban era and marked the second time in three years that Alabama had fallen in the title game — both at the hands of Clemson.

But does that mean the Tigers’ have usurped the Crimson Tide overall? SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum seems to think so and wasn’t shy about expressing his opinion during a Monday radio appearance with Charlotte's WFNZ.

“I think anyone realistic has to say that Nick Saban should be regarded as the No. 1 coach in the country, won six national championships. However, I do the think debate is pretty healthy about which program is the best right now,” Finebaum said. “You guys know my resume and where I’ve lived — I’ve lived 30 years in Alabama — but I don’t think there’s really a tremendous amount of debate that Clemson, right now, has the best program in America. It has passed Alabama in terms of appeal, showroom value and upward mobility. A lot of that is because of Saban’s age and a lot of that is because Clemson is a lot more fun to go play at than The University of Alabama.”

Those are strong words, especially coming from Finebaum, who is often accused by callers on his own radio show of being an Alabama apologist.

Wednesday the debate made its way to Saban as the Alabama head coach was asked if such comments provide motivation for his team.

"I think every year is a new year. I think we learned a lot from last year and how the season ended and I think the players have responded really well to it,” Saban said at the Regions Tradition Pro-Am. “Clemson has a great program, a good coach and a bunch of good players. I think we have a good program and lots of good players. I think the key to the drill is trying to develop those players so they can play at a high level and be able to sustain it throughout the season.

“We had a tough row to hoe to get to the national championship game, and we just didn’t finish like we wanted to. I think there’s a lot of good things that we can learn from that.”

Alabama and Clemson have won the past four national championships with the programs claiming two titles apiece in alternating years. Early betting odds have the two schools as favorites to meet in the national championship this season with Clemson receiving 7/4 title odds while Alabama is just behind at 9/4. Chances are the two will likely be the No. 1 and No. 2 teams when preseason rankings are released later this year.

This offseason, Saban has stressed the importance of reestablishing the “Alabama Factor,” the team’s ethos which seemed to go missing late last season.

“Just a team that plays with a lot of discipline,” Saban said when asked to define the motto. “The players go out and take responsibility and ownership for doing their job at a high level and a high standard, and everybody puts the team first. That’s the kind of program that we’ve always had. That’s the kind of teams that we’ve always had, and that’s what we try to get the players to buy into and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.

“Last year, at the end of the year, I felt like maybe we lost our humility a little bit and didn’t really prepare in practice like we needed to, developed some bad habits and eventually got exposed by a pretty good team.”

Alabama will look to regain its championship identity sooner rather than later. Otherwise, it risks falling behind for the first time in more than a decade.

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