Alabama is assembling yet another stellar recruiting class. If the Crimson Tide holds on to the No. 1 ranking, every scholarship player on next season's roster will have been part of a signing class that was tops in the country. Nick Saban is still widely regarded as the premier coach in college football.
Yet, all of this notwithstanding, it's time to wonder
Is the Alabama Crimson Tide dynasty over?
It's a fair question.
That's not to say Alabama is about to suddenly become Texas. Even with significant losses to graduation and early departure, the Tide has plenty of talent returning.
But Alabama football is measured by one standard alone -- national championships. So, said another way
Has Alabama won its last national championship under Saban?
That question is not as ridiculous as it might seem. Saban's contract extension that he signed last season will take him through the 2021 season. He will be 70. At some point soon, his age will become a factor in recruiting. Steve Spurrier learned that last month when said he wanted to coach "two or three more years." That's not exactly what recruits want to hear.
A few years from now, even if Saban hints that he might want to extend his contract, recruits will start to wonder if he will be their head coach for their entire college career.
So if it's going to happen, it most likely would happen in the next seven years. And it's not likely to happen next season. For the first time since Saban restored Alabama football to national prominence, the Crimson Tide will enter a season with many concerns.
Last season's offense relied heavily on the incredible gifts of wide receiver Amari Cooper, the toughness of TJ Yeldon and the leadership of quarterback Blake Sims. They're all gone, as is offensive guard Arie Kouandjio and tight end Brian Vogler. As much as offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has been praised for opening up the Tide's offense, it's questionable whether the offense took a step forward or backward last season.
The power running game that had been a Saban trademark was nonexistent. The inability to control the ball with their running game is partly why the Tide blew a 21-6 lead over Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
Of course, giving up a 85-yard touchdown run didn't help, either. Or giving up a 47-yard touchdown pass.
And that brings up the other concern. The Tide's defense last season was atypically suspect. It wasn't bad. But it wasn't dominating like it was when the Tide won three national championships in four seasons. Ohio State piled up 537 yards. That was actually an improvement over the Iron Bowl, when Auburn gained 630 yards.
That defense loses four important starters -- linebackers Xzavier Dickson and Trey DePriest and safeties Landon Collins and Nick Perry. That itself is nothing new. Saban has lost many great defensive players and replaced with other great players. That may turn out to be the case in 2015. But last season taught us that we can no longer assume that Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will find a way to put together a suffocating defense.
The 2015 schedule ought to be harder than last season's. Wisconsin replaces West Virginia as the challenging non-conference opponent. The Tide travels to Georgia rather than facing Florida at home. Tennessee visits Tuscaloosa, but the Volunteers should be improved. The Tide came within one play of losing to Arkansas and LSU, and both should be better in 2015. The Iron Bowl will be in Auburn.
The point is, it won't be surprising if Bama slips up a time or two and loses. And how will the playoff selection committee view the SEC this time after this past season's face-plant in the bowl games? A single loss could be too much to overcome even for the SEC champs.
Alabama's success under Saban has been extraordinary in this new age of scholarship parity and with non-traditional schools pumping more and more money into football to compete nationally. But that success assures the Tide nothing. As Jim Harbaugh said when he was a quarterback at Michigan, "There is nothing older than yesterday's success."
-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org