Tide always wearing a bull's-eye

Don't even think about uttering the dreaded "D" word within earshot of Alabama coach Nick Saban.

You know ... Dynasty.

The only thing that interests Saban less than what the Crimson Tide have accomplished to this point is what kind of legacy he's establishing at a place that already claims 15 national football championships.

"Every team stands on its own, and every team has something to prove," Saban said. "It's not a continuation. We'll find out about this team this year, and that's the only thing that any of us are concerned about."

Perhaps so, but the rest of the college football world is watching intently to see if Alabama can make it three straight national championships and four in the past five seasons.

Not since Minnesota (1934-36) has a school won three consecutive national titles in college football. None has won four outright national titles in a five-year span since Yale, which won six in seven years, from 1882 to 1888, and only a select few schools were playing football in those days.

What's more, this current run by Alabama comes at a time when college football is thriving, particularly in the SEC. Three other schools -- Auburn, Florida and LSU -- have contributed to the league's streak of seven straight national championships.

But even with the rest of the SEC flexing its collective muscle, it's difficult to see any end to Alabama's run, especially given the recruiting machine that Saban has built.

"Nobody's going to out-recruit them, and I think [Saban] could have an easy 10 more years," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.

"So there's no telling how many more championships he could win there. You still need some breaks here and there, but he could win more of those [national titles] than anybody. Three out of four years ... that is amazing."

It's true that Alabama hasn't put together the kind of record streak that Oklahoma did from 1953 to 1957, when the Sooners won 47 straight games, and the method of selecting the national champion in college football has changed dramatically.

Nonetheless, the Crimson Tide have in many ways become what UCLA basketball was in the 1960s and early 1970s under John Wooden and what the New York Yankees have been in baseball.

It's only fitting that Yankees manager Joe Girardi spoke to the Alabama team earlier this month.

"The Yankees and Alabama are a lot alike because we're both the hunted at all times no matter where we go," said Alabama's AJ McCarron, who is 25-2 as a starter and trying to become the first major college quarterback in the modern era to win three national championships.

"The Yankees go play Cleveland or the Kansas City Royals or anybody, and they're going to be the team everybody wants to beat. It's the same with us. Every week, we've got a target on our backs at all times. It's no different off the field, either. You step out of your house, and people are watching you in everyday life to see if you're going to mess up."

When Wooden was leading UCLA to nine national titles in 10 seasons (1964-1973), including seven straight, it came at a time when the Bruins had few legitimate challengers.

In fact, it's a streak that could have gone a few more years had David Thompson and North Carolina State not derailed the Bruins' runaway train with a memorable double-overtime victory in the 1974 national semifinals.

At that point, the rest of the college basketball world had grown weary of seeing UCLA win all the time. And it's quickly reaching that point with the Crimson Tide, particularly if they can make it four national titles in five years in January.

Where would that rank with some of the greatest title runs in college sports history?

Here's a look:

• In men's basketball, UCLA will always be the gold standard. The Bruins put together an incredible 88-game winning streak en route to winning seven straight titles.

• The baseball run that sticks out is USC's five straight national championships from 1970 to 1974. That's the last time anybody has won three straight in baseball. The Trojans won six of seven national titles (1968-74).

• In the realm of men's track and field, nothing compares to what Arkansas has accomplished. The Razorbacks won 12 straight indoor championships from 1984 to 1995 and 16 of 17 (1984-2000). They also won eight straight outdoor titles from 1992 to 1999.

• In men's swimming and diving, Indiana won six straight from 1968 to 1973.

• In men's tennis, USC won seven of eight from 1962 to 1969.

• In men's soccer, Virginia won four in a row from 1991 to 1994.

• In men's gymnastics, Nebraska won five straight from 1979 to 1983.

• And in men's golf, Houston won six of seven national titles from 1964 to 1970.

So when you look at the entire scope of men's college athletics, a third straight national championship in football -- and a fourth in five years -- would put Alabama in a place where few teams have gone, in any sport.

Again, though, the bigger picture doesn't register with Saban, which probably explains why he just keeps churning out titles.

Getting 19- and 20-year-olds to develop that same kind of single-minded focus and not get swallowed up by the magnitude of it all is a trickier proposition.

McCarron concedes that the jury is still out on whether this team has the right kind of maturity to manage what's ahead, and that's been his message to the younger players.

"It hurts you when you've got immature players, and that's not a good recipe at the end of the day if you want to keep winning," McCarron said. "You've got to do the right thing and listen to Coach Saban. He's always told me the truth and led me in the right direction.

"It might not have always been something I wanted to hear, but it was always the truth."

McCarron also has been able to maintain a keen perspective through all of the Crimson Tide's success. His secret has been simple: He's spent his time chasing excellence, but hasn't consumed himself with the results.

That formula is the cornerstone of what's known around Alabama as the process.

"Everybody wants to win, but I like coming out here and practicing and playing games on Saturday," McCarron said. "I like playing the game of football. Winning and losing isn't the end of the world. I think people get caught up in that sometimes a little too much, especially when you achieve success so many years.

"They just start expecting it year in and year out. They kind of forget what it takes to get to that point and how special it really is. That's one thing for me. I want to keep everything in perspective and have fun playing the game."

McCarron will leave it to everyone else to judge where this run by the Crimson Tide ranks.

"I'm sure when I'm older and half-bald and have kids and grandkids, it will be pretty special to see everything we accomplished as a team here and as a university," McCarron said. "Hopefully, we can keep building on it this year and add one more trophy to the case before I leave."

At this rate, it's a case that's going to need expanding.