Alabama football’s Iron Bowl victory over Auburn on Saturday broke the NCAA record for consecutive 10-win seasons with 15, besting Florida State’s mark of 14 which was set by legendary coach Bobby Bowden from 1987-2000.
As a standalone accomplishment, irrespective of college football’s evolution and the eras that mark it, winning 10-plus games for 15 years in a row is a stunningly impressive feat. In the era we’re in − that is, the advent of the transfer portal, NIL money for players, and the resulting shift toward more parity − it’s more than that.
It could well be unbreakable.
Clemson is the only program with a realistic chance of knocking the Crimson Tide off this particular perch, at least until some other seismic change in the sport, perhaps decades from now, makes it more possible for all.
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The Tigers’ 40-10 win over Miami this month gave Clemson a 12th consecutive year of 10-plus wins, three behind Alabama’s record. Given Clemson’s dominance in the ACC − a win over North Carolina on Saturday would be its seventh ACC title in the last eight years − it’s not hard to imagine Dabo Swinney’s program continuing to reach 10 wins for the foreseeable future.
Trouble is, Alabama’s streak is ongoing too, and if Clemson gets to 15, Alabama could be sitting at 18 and counting.
It will probably only get harder for both, however, as the transfer portal and NIL continue to make their impact. At this time a year ago, I thought these two factors might widen the gap between the sport’s elite programs and all the rest. Now, I tend to think they’ll tighten it. And if that gap indeed closes, even just a little, Alabama’s record − be it 15 years or wherever it ends up − could ultimately fall into the category of the unbreakable.
Perspective on Alabama’s mark demands a look backward, too, not just forward.
Before 2006, the regular-season schedule was only 11 games. Before 1992, there were no conference championship games. And in the old days, schedules often featured just 10 games or even fewer. More football Saturdays, plainly enough, means more chances to reach 10 wins. That makes Nebraska’s record of 33 consecutive nine-win seasons from 1969-2001 at least as impressive as what Alabama has done.
The playoff structure, even when it expands, won’t help teams reach 10 wins because playoff qualifiers will have almost certainly won 10 already. So there’s a limit to how much an evolving schedule model will help teams get to double-digit dubs.
By contrast, there’s no limit yet apparent on how much strain the portal and NIL could put on a string of 10-win years. Skip ahead a decade or two, by which time television dollars might drive Power Five schools to stop scheduling FCS teams or even Group of Five opponents, and 10 wins could be an even tougher task.
Clemson is the only program on the heels of Alabama’s 10-win standard.
And if the Tigers don’t get there, here’s betting the mark is buried too deep for digging.
Reach Chase Goodbread at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread.