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Alabama coach Nick Saban, right, chats with South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier before the start of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, at Williams Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
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Alabama coach Nick Saban, right, shakes hands with South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier before the start of their NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010, at Williams Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)

A couple of hours before the kickoff of the Southeastern Conference championship game Dec. 3 between Alabama and Florida, former Gators football coach Steve Spurrier was asked to assess Nick Saban's dominating run with the Crimson Tide.

"Obviously his teams are the best," Spurrier said. "They've done a super job of recruiting, coaching and getting them ready to play. They're better than everybody else right now, no question about it.

"One day, maybe something will happen."

Not that day.

Alabama scored on offense, defense and special teams in blistering Spurrier's alma mater 54-16 to improve to 13-0 and clinch the top seed in the sport's four-team playoff. The Crimson Tide, who are seeking a fifth national championship in eight years, face Pac-12 champion Washington in a national semifinal Saturday afternoon at the Peach Bowl.

If Alabama prevails this weekend, Saban would have a 112-12 record since the start of the 2008 season, marking the shortest stretch in major college history for a program to get 100 games above .500. Urban Meyer is 117-17 since 2006, a surge that covers his final five years at Florida and his first five at Ohio State, which faces Clemson in Saturday's second semifinal.

For all the greatness Spurrier achieved in his 12 years at Florida, winning six SEC titles and the 1996 national championship, he never quite got to 100 games over .500, going 122-27-1. Spurrier's chief nemesis during his league run was Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer, who coached the Volunteers for nearly 17 seasons, won the 1998 national championship and finished 100 games over .500 at 152-52-1.

"What Coach Saban is doing is amazing," Fulmer said. "They have a process that they are very proud of, and we all better pay attention to that. From the president to the athletic director, Coach (Bill) Battle, and all the way through the system, they all have one purpose. Honestly, we were there. We didn't win three out of four national championships, but we were 100 percent on the same page, from the president to the athletic director to the coaches to the support staff.

"We were all in tune, but then we melted internally, and I think we're just now getting back to that, but to answer your question, what he's done is amazing."

Saban has won five national championships overall, having guided LSU to the 2003 crown, and a sixth would match the total Paul "Bear" Bryant compiled in his 25 seasons in Tuscaloosa from 1958 to 1982. One prominent member of Bryant's coaching tree, Gene Stallings, believes Saban's dominance begins with what he accomplishes in the offseason.

Alabama currently has the nation's top-ranked recruiting class, which is where the Crimson Tide have finished eight of the last nine winters.

"When you take good players and get good coaching, that's a tough combination to beat," said Stallings, who coached Alabama to the 1992 national championship, "and they do an extremely good job of recruiting good players. I don't know that they've been an underdog in five years — not that the people who make the odds are always right — but when I was coaching, I would whole lot rather be the favorite than the underdog, because if I was the favorite, that said I had the best team.

"Football games are won by football players making plays, and whoever has the best football players usually wins the game. You don't win with schemes. When I was coaching, I wanted to win a game because my players played better than your players, not because my scheme was better than your scheme, and Alabama right now has the best players."

The Peach Bowl will mark the 96th time in Alabama's last 97 games that the Crimson Tide have been favored. The lone exception occurred last season, when Alabama traveled to Georgia as a 1-point underdog and rolled to a 38-10 win.

Washington is a two-touchdown underdog heading to Atlanta, but Huskies coach Chris Petersen knows something about elite runs, having guided Boise State to an 84-8 record from 2006 to 2012. Petersen also understands he is up against college football's ultimate measuring stick of the past decade, if not of all-time.

The Crimson Tide last season matched Notre Dame's feat in the 1940s by winning four national titles in a seven-year stretch. No program has won five in eight.

"I don't think there is a better program in the country, and I don't think anyone would dispute that," Petersen said. "I think it's one thing to make it to the playoffs once, but Alabama is right there every year. It's a testament to the system, the program and the whole thing that he's built at Alabama.

"They're the best in the country, and they prove that year after year after year."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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