Title timelines for top 10 programs

Updated: August 14, 2012, 12:06 PM ET
By Travis Haney

Even for the college football programs that enter every season with a national championship as a legitimate and realistic goal (and for the purposes of this analysis, we've identified the top 10: Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Oregon, Florida, USC, Ohio State, Florida State, Texas and Michigan), there are some years that provide better title opportunities than others.

With that in mind, we've established the program "timelines" for these 10 teams, looking at which ones had better capitalize on their title chances this season and which ones might be a year or more away.

Alabama, for example, is right where it wants to be, having won two of the past three BCS titles and developed a talent base that looks poised to deliver future championships. USC likely is looking at 2012 as a title-or-bust season, and reloading powers Florida and Texas have the pieces in place to make some serious noise in 2013.

With the help of Insider colleague Brian Fremeau and his five-year drive efficiency ratings, and ESPN recruiting expert Tom Luginbill, here is our look at where each of the nation's top 10 programs stands with regard to its recent past, the 2012 season and the near future. (Note: We've listed them in order of their ranking in Fremeau's efficiency numbers.)

Alabama Crimson Tide

Record 2007-11: 51-12
National championships 2007-11: 2009, 2011
Fremeau's five-year efficiency rating: 1
Coach contract: Through 2020

Current 2013 commitments: 18 (7 ESPN 150, 13 ESPN 300), ranked fourth
ESPN recruiting rankings 2010-12: 3, 2, 1

Nick Saban's 7-6 record in 2007 seems a distant memory thanks to 48 wins in the four seasons since then. You average 12 victories a season, and win a pair of national titles, and of course you get a mulligan. (How implausible does it seem that the Crimson Tide lost to Louisiana-Monroe that first season?)

This is an intriguing team for Bama and Saban. It's replacing key performers at running back, receiver, linebacker and in the secondary, yet it's being widely considered a legitimate national championship contender. Why? Because of Saban's track record of recruiting and developing -- sometimes on the fly. And the early indications from camp are that the so-called "replacement players" are just as good as the ones now on pro rosters.

A green group of pass-catchers is a concern on offense, but the defense should again be loaded. Senior Jesse Williams, the 600-plus-pound bench-press guy, is the latest behemoth junior college project to man the nose in the 3-4 scheme. Expect Adrian Hubbard, 6-foot-6 and 237 pounds at "Sam" linebacker, to make a big jump as a sophomore. If they avoid the complacency factor that plagued the title-defending unit in 2010, the Tide will again be in the title mix.

With the recruiting classes rated third, second and first the past three years, the Tide is going absolutely nowhere. One SEC coach told me last month that he doesn't blink if any other team in the league is recruiting a prospect -- except Alabama. "If they're involved," he said, "it's going to be tough. They're insistent on getting who they want."