USA TODAY Sports’ Mackenzie Salmon breaks down the path to Alabama’s dynamic national championship run. USA TODAY

In early December of 2017, much of the college football world gathered in New York as it normally does for Hall of Fame inductions, awards ceremonies and long nights in the lobby bar of one of the city’s fanciest hotels. 

That particular year, a chill had settled over the industry. The big topic was Tennessee, which was in the middle of perhaps the most chaotic and embarrassing coaching search in the modern history of the sport. But it wasn’t the kind of dysfunction administrators could point at and laugh.

Once word got out that grew

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