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Saban's Unseen Skill: Master Recruiter

Illustration by Ray Bartkus/Wall Street Journal

College football isn't supposed to lend itself to dynasties any more. Like the pros, with its salary caps, and player drafts throwing the best young prospects to the worst teams, college football discourages one-team domination.

The players move on after four years or less. Top teams win, then often go on probation for how they got there. Administrators gnash their teeth about academic standards. A chorus of critics calls for reforming a system seen as exploiting student-athletes, casting off many with battered bodies, little education and no future career.

So how to explain the Alabama Crimson Tide? Head coach Nick Saban's team, the defending national champion, appears to inhabit a parallel universe. The team is favored to...

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