Nick Saban has won too many big games to count, but we can easily do a tally on his collection of national championships. And with Alabama overtaking Georgia to win 26-23 in a Hotlanta setting Monday, and with Saban prevailing after an long and overheated evening of tackle football filled with delirium, distemper, determination, delight and a thousand unpredictable developments …
Let’s update the history of college football.
That’s six national titles for Saban, which puts him in a tie for the lead with Alabama icon Paul “Bear Bryant” since the 1936 advent of the so-called Polling Era of CFB. But really, that doesn’t come close to measuring the magnitude of Saban’s achievements.
As many of you know, Saban-coached Alabama has now won five of the last nine college-football championships, a run of dominance that cuts a swath through history, utterly destroying Saban dissidents and their refusal to recognize him as the greatest coach — ever — in his sport.
Let’s install some facts:
— Saban captured his sixth national title in his 22nd season as a college coach. Bear Bryant claimed his sixth national championship in his 35th season. And since 1936, no other coach has won more than four (USC’s John McKay, Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy.)
— Let’s put Saban’s five titles in nine years into perspective: Before now, during the Poll Era, the shortest time frame needed to win five titles was 16 seasons by Alabama and Bryant from 1964 through 1979.
— Bryant won his championship trophies during an era when there were no limits on football scholarships; Bryant handed about 60 per year. Saban is limited to roughly 25 scholarships and can’t have more than 85 players on scholarship at any given time. And the money is flowing at high levels during the modern game, with massive TV contracts and sponsorship-marketing deals that enrich every single FBS program in the nation. The money — and the number of elite programs — was a lot less during Bryant’s time. He had some built-in advantages because few programs could match his recruiting base and revenue flow.
— Saban’s six championships — his first as head coach of LSU in 2003 — are more than all other active head coaches combined. Urban Meyer (Florida, Ohio State) has three. Dabo Swinney (Clemson) and Jimbo Fisher (Florida State and now the new coach at Texas A&M) each have one grand prize. That’s it.
— The SEC has won 11 national championships since the 2003 season; Saban has accounted for six of them.
— Saban has ruled college football from his seat of power in the SEC. And if you sneer at the idea of the SEC being the best conference in this college football nation, then I need you to kindly explain this conference breakdown of national titles won since the BCS/CFP system launched in 1998:
National Championships By Conference
SEC … 11
ACC … 3
Big Ten … 2
Big 12 … 2
Pac-12 … 2
Big East … 1
Now consider this: Saban himself has won more national championships (six) with his own teams than any other conference over that stretch. Yes … add up every team in every non-SEC conference since 1998, and no conference has captured more than three CFB titles. Saban has doubled that.
— Since Saban became Bama’s coach in 2007, taking charge to rebuild a fallen program, the Crimson Tide have won more games (132) than any FBS team. His winning percentage at Alabama (.868) is easily No. 1, ahead of Ohio State (.842), Oklahoma (.829) and Clemson (.753) among FBS teams. And over these last 11 seasons, Alabama ranks 8th among Power 5 conference teams in points scored per game (35.8) and has allowed the fewest points per game (13.9).
— Saban is 16-9 all-time against AP Poll top-3 opponents, the most wins in that category by any coach in AP Poll history (going back to 1936.)
— Since 2008, Saban’s Crimson Tide hasn’t finished worse than the No. 10 ranking in the final poll of a season.
— As Alabama’s coach, Saban has averaged 12 victories per season. And that includes the 7-6 in his first season (2007) when he had to sweep up a mess and refurbish the program.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Clemson’s Swinney, who went 1-1 against Saban and Alabama in the CFB playoffs the last two seasons, beating Bama on the final play for the national title and getting thumped 24-6 by the Tide in this year’s semifinals.
“I mean, obviously, I grew up, in Alabama. Coach Bryant was a hero of mine, and everybody here knows about Coach Bryant. But with what Coach Saban has done, the amount of championships in the span of time with scholarships, it’s just incredible. I really have no words, because it’s really hard to do.
“He’s changed college football. I mean, he really has been a pioneer and changed a lot of the way things are done in college football, in building infrastructure, which I think are great, because now you have young people that have lot more resources. They have a lot more people trying to help them be successful. Just incredible, the run that they’ve had, no question.”
Saban never won a championship like this…
Trailing Georgia 13-0, with only four first downs and 88 yards in the first half. Trailing Georgia 20-7 in the second half.
By making a gutsy, aggressive move at halftime — replacing starting quarterback Jalen Hurts with untested true freshman Tua Tagovailoa. Twitter was going crazy, with many questions about Saban’s sanity. Hurts wasn’t good at all in the first half, but sheesh.
The sophomore had a record of 25-2 as Bama’s starter so why was Saban having a panic attack and yanking Hurts? Nick is LOSING HIS MIND!
Hush, you children of Twitter.
And all “Tua” did was lead Alabama to five scoring possessions in the second half — three touchdown passes and two field goals. Two of his throws were money — as big as it gets. A touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley on 4th and to tie the game at 20 with just under 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter. And later, the stunning 41-yard TD pass to fellow true freshman DeVonta Smith to win the game in overtime.
It was an amazing display of calm and resilience by a young QB who had just erred by getting sacked for a 16-yard loss on Alabama’s first play. The Tide, down 23-20, was in trouble until Tagovailoa zipped a perfect pass for the sudden victory that the Alabama faithful will remember for the rest of their lives.
Alabama overcame two missed field goals (including a 36-yarder that would have won it on the final play of the fourth quarter. Alabama never led in this game until the FINAL PLAY, which for the record was No. 148 on the night.
Alabama had a unusually rare lapse in discipline and smarts by committing dumb penalties or making unforced errors. And Georgia looked great for much of the game.
Some of this — all of this — could have demoralized Alabama and plunged the Tide to defeat…
Yeah, Saban gets the blue-chip great recruits … but it takes more than talent to win at this level … your team needs to have character, it needs to be tenacious and intelligent and mentally tough.
And as the drama intensified, Team Saban found its identity in the second half.
Team Saban reemerged.
Alabama became Alabama …
It’s the same type of thing we’ve seen with the New England Patriots … the Golden State Warriors … the Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls, Joe Montana’s 49ers … Tony La Russa’s St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 and 2011 … and any NHL team led by Scotty Bowman.
Oh, so you think the game is over … you think you have the great team down and dizzy and disoriented and ready to fall? You think you have Nick Saban by the throat?
Not so fast, bubba.
As if to taunt the haters, Saban won this game by putting it into the hands of several true freshmen. Not just Tagovailoa, who may turn out to be the best QB Saban has ever coached.
DeVonta Smith … winning TD grab … true freshman wide receiver.
Najee Harris, 64 rushing yards in the second half to lead Alabama on the ground … true freshman.
Offensive left tackle Alex Leatherwood, who was stout after replacing injured starter Jonah Williams in the second half. Leatherwood didn’t allow a sack … true freshman.
True freshman Henry Ruggs III led Alabama in receptions including his catch for Alabama’s first TD.
True freshman wide receiver Jerry Jeudy made a 20-yard catch that set up the game-tying touchdown in fourth quarter…
“A lot of those guys are really mature for their age,” Saban said after the victory. “But I trust young players as long as I know they’re prepared. And they were ready to make contributions and they certainly did a fantastic job for us this year. There’s no doubt about that. I think one of the things that makes me most proud of this team is—and I’m surprised nobody asked it—we’ve never had this many games missed by starters in a season ever, and to be able to overcome that with the next guy up, whoever it was, to go out there and play the way they played together as a group and trusted and believed in each other, and I think that respect and trust is something that’s really important to have in a good team. That’s something this team had.”
And folks were actually whining about Alabama’s inclusion in this year’s playoff?
A team that received more than 80 percent of the first-place votes in the season-long AP Poll?
A team that’s now 41-3 over the last three seasons… THAT TEAM was undeserving of a playoff spot?
Hysterical. Absolutely absurd.
Yeah, like Alabama needed to be handed a free pass in act of charity. Yeah, as if Alabama had to sneak in the back door. Right.
Amazing, really. After all of these years of watching Saban and Alabama kicking everyone’s ass, some of the simple minds out there still don’t know true greatness when they see it. They still don’t understand that Nick Saban is the greatest coach of all time.
Thanks for reading …