How much longer will Nick Saban coach at Alabama, and how much more can he accomplish? Including his time at LSU, Saban owns four SEC titles and four national championships. If, or when, Saban decides to do something else full time besides coaching, it is likely that he will end up as an ESPN analyst.
Saban, however, doesn’t seem like the kind of person who could easily step away from the thrill of competition. He is a youthful 60-something, but has said he is “too damn old” to start over somewhere else.
So, the prospect of him staying several more years at Alabama seems strong. It won’t be long before we know what the 2014 version of the Saban-era Crimson Tide looks like on the field. Here’s a look back at Saban’s “greatest hits” as Alabama’s coach.
2007: Arkansas and Tennessee
A thrilling last-second victory in Tuscaloosa over a solid Razorbacks squad boosted Tide fans’ confidence. During the wildly inconsistent Mike Shula era, this was the kind of game Alabama lost more often than not.
When Tennessee came to Tuscaloosa in 2007, the Volunteers owned a 10-2 record against Alabama in the previous 12 meetings. Alabama played its best game of the season and defeated Tennessee 41-17. Tennessee won the SEC East in 2007, but Saban has helped make the Vols irrelevant. The Big Orange has been mediocre (at best) ever since, and Saban is 7-0 against them.
2008: Clemson, Georgia, LSU, and Auburn.
By beating Clemson in Atlanta, Saban started a trend that has defined his tenure: beating quality non-conference opponents. Saban lost a meeting with Florida State in Jacksonville in 2007, but has since gone undefeated in neutral site games against Clemson, Virginia Tech (twice) and Michigan. He also won both games of a home-and- home deal with Penn State.
Saban’s Tide made a statement in the now infamous “black-out” game in Athens in 2008. Alabama rolled up a 31-point halftime lead before downing the Bulldogs 41-30 in a game that wasn’t that close.
Beating LSU in overtime in Baton Rouge, 27-21, guaranteed the Tide a spot in the SEC Championship game for the first time since 1999.
After years of watching Tommy Tuberville display a kindergartner’s math skills, Saban and Alabama wiped the smirk off the Auburn fans’ pie holes with a 36-0 smack down. Doing this at Bryant-Denny was extra salve for a wound that had been festering far too long.
2009: Virginia Tech, Tennessee, LSU, Auburn, SEC Championship, BCS National Championship.
Alabama opened the season with a victory over a top-ten Virginia Tech. The most memorable regular season victory was the Third Saturday in October. When Alabama plays Tennessee in 2014, it’s a sure bet that Lane Kiffin will be asked to reminisce about this one. The current Alabama offensive coordinator was the Volunteers head coach in 2009 and his team only needed a field goal to upend the top-ranked Crimson Tide. It got blocked, famously, by Terrence Cody, and Alabama ended up 14-0. Who knew field goals could be so important?
Defeating Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer, and the Florida Gators, to claim the SEC Championship also set a trend for Nick Saban at Alabama. He doesn’t lose to the same team twice in a row. More on that later. But making Tebow cry at the Georgia Dome was sweet revenge for a gut-wrenching loss the year before.
Beating Texas for the BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena was enough to earn Saban a statue next to Bryant, Wade, Thomas and Stallings. But the hits kept coming, even if it took a season in between to regroup.
2010: Penn State, Florida, Tennessee, Michigan State
This year will go down in history as one Alabama football’s most disappointing. Still, Alabama defeated Penn State in a renewal of a historic non-conference rivalry, defeated Florida for a second consecutive year, and continued a winning streak against Tennessee. Alabama, under Saban, usually plays flat in “consolation” bowls, but the Tide manhandled Michigan State, the Big Ten co-champ, in the Capital One Bowl. When 10-3 is disappointing, you know the bar is set high. Even Elvis and the Beatles got knocked out of the Billboard top slot ocassionally.
2011: Penn State, Florida, Auburn, BCS National Championship
Alabama beat Penn State at Beaver Stadium, and Florida in The Swamp. Another beat down of Auburn, this time at Jordan-Hare, was nice. But, this season will forever be defined by two games against LSU. Alabama lost 9-6 in overtime at Bryant-Denny during the regular season in an epic defensive struggle. Who knew field goals could be so important?
Okay, this is the one time during his Alabama tenure Saban lost to the same program in consecutive years. LSU defeated Alabama in both the 2010 and 2011 regular seasons.
The 2011 LSU Tigers were one of the best teams in college football history. Les Miles and the Bayou Bengals entered the Superdome for the BCS National Championship carrying a 13-0 record. This time around, Alabama converted five field goals and tacked on a bonus touchdown at the end of the game. Ironically the PAT was missed. LSU couldn’t advance past the 50 yard line to save its life. An all-SEC national championship probably was the straw that broke the back of the old BCS system.
2012: Michigan, LSU, Auburn, SEC Championship, BCS National Championship.
Beating Michigan in Dallas, 41-14 started the year off on the right foot. An emotional 21-17 win over LSU in Baton Rouge may have drained the Tide for a meeting with Johnny Football and Texas A&M. Losing to the Aggies was a mild speed bump. The Tide regrouped and ended the regular season with a Biblical stoning of Gene Chizik and Auburn. The 49-0 gore fest murdered Chizik’s carereer. Remember, he is only the second Auburn coach ever to win a national title and the first since 1957.
Georgia put up a valiant effort in the Georgia Dome, but Alabama held the Bulldogs out of the end zone in the final minute of a classic SEC Championship.
Beating the hated Notre Dame Fighting Irish 41-14 in Miami, for the national championship, was gravy on a feast of Alabama greatness.
2013: Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, LSU
Virginia Tech was no powerhouse, but defeating the Hokies kept Alabama’s non-conference winning streak intact. The victory over Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel continued Saban’s habit of not losing to the same program in consecutive years, and the 31-17 victory over LSU gave Saban three-in- a -row over Miles and LSU. The Iron Bowl loss (what is it about field goals?) and the Sugar Bowl loss made the 11-2 season seem like a downer.
2014 and beyond
So, here we are almost ready to tee it up for 2014. Alabama has two strong options at the quarterback position. It has a stable of running backs, a crowd of receivers, including a stud tight end, and as always, a defense loaded with blue-chippers. Most importantly it has the best head coach in college football. Any Auburn fans still feeling smug about last year’s fluke of an Iron Bowl should ask Gene Chizik how much one single victory means in the grand scheme of things.
It’s going to be another tough year in the SEC West, and I’m guessing it will be difficult for any team to emerge undefeated. I envision Auburn losing at least once, maybe twice, before the Iron Bowl. The Iron Bowl could be the deciding factor in who represents the West in the SEC Championship.
If Saban holds serve on his tendencies, he’s not losing to Auburn for two consecutive years. My dream for Saban’s next chart toppers would be an Iron Bowl victory, a SEC Championship win against South Carolina, a semi-final over Oklahoma, and a national championship over Florida State. Saban’s relentless recruiting, coupled with the famous “process” of molding blue-chippers into top NFL draft picks, will guarantee Crimson Tide success for as long as Saban roams the sidelines.