It’s not as if Saban landed one transcendent talent – a Herschel, say, or a Cam Newton – and rode that player to multiple titles. The list of Bama quarterbacks who’ve won the national championship with Saban: Greg McElroy, AJ McCarron, Jake Coker, Jalen Hurts/Tua Tagovailoa in the same game and Mac Jones.
The SEC was different in Bryant’s day. (So was the world, but let’s save that discussion for another time.) There was no conference title game. Bryant had to play Auburn and Tennessee every year, but he faced Dooley’s Georgia only six times – and went 4-2. Monday’s CFP final will mark the fifth collision of Alabama and Georgia in four years and two days.
We wonder what it will take for Kirby Smart’s team to get past Saban’s. Once upon a time, we wondered similar things about Georgia under Mark Richt and LSU under Les Miles and Auburn with Gus Malzahn. The answer: Nobody in the SEC gets past Saban often, or for long.
He has had five defensive coordinators – Smart held the job for eight years – and eight offensive coordinators over 15 years. He has had four Heisman Trophy winners and five other Heisman finalists. He has coached 39 Tide players who became Round 1 NFL draftees. He recruits the best talent, and that talent wins titles. That’s not always the case.
We’ve collected these factoids because we’ve run out of adjectives. Regarding Nicholas Lou Saban, there’s nothing new to say. There will never be anything new to say. Where do you go after proclaiming him the greatest college football coach anyone has seen. Every time we think his Tide might be slipping – this was such a season – we’re found guilty of wishful thinking. Only once since the playoff began has the Tide had no chance win it all. That was in 2019, when LSU had Joe Burrow and Tagovailoa broke his hip.
The belief remains that, from stem to stern, Georgia has the better team. Alabama, however, has the better quarterback, and nobody has had a better coach. After the Bulldogs thrashed Michigan in the Orange Bowl, this correspondent wrote a little something bearing the headline: “There’s nothing left for Georgia except to beat Alabama.” The catch is that almost nobody beats Alabama in a game that matters.
Clemson did it twice, but that’s where the list begins and ends. When playing for a national title, Saban’s Bama has beaten Texas, LSU, Notre Dame, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State. We keep thinking he can’t keep this going forever, but he turned 70 on Halloween and hasn’t missed a trick. All Georgia has to do to win it all is beat Alabama, which means all the Bulldogs have to do is beat the GOAT.