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Nick Saban would be fresh into his 10th year as the Texas Longhorns coach this weekend with Alabama and Coach (?? God Knows Who) coming to Austin for the first Bama game at Texas since 1922.
Kickoff is at noon (EST) Saturday on FOX at the 100,119-seat Darrell K. Royal Stadium.
How many national championships would Saban have by this time at Texas?
Texas’ deep pockets went after Saban during and after the 2012 season as Coach Mack Brown was slipping following his national championship 2005 season before four double-digit win seasons. This included a national championship loss to Alabama and Saban in the 2009 season. But Brown was 5-7 in 2010 and 8-5 in 2011 before finishing 9-4 in 2012.
Saban, meanwhile, was coming off back-to-back national titles in 2012 and his first one at Alabama in that 2009 season. So that was three in just six years on the job, and he was still just 61. Time enough for one more move. What else could he do at Alabama?
And he had already surpassed his longest stay at any job with that sixth year in Tuscaloosa. His previous limit was five at Michigan State as an assistant and later as the head coach and as LSU’s head coach.
Why not? A new job in a new place — especially Austin, Texas — is exciting, if not exotic, particularly when compared to Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge and East Lansing. This is America.
And the Longhorns, on paper based on recent history at the time, would not be as difficult as the rebuilding jobs that Saban walked into at Alabama, LSU or Michigan State.
The Longhorns were mediocre and worse from 2010 through 2012 at 5-7, 8-5 and 9-4 under Brown, but that is nearly the same as Mike Shula was at Alabama from 2004-06 pre-Saban at 6-6, 10-2, 6-7. LSU was coming off eight losing seasons in 11 years and two straight with a 10-game SEC losing streak in 1998 and ’99 when Saban took over there in 2000. In 1995, Saban inherited significant scholarship reductions because of NCAA violations at Michigan State, which had three losing seasons in the previous four.
But from 2001 through 2009, Texas was a dominant power with nine double-digit winning seasons and six top-six finishes over that span. Alabama, meanwhile, was 3-8 in 2000, 7-5 in 2001 and 4-9 in 2003.
Saban could’ve done it in Texas. I would say he’d have one or two national titles there by now. But we’ll never know. Those who have followed Brown, now at North Carolina, have yet to match him.
Charlie Strong, a winner at Louisville, was clearly worse than Brown from 2014-16 at 6-7, 5-7 and 6-7. And Tom Herman, a winner briefly at Houston, was no better than Brown’s leaner late years as he was 7-6, 10-4, 8-5 and 7-3 from 2017-20.
Second-year Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, a Saban disciple as offensive coordinator with Alabama in 2019 and ’20 and a former head coach at Washington and USC, was 5-7 last year in his first season. He is a 20-point underdog against Alabama Saturday.
I can’t see Saban in a cowboy hat, but he would’ve won in Austin. He chose to stay at Alabama, though, maybe because he did not want to be seen as a constant job jumper, which was the rub against him when he left the Miami Dolphins after just two seasons in 2005 and ’06.
And Texas didn’t quite handle it right. Brown didn’t want to leave quietly, for one, after the 2012 season and stuck for 2013. He was mediocre again at 8-5 and was out of there. And Saban was clearly not interested after 2013 after too much leaked out in 2012.
He didn’t stay at Alabama because he got a new contract. He always gets new contracts. He just got another one.
“I never considered going to Texas,” Saban told ESPN’s Chris Low later. “I knew that if Mack stepped down, there would probably be an opportunity. It wasn’t something I was interested in doing, not at this stage in my career.”
Maybe Saban stayed because he had everything set at Alabama and wouldn’t have to start over at 61. This became clear very soon as he won more national championships in 2015, 2017 and 2020 to equal former Alabama coach Bear Bryant’s six titles at Alabama in the 1960s and ’70s and edged him by one overall as he has the one LSU title.
So, he answered the question. What else could he do at Alabama? Pass the Bear, that’s what.
Now, he’s clearly the greatest ever possibly because he stayed. Texas will be reminded of that Saturday.
SATURDAY PREDICTIONS (Draft Kings Spreads if available. Eastern times.)
No. 1 Alabama (-20) at Texas, 12 p.m., FOX. … Alabama 38, Texas 13
South Carolina (+8.5) at No. 16 Arkansas, 12 p.m., ESPN. … Arkansas 31, South Carolina 17
No. 23 Wake Forest (-13.5) at Vanderbilt, 12 p.m., SEC Network. … Wake Forest 27, Vanderbilt 21
Missouri (+7.5) at Kansas State, 12 p.m., ESPN2. … Missouri 34, Kansas State 20
Appalachian State (+18.5) at No. 6 Texas A&M, 3:30 p.m., ESPN2. … Texas A&M 41, App. State 10
No. 24 Tennessee (-6.5) at No. 17 Pittsburgh, 3:30 p.m., ABC. … Pittsburgh 24, Tennessee 21
Samford (+52) at No. 2 Georgia, 4 p.m., SEC Network. … Georgia 63, Samford 7
No. 20 Kentucky (+5.5) at No. 12 Florida, 7 p.m., ESPN. … Florida 27, Kentucky 14
Central Arkansas (+34) at No. 22 Ole Miss, 7 p.m., SEC Network+. … Ole Miss 41, C. Arkansas 9
San Jose State (+22.5) at Auburn, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU. … Auburn 27, San Jose State 17
Southern (-38.5) at LSU, 7:30 p.m., SEC Network. … LSU 52, Southern 7
Mississippi State (-11) at Arizona, 11 p.m., FOX Sports 1. … Mississippi State 34, Arizona 13
1. Alabama (1-0)
2. Georgia (1-0)
3. Florida (1-0)
4. Arkansas (1-0)
5. Texas A&M (1-0)
6. Kentucky (1-0)
7. Tennessee (1-0)
8. Mississippi State (1-0)
9. Ole Miss (1-0)
10. Missouri (1-0)
11. Auburn (1-0)
12. South Carolina (1-0)
13. Vanderbilt (2-0)
14. LSU (0-1)
BILLY NAPIER PUTS FLORIDA UPSET IN PERSPECTIVE
First-year Florida coach Billy Napier is trying to get himself and his team to move past an impressive 29-26 upset of No. 7 Utah last week, going into a big game against No. 20 Kentucky in Gainesville on Saturday.
“In reality, it means nothing,” Napier said on the SEC teleconference Wednesday. “We’re going to get consumed with improvement. It’s not about what you start. It’s how you finish.”
Kentucky beat Florida last season, 20-13.
“Obviously, very proud of our team,” Napier said. “But we’ve got a lot to fix. That ain’t going to change, no matter how many games we win.”
SURPRISE LACK OF CELEBRATION
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman was a bit taken aback by his team after a 31-24 win over No. 23 Cincinnati, which was in the College Football Playoffs last year. There was not much of a celebration.
“That shows a little bit where our program is and where it was before,” he said.
STATS OF THE WEEK
-LSU’s 24-23 loss to Florida State in New Orleans Sunday was its first loss in a season opener in the state of Louisiana since 1995, when the Tigers lost to Texas A&M, 33-17, in Tiger Stadium.
-Alabama is 1-7-1 all-time against Texas with the only win in the national championship game on Jan. 7, 2010, 37-21, in Rose Bowl. Texas won the only two previous games in Austin – 20-0 in 1915 and 19-10 in 1922. Alabama lost the first one at home in 1902 in Tuscaloosa, 10-0. The Tide lost four bowl games against Texas – 27-7 in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1948, 21-17 in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1965, 17-13 in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1973, and 14-12 in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1982. The tie was 3-3 in the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston on Dec. 17, 1960.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“Maybe if you win, I’ll be on time.”
… Baton Rouge Advocate sports writer Leah Vann to LSU coach Brian Kelly after he kidded that he would fine her $10 for being tardy to his press conference on Tuesday.