Starting 11: Nick Saban Owns His Assistants Edition

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The first Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the college football season are in the books and crazy as it may seem, stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Nick Saban and Alabama are the best team in college football once more. Sure, we have a long road of games still to play out and many things can and will take place throughout that season, but Saban and the Tide were downright dominant crushing a very good Florida State team and offering some tantalizing hints that Jalen Hurts may have added the deep ball to his repertoire.

Nick Saban is now 11-0 against his former assistants, beating them by an average of 18 points per game. Oh, and he’s also 9-1 against the spread in opening season games, 10-0 overall, at Alabama. When you consider the high level competition Saban’s Tide are facing in these openers — his team doesn’t get four preseason games — I think it’s fair to say there has never been a better coach out of the gate in the history of the sport.

So let’s unpack what we’ve learned so far this college football season by hoping into the first Starting 11 of the season.

All season long, the Starting 11 is sponsored by Krystal. Grab a sackful of hot-off-the-grill Krystal burgers for only 79 cents, all day, every day. Krystal also knows every tailgate needs wings, and they got you covered there too. Every Saturday and Sunday, all wings – boneless or traditional – are 49 cents. Krystal is hooking up the Outkick family this football season – text OUTKICK to ‘37793’ right now for some free Krystals and a Coke.

What better way to soak up the hangover and excesses of Saturday night than with Krystal?

Here we go:

1. Alabama is not losing more than one game the rest of the season. 

I know it’s easy to overreact to week one of the college football season, but look at Bama’s next four games: Fresno State, Colorado State, at Vanderbilt, and Ole Miss.

Is there anyone out there who believes Bama won’t win all four of these games by at least three touchdowns each? This is the easiest stretch of Bama’s schedule and with the win over FSU in their back pocket by the end of September Alabama is going to be 5-0, nearly halfway to a perfect regular season record.

After these five games where are the landmines on this schedule, particularly when you consider that Bama would have to lose two of these games to miss the playoff: at Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU are all three at home, at Mississippi State, Mercer and closing at Auburn.

There is no way Bama is losing two of these games.

And do you really think the SEC East is putting up much of a fight in the SEC title game?

Personally, I don’t think Alabama is going to lose to anyone the rest of the way. And now that the Tide have notched a win over Florida State, they can lose one of their remaining 12 games and still make the playoff for the fourth straight year.

Yep, I feel comfortable going ahead and writing the Tide into the playoff.

And, by the way, I thought Jalen Hurts looked much better throwing the football, but do you know what his stat line reflected? He was 10-18 for 96 yards. Can you imagine what Bama can look like by the end of the season if Hurts continues to progress here?

The scary thing about this Bama team is the ceiling is much higher than what we saw on Saturday night on the offensive side of the ball. Bama missed two field goals, punted from the 34 yard line, and generally gave up multiple scoring chances with offensive inefficiency.

If the Tide just executed efficiently, they may well have won this game by 30.

2. What about Florida State?

With five minutes left in the third quarter Florida State — then trailing just 10-7 — had a punt blocked, giving Bama possession inside the ten. The Seminole defense rose up and forced a field goal, limiting the damage and keeping the FSU well within striking distance.

Then the wheels truly came off.

FSU fumbled the next kickoff and threw two straight interceptions, ending the game with 11 consecutive punts, turnovers or a blocked field goal.

Alabama did what a Nick Saban defense almost always does unless it’s playing against an outstanding quarterback, it slowly strangled Florida State’s offense to death.

FSU ran the ball 27 times for 40 yards while Bama ran it 42 times for 173 yards.

Leaving aside the turnovers and the special teams miscues there’s your game right there.

Now FSU is left with many questions, the most important of those questions is this, what’s the status of quarterback Deondre Francois? If he’s significantly injured then Seminole hopes that their team can rebound and still make the playoff take a massive hit. The Noles already had a tough schedule — on the road at Clemson and at Florida — and now they have no cushion at all because it’s hard to believe that an FSU team with even a single ACC loss is likely to find itself very highly placed in the playoff race. After all, no two loss team has made the playoff in the first three years —  so the Seminoles probably have to go 12-0 from here to get a chance at redemption against Alabama.

That doesn’t seem very likely with all the uncertainty surrounding their team right now.

3. What in the world is going to happen to Jim McElwain and Florida?

Coming into this game I wrote and talked about how this was Jim McElwain’s opportunity to face down his critics and establish that his Gator program wasn’t just living off all Will Muschamp’s defensive recruits. But in the wake of this game I believe Jim McElwain is squarely on the hot seat.

The Gators didn’t just lose, they were absolutely atrocious in pretty much all respects. Michigan outgained Florida 433 to 192 yards and Florida ran the ball just 27 times for 11 yards. I know the Gators had several suspensions, but last I checked none of those suspensions were at quarterback.

If you take away the two pick sixes — and let’s be honest, how often is that actually going to happen in a game? — then this score would have probably been something like 42-3. Don’t get confused by just looking at the scoreboard and seeing it was 33-17 and thinking the Gators were a couple of plays away here. They were not close at all to beating Michigan. These two teams didn’t look like they belonged on the same field together.

In fact, I’ve watched the Gators play just about every major game they’ve played over the past thirty years or so and this is just about as bad as I’ve ever seen them get beaten. Credit to Michigan for their performance, but as I watched this game I felt like I was seeing a replay of the same old story over and over again, the Gator offense has been tough to watch for all of McElwain’s tenure, but also for all of Will Muschamp’s and the end of Urban Meyer’s tenure too.

The Gators really haven’t had a decent quarterback since Tim Tebow left and it looks like they still don’t have a decent quarterback.

That’s not good for any team, but the Gators are still a team bathing in the culture of Steve Spurrier’s Fun and Gun offensive attack. Gator fans don’t just want to win, they want to score points and be entertained, watch their teams streak down the field, for it to forever be 1996 or 1997 with fifty points or more on their side of the scoreboard.

Muschamp was a bad fit culturally for the Gators because even when he won he choked the offense out of the game. McElwain was hired to bring back the offensive pyrotechnics and instead his offense has been just as bad as Muschamp’s was. Maybe worse. Sure, the Gators have won the SEC East two years in a row, but that’s a bit like being the tallest midget. At no point in time did Florida ever appear to have a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Alabama.

So what happens from here?

I think things could get really, really ugly for McElwain. The game against Tennessee on September 16th looms massive for both Butch Jones and McElwain. To me, that’s a linchpin game for both teams and for both coaches. If Tennessee were able to beat Florida for a second straight year and the Gators were 1-2 going on the road at Kentucky, the swords would be out for McElwain.

Can anyone imagine Chip Kelly in Gainesville?

But if McElwain can get his team rallied, beat Tennessee and then beat Kentucky for the 31st year then the Gators would be 3-1 with Vandy, Texas A&M, and LSU all coming to town. Then the Cocktail Party would probably decide the SEC East.

But after watching this game I have zero optimism that’s going to happen. The Gators looked flat out awful.

4. What do we think of the Big Ten?

All credit to Michigan, the Wolverines absolutely destroyed the Gators which is why I’ve got Michigan as my second best team in the country right now.

Ohio State took care of Indiana, particularly in the second half, and Penn State and Wisconsin both overwhelmed inferior opponents in week one.

Right now the Big Ten appears to have four really good teams and I’m not sure any other conference has more than three. It’s still very early, but right now the Big Ten appears to have more title contending teams than anyone else in college football.

5. What do we think of the ACC?

I believe the ACC hype got ahead of the ACC reality because it’s always more fun to have a new story than to acknowledge the old story might still be true. And the new story was that the ACC had become the new best conference in college football. The problem with that argument was and is that the SEC still has the best players and is the best conference top to bottom. What’s happened over the past several years is that Nick Saban has systematically destroyed all the coaching depth in the conference so the top level SEC teams aren’t as high as they used to be.

Right now the ACC has the best coaches in college football. In fact, you can make an argument that Dabo Swinney, Jimbo Fisher, Bobby Petrino, Mark Richt, David Cutcliffe, and Justin Fuente are all better than the second best coach in the SEC.

But Florida State was no match for Alabama in week one, Louisville had to come from behind to win on the road at Purdue, N.C. State lost to South Carolina, North Carolina lost to Cal, and Pitt had to go to overtime against Youngstown State.

If Tennessee beats Georgia Tech on Monday and West Virginia beats Virginia Tech today then you could be talking about an opening weekend where the ACC didn’t get a single quality win. Meanwhile, proving how quickly stories can swing everyone would be ready to write the ACC’s obituary if Auburn manages to go on the road and win at Clemson next weekend.

But that would be an overreaction just like saying the ACC was the best conference in college football was an overreaction too.

The SEC is still the best conference in college football top to bottom, but what the SEC no longer has is the best coaching. Hell, right now the SEC may well have the worst coaches in major college football.

6. Texas is bac–, still not back.

One of the most common themes in college football over the past decade has been the idea that Texas is back. Only, as has happened time after time, Texas is not actually back after they are pronounced to be back.

This year AP voters ranked Texas in the top 25 despite the fact that the Longhorns were coming off a 5-7 season, had a brand new coach, and had yet to establish themselves in any possible way.

So what happens? Maryland, under second year head coach D.J. Durkin, comes into town as an 18 point underdog and gets an absolutely massive win.

Durkin is an under the radar guy that probably should have gotten more attention. He’s been well liked and served on the coaching staffs for Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh multiple times. I always think it’s a great sign when a guy is so well liked by coaches as demanding as Meyer and Harbaugh that they hire him in multiple places they’ve worked.

Durkin’s only 38 years old and while all the attention was on Tom Herman, it might be worth considering Durkin as yet another good coach in the Big Ten East.

In the meantime, while Texas may well win big with Tom Herman, it’s not going to happen this year.

7. What a huge win for Will Muschamp and the South Carolina Gamecocks.

I’ve always believed that year two is when most good coaches put their stamp on a program. One of my favorite stats is that no coach has ever won the SEC in a title game era without at least winning nine games in year two. James Franklin at Vandy, Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, Gus Malzahn at Auburn, Nick Saban at Alabama, Phil Fulmer at Tennessee, Mark Richt at Georgia, the list of SEC coaches who had won nine games by their second season is long.

Included on that list? Will Muschamp, who went 11-2 in his second season at Florida. It’s a season that many forget when they examine his tenure at Florida, a performance outlier that suggests…something, we’re just not quite exactly sure what that is.

Was it a totally random year when everything went perfect or was it a sign that Muschamp was capable of winning at a very high level in the SEC? That’s particularly the case when you look at the success Jim McElwain has had with Muschamp’s defensive players. South Carolina bought the idea that Muschamp is a great coach and in year one at South Carolina Muschamp got a bad Gamecock team to a bowl game. And now in year two he’s won a huge opener as an underdog.

With the SEC East appearing to be a total mess again, could South Carolina be a surprise team in the division? We’ll see. But for now the Gamecocks have the most surprising win of a young SEC season.

8. USC looked bad, but they survived. 

The college football season is much like the NCAA tournament, a survive and advance contest. If you win a close game in round one of the NCAA tourney and then end up advancing to the Final Four, no one remembers what happened in that first game.

The same thing is true of USC’s game against Western Michigan.

If the Trojans can beat Stanford and Texas the next two weeks no one will care at all about the closer than expected game against Western Michigan. It will be totally forgotten. But if USC stumbles during this season then the excitement over Sam Darnold could fade in a hurry.

For now, I wouldn’t push the panic button if I were a Trojan. I’d be more interested in whether my team can match the physicality coming from David Shaw and Stanford.

9. LSU dominated BYU. 

Hate to brag, but our Outkick gambling picks started off 10-2 this week, including our blood bank guarantee win of LSU over BYU. Go sign up for Outkick VIP, you get a free tshirt for the $99 yearly fee. And you get rich off my gambling picks. Plus, we’re going to have VIP events all over the country, including our first one which we had here in Atlanta which went awesome other than my care getting broken into.

How much better can life get?

Many of you probably missed the LSU game because it finished so late on Saturday night, but LSU held BYU to 97 yards of offense en route to rolling up 479 yards of offense on their own. Those stats looked even wilder on the ground, LSU ran the ball 57 times for 296 yards while BYU ran it 14 times for -5 yards.

LSU should be 5-0 when they travel to Gainesvilleville and I feel like the Tigers, who are one of the four most talented teams in the country according to recruiting rankings — Alabama, FSU, and Ohio State are the other three –, are the best team that no one is talking about.

It’s altogether possible that LSU still doesn’t have a quarterback — what else is new, remember this is a team that went 13-0 with Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee at signal caller — but what if they have everything else and they’ve got a fantastic offensive coordinator who can make the quarterback play decent?

Look out.

Coach O. might have himself a squad.

10. Get ready for hot seat Sunday and Monday.

I’ll update the Chip Kelly sweepstakes as soon as Texas A&M, Tennessee and UCLA play, but right now UCLA-Texas A&M and Tennessee-Georgia Tech are massive for Kevin Sumlin, Jim Mora, Butch Jones and Chip Kelly.

In particular, it’s hard to see how Butch Jones recovers from losing to Georgia Tech since the season is so frontloaded for Tennessee. I suppose the Vols could lose to Georgia Tech and bounce back to beat Florida, but that seems unlikely.

Consider Tennessee plays Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama all by 10/21. After that the season eases up a great deal, but Kentucky, Southern Miss, Missouri and Vandy area all minefields.

I think these three schools are the favorites to land Chip Kelly and we’ll know an awful lot more about the early lay of the land at all three places based on what happens tonight and Monday night.

11. Here are the SEC power rankings based on the actual games we have seen on the field thus far. AGAIN, THE ACTUAL GAMES WE HAVE SEEN PLAYED THUS FAR. 

Now that I’ve written this, many of you will skip over the fact that these rankings are based entirely on the actual games we have seen so far. (Right now Tennessee is unranked, but I will rank them as soon as their Monday game is finished.)

Admittedly, many of these teams are difficult to rank right now because the level of competition was drastically inferior, but I’m doing my best so if you’re upset with where your team is ranked right now, it’s important to note that early in the season teams can vary wildly from week to week.

All season long, the SEC Power Rankings are sponsored by Krystal. Grab a sackful of hot-off-the-grill Krystal burgers for only 79 cents, all day, every day. Krystal also knows every tailgate needs wings, and they got you covered there too. Every Saturday and Sunday, all wings – boneless or traditional – are 49 cents. Krystal is hooking up the Outkick family this football season – text OUTKICK to ‘37793’ right now for some free Krystals and a Coke.

Here are Outkick’s SEC power rankings: 

1. Alabama

2. South Carolina

3. LSU

4. Auburn

5. Georgia

6. Tennessee

7. Texas A&M

8. Vanderbilt

9. Kentucky

10. Mississippi State

11. Arkansas

12. Florida

13. Missouri

14. Ole Miss


Written by Clay Travis

Clay Travis is the founder of the fastest growing national multimedia platform, OutKick, that produces and distributes engaging content across sports and pop culture to millions of fans across the country. OutKick was created by Travis in 2011 and sold to the Fox Corporation in 2021.

One of the most electrifying and outspoken personalities in the industry, Travis hosts OutKick The Show where he provides his unfiltered opinion on the most compelling headlines throughout sports, culture, and politics. He also makes regular appearances on FOX News Media as a contributor providing analysis on a variety of subjects ranging from sports news to the cultural landscape. Throughout the college football season, Travis is on Big Noon Kickoff for Fox Sports breaking down the game and the latest storylines.

Additionally, Travis serves as a co-host of The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show, a three-hour conservative radio talk program syndicated across Premiere Networks radio stations nationwide.

Previously, he launched OutKick The Coverage on Fox Sports Radio that included interviews and listener interactions and was on Fox Sports Bet for four years. Additionally, Travis started an iHeartRadio Original Podcast called Wins & Losses that featured in-depth conversations with the biggest names in sports.

Travis is a graduate of George Washington University as well as Vanderbilt Law School. Based in Nashville, he is the author of Dixieland Delight, On Rocky Top, and Republicans Buy Sneakers Too.