Snapshot of a Coaching Giant: Nick Saban's Record Against Ranked Teams Unparalleled

Christopher Walsh

He's going down as the best coach in college football history. 

That much is already assured. Nick Saban doesn't have to win another game to secure his place at the top as what he's done at Alabama is unprecedented.

That includes his success against ranked opponents, where even the best coaches struggle to have a winning record. 

Overall, the Crimson Tide is 60-17 (.779) against the Associated Press Top 25, including a 32-10 (.762) mark against AP top-10 teams since the start of 2008.

Alabama end up just 2-2 against ranked opponents last season, but that came on the heels of finishing 4-1 in 2018, and 5-1 in 2017. 

It played 10 teams ranked in the AP poll in 2016, going 9-1 and outscoring those opponents by an average score of 38.0-17.3. The nine ranked opponents faced in 2015 set a record for most by a national champion.

One of the most amazing statistics with Saban at Alabama is this one, which continues to grow: Since the 2008 season, 141 of the Crimson Tide's 144 regular season games have had national championship implications. The final three games of the 2010 season are the exceptions over 12 years.

Wins vs. No. 1  teams

Saban's 7-3 career record against teams ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll is remarkable for numerous reasons, including that he had won five straight before running into LSU last season.

Season, Matchup, Outcome

1996 Michigan State at (1) Nebraska, L 55-14

1998 Michigan State at (1) Ohio State, W 28-14

2009 (2) Alabama vs. (1) Florida, SEC Championship Game, W 32-13

2011 (1) LSU at (2) Alabama, L 9-6 OT

2011 (2) Alabama vs. (1) LSU, BCS Championship Game, W 21-0

2012 (2) Alabama vs. (1) Notre Dame, BCS Championship Game, W 42-14

2014 (1) Mississippi State at (4) Alabama, W 25-20

2015 (2) Alabama vs. (1) Clemson, CFP Championship Game, W 45-40

2017 (4) Alabama vs. (1) Clemson, CFP Semifinal: Sugar Bowl, W 24-6

2019 (1) LSU at (2) Alabama, L 46-41 

Not only are the seven wins the most in college football history, are are almost twice as many as anyone else. Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson, Jack Mollenkopf and Joe Paterno are all tied for second with four.

Saban vs. top-5 teams

Alabama’s 45-34 win over No. 4 Oklahoma in the 2018 CFP Orange Bowl semifinal was Saban’s 24th career victory against a team ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25. 

That's the most in college football history. 

Overall, Saban’s 24-15 career record in top-five contests gives him a .632 winning percentage, which is also the best.

Following Saban on the all-time victory list are Bobby Bowden (18/.378 winning percentage), Barry Switzer (15/.516), Woody Hayes (15/.516), Steve Spurrier (15/.429) and Lou Holtz (15/.419). 

Saban’s record includes six wins in the College Football Playoff: No. 3 Michigan State (38-0) and No. 1 Clemson (45-40) in 2015; No. 4 Washington (24-7) in 2016; No. 1 Clemson (24-6) and No. 3 Georgia (26-23) in 2017; and a 45-34 victory over No. 4 Oklahoma in 2018.

Alabama also went 3-0 in BCS National Championship Games (vs. Texas, 37-21, 2009; vs. LSU, 21-0, 2011; vs. Notre Dame, 42-14, 2012).

Saban vs. top-10 teams

Since Saban arrived in 2007, Alabama is 30-12 (.714) against top-10 teams, including a 15-5 (.750) mark versus the top 10 since the inception of the College Football Playoff. 

During Saban’s five national championship seasons at Alabama, his teams have gone 17-2 against top-10 opponents.

Saban vs. top-25 teams 

Alabama's victory over Michigan in the Citrus Bowl was career win No.84 against AP Top 25 teams, two shy of the all-time record. 

Joe Paterno had 86 wins at Penn State, accumulated over 46 years. Saban is 84-42 over 24  seasons.

Most career wins over AP Top 25 teams

Joe Paterno 86 (.512)

Nick Saban 84 (.667)

Bobby Bowden 82 (.557) 

Paul “Bear” Bryant 66 (.592) 

Steve Spurrier 64 (.529)

Meanwhile, Alabama has lost just one game to a team ranked outside the top 15 in the Associated Press poll since the start of the 2008 season (No. 19 South Carolina in 2010). 

During the same time period, no other team in the FBS has lost fewer than 10 games to teams outside the top 15.

Saban vs. unranked teams 

Alabama's winning streak against unranked opponents is up to 91 games, the longest in FBS history. 

It began with the win over Colorado in the 2007 Independence Bowl. The previous record was 72 games, shared by Miami (Fla.) (1984-95) and Florida (1989-2000).

Nick Saban holds up the trophy after winning the 2017 national championship
Special to BamaCentral

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Comments (2)
No. 1-2

Those records are almost unbelievable, yet we’ve witnessed a large percentage of those wins since Saban’s been at Alabama!

Christopher Walsh
Christopher Walsh


Yep. Every once in a while I got back and revisit this, and it still causes me to shake by head. He's been that impressive.

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