In many ways, it really wasn’t a fair fight.
When Alabama took the field Monday night it had the No. 1 (DeVonta Smith), No. 3 (Mac Jones), and No. 5 (Najee Harris) vote getters for the Heisman Trophy. Playing behind the best offensive line in college football, the results were pretty predictable against Ohio State in the College Football Playoff national championship game.
Alabama’s Big Three—as they will be forever known—were magnificent in the 52-24 victory. They deserve all the accolades—and the NFL dollars—that will surely come their way.
But let’s take a moment here to recognize the architect of a 13-0 season we will never forget and a college football dynasty the likes of which we will probably never see again.
Nick Saban won his sixth national championship at Alabama since 2009 and his seventh overall (he won the 2003 national title at LSU). He surpasses another Alabama legend, Paul “Bear” Bryant, and stands alone as the greatest college football coach all time.
It can be argued that, for Saban, this national championship is different than the other six. With the staggering numbers this team recorded (49.8 points, 535 yards per game), this season is a testament to Saban’s willingness to evolve.
The great ones always have.
After posting records of 6-5 in 1969 and 6-5-1 in 1970, there were those who thought Bear Bryant had lost his magic touch. He called his old friend Darrell Royal at Texas and in 1971 went to the wishbone offense. In the next 11 years Alabama would win nine SEC championships and three national championships (1973, 1978, 1979).
Saban came to Alabama in 2007 with great certainty about how to win: an athletic, relentless defense, a solid ground game, and incredible attention to detail. He was decidedly old school and made no apologies for it.
But even Saban has had to adapt.
It wasn’t very long ago that Saban was fighting the emergence of the no-huddle, up-tempo offense where the offense controlled the pace of the game. The no-huddle took away Saban’s ability to substitute on defense based on down and distance. It had always been one of the most important tools in his coaching tool box.
During a conference call with reporters in 2012 he famously said “Is this what we want football to be?”
Saban’s pleas fell on deaf ears. So he changed. He hired Lane Kiffin as his offensive coordinator in 2014 and turned him loose. Alabama changed its recruiting philosophy and would eventually put together one of the best collection of wide receivers the school has ever had in Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith. Ruggs and Jeudy went in the first 15 picks of the 2020 NFL Draft. Smith and Waddle are also expected to be first-round choices.
Last season, the first with Steve Sarkisian as the offensive coordinator, Alabama averaged 47.9 points per game with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and all those receivers. The 2020 offense was supposed to take a small step back with a new quarterback (Jones) and the exit of Ruggs and Jeudy. Instead Alabama averaged a point more against a schedule that included 10 SEC regular-season games, a conference championship game, and two playoff games.
In years past Saban might have been tempted to be a bit more conservative on offense. But not now. Saban has his foot on the gas and is not going to let up anytime soon.
Last October Saban turned 69 and shows no sign of slowing down. He keeps himself fit. Just ask the assistant coaches who play pick-up basketball with him.
Alabama is on its way to another No. 1 signing class. Bryce Young, rated the nation’s No. 1 high school quarterback in 2019, is now expected to take over in 2021.
When the game ended, Saban was lifted onto the shoulders of his players. At 69, his face beaming, Nick Saban was having the time of his life.
Seven of his teams have won national championships but this one, he said, is special. This one he’ll always cherish,
“I’m just happy that we won tonight,” he told ESPN. “I am so happy for our players. This was all about them. They overcame so much. To me this is the ultimate team.”
SABAN STANDS ALONE
Nick Saban (LSU, Alabama)…………7
“Bear” Bryant (Alabama)……………..6
Bernie Bierman (Minnesota)………..5
Woody Hayes (Ohio State)…………..5
Frank Leahy (Notre Dame)…………..4
John McKay (USC)……………………...4